Race: Amgen Tour of California stage 6 (WorldTour)
Date: May 18, 2018
Weather: Sunny in Folsom, overcast at Lake Tahoe with temps in the 60s Fahrenheit
Winner's quote: "Today was a long day, but I felt so good on the last long climb. The team did a really good job. They set a really hard pace, and then I could attack, and I was alone. But it was difficult because after the climb there were still 10km to ride, so I just kept pushing hard. I'm happy with the result, and happy for the team."
Critical point: When Team Sky's Tao Geoghegan Hart attacked a handful of elite climbers on the Daggett Summit climb with about 15km remaining, the writing at least began to appear on the wall. Overnight leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) was already isolated. Mitchelton-Scott's Adam Yates tried to stick with the young Briton but couldn't hold his wheel, while van Garderen rode a steady rhythm. Bernal timed his attack perfectly, bridging to his teammate and then leaving Geoghegan Hart behind to go solo. He was soon out of sight of the rest, and riding alone to victory.
Final kilometre: For Bernal, the final kilometre was pretty straightforward. He rode a steady pace up the final climb to Heavenly Resort and then threw a fist in the air at the line. For the rest, the battle for the final stage and GC podium spots was on in full. Yates attacked the yellow jersey group going after second place and was able to get a gap, with Rally Cycling's own 20-year-old phenom Brandon McNulty chasing. Geoghegan Hart also jumped and was able to overtake McNulty for third on the day, three seconds ahead of the American.
The day's breakaway: Unlike the first three road stages at this year's Tour of California, the first attack of the day was not able to establish a breakaway. It took a multitude of attacks but only 10km for the day's major breakaway to take hold. In the group were nine riders who put out a lot of horsepower. The escapees were Floris De Tier (LottoNL-Jumbo), Tom Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data), Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling), Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale), Sean Bennett (Hagens Berman Axeon), Lawson Craddock (EF Education First-Drapac), Trek-Segafredo's Gregory Rast and Toms Skujins, and Serghei Tvetcov (UnitedHealthcare). The nine riders stayed out front until the Daggett Summit climb, where the GC contenders swallowed them up.
"I think it was an aggressive day," said Hagens Berman Axeon manager Axel Merkckx. "It's a hard stage, and if you have the legs it's good to be in the front. I think when the break went it was all strong guys. It's not a random thing. It was the strong guys with legs that wanted to be in the breakaway that got away. They made it a long way, too, considering how hard Sky was pulling behind them. That was pretty impressive from them. It's not a real surprise, but it was pretty impressive, and for the rest of the guys it was basically surviving behind them. It was a quality group of strong guys and the cooperation was pretty good. I think they could have made it to the finish if Sky hadn't pulled so hard."
Most aggressive rider: Craddock fought his way into the breakaway and then claimed an intermediate sprint and the KOM at Kirkwood Summit. He joined Trek-Segafredo's Toms Skujins in a move after the Kirkwood Summit, but it was quickly reeled in by the other seven breakaway riders. Craddock tried to jump away again with Skujins, De Tier and Slagter as the peloton neared, but that, too, was swallowed up as the GC men started to pick up the pace in anticipation of the fireworks on the Daggett climb.
Unluckiest rider: Tejay van Garderen was isolated on the Daggett Summit climb where Bernal attacked with the help of his teammate. Van Garderen looked unflappable through the first part of the climb, but when Geoghegan Hart attacked and Bernal bridged to him before launching his own attack, van Garderen had no teammates left to help him fight off the challenge. Van Garderen was obviously disappointed, riding away from the summit as reporters tried in vain to get a comment.
Talking point: With his win in California, Bernal, who is also the Colombian time trial champion, now has five wins in his first season with Team Sky. He won the overall at Colombia Oro Y Paz in January, the uphill time trial at the Tour de Romandie – where he was second overall – and now two stages at the Tour of California, where he'll almost certainly claim the overall win as well after Saturday's flat final stage. Bernal is obviously a star on the rise, and there's significant chatter about his future in the Grand Tours. But it's also worth remembering he's only 21 years old and has never competed in a three-week race.
"I don't think about that," Bernal said at the post-stage press conference. "It's too much to say that I will win a Grand Tour. I have never been in a Grand Tour, so I don't know what a Grand Tour is. It's crazy to say that I can win if I've never done one. I'm just thinking about now. I'm in California and I need to defend this jersey."
Expert says: "I think we were all expecting an attack on the Daggett climb from Team Sky. And I think we've found a new Grand Tour rider. I mean, he's 21 years old, so his potential is amazing. The way he dropped everybody on the first summit finish [on stage 2], and on today's climb, was amazing, because when everybody is waiting for you to do that, it's even harder. So we've had confirmation here that a new star is born. I was not really surprised that van Garderen couldn't stay with him. Today was a really hard stage with 4,700 metres of climbing. That's a lot. The altitude played a big role, too. Bernal lives at 2,400 metres and at some points we were up above 2,600 metres. You could see the bunch was suffering without oxygen. I think Tejay did an amazing ride today and the whole week, but probably the whole parcours was more suited to Bernal."
– Patxi Villa, Bora-Hansgrohe directeur sportif
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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