Race: Amgen Tour of California stage 7 (WorldTour)
Date: May 19, 2018
Weather: Clear skies, 75 degrees Fahrenheit
Stage winner's quote: "This one was really close. When I crossed the finish line, I thought I was second. But then after the finish they came to me and said, 'You've won.' I'm really happy, but it was a really good job from the team all week. We were always all together for the sprint, I was always put in a good position the sprint, and I'm really happy with the week."
Critical point: Gaviria looked like he may have missed out on his third stage win as Walscheid surged toward the line down the middle of the road, but the Colombian's bike-throw made the difference.
Final kilometre: Katusha-Alpecin really, really wanted Marcel Kittel to get a stage win at this year's race. The German sprinter's team was the main protagonist in the chase all day, and they drove the peloton into the last kilometre after the day's breakaway had been caught on the second of three finishing circuits in Sacramento. But Katusha were not up to the challenge of fending off the Quick-Step train, and the Belgian squad soon took over at the front for Gaviria. Three Quick-Step riders launched off the front with Gaviria as Mitchelton-Scott's Caleb Ewan shot up the left side of the road with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe). Walscheid pushed his way through the centre and looked to have the advantage before Gaviria threw his bike at the line and won by a photo finish.
The day's breakaway: Four riders peeled away from the bunch shortly after the start in Sacramento, but not after a hard fight as Katusha-Alpecin seemed especially picky about who they wanted to let in the move.
In the move were local boy Neilson Powless (LottoNL-Jumbo), Adam de Vos (Rally Cycling), Mikkel Bjerg (Hagens Berman Axeon) and Jonny Clarke (UnitedHealthcare). The gap never rose much above two minutes on the relatively short, flat stage, as the sprinters' teams wanted to make sure their fast men got one more stage opportunity. In the end, the breakaway made it onto the finishing circuits in Sacramento with a slight lead, but the field pulled them back with just over a lap to go.
"It was kind of the plan going into the day," Powless told Cyclingnews. "I wasn't sure if the wind was going to pick up, so I thought it was better to be at the front than at the back. I think we played it pretty well all day. Honestly, we were going pretty easy until the last 30km. I was in the wheels doing less than 200 watts, and I thought we might be playing the field pretty well, because the gap came down a couple of times when they were fighting for position in the back, but we stayed pretty calm and conserved energy as best we could. In the last 25km, we started to slowly ramp it up. Coming onto the circuits it was full-gas. Unfortunately, they were a little too quick on the circuit."
Most aggressive rider: This is a hard call on a day that played out pretty much to script. An early breakaway went away and wasn't given much leash, then the peloton pounced over the last 25km, timing the chase well and bringing the leaders back on the finishing circuits with enough time for the sprint trains to set up over the final lap. For our money, Mikkel Bjerg deserves today's prize. The Hagens Berman Axeon 20-year-old wanted to win the time trial but finished sixth that day. He wanted to make up for the disappointment with a day off the front, and he made it happen in Sacramento.
"I was really focused on the [stage 4] time trial, so the first couple of days I just took it easy and didn't really have a chance to prove myself. So today I went for it. We were caught, but then I went for it again and then the break stuck. But the sprint teams here were just too strong for a four-man breakaway. It was a really tough, long day out there."
Talking point: Is Fernando Gaviria now the sprinter to beat at the Tour de France? The Colombian – and his sprint train – were impressive this week in California. He won the sprint comfortably on day 1 in Long Beach, and he followed it with another impressive win in front of Ewan in Elk Grove. The Tour de France rosters for his team and for the other sprinters will be different than in California, and there will be a few more notable names in France, but Gaviria has laid down a good marker this week. The French Grand Tour is still more than a month away, but if the 23-year-old Colombian can hold his form and keep his lead-out train intact, it could be a long three weeks for the other fast men in France.
Expert says: "You never know how it's going to play out heading into the race, but I think the organisers have done a great job laying out the courses. Having the first real mountain test early and then a TT later, and then another mountain test, you were sure the best climber might not necessarily be in the leader's jersey, which would mean that he would have to attack again to get the lead back.
"That made for a really exciting racing. Unfortunately, that also meant that the Tahoe day was not really one for a breakaway. I kind of had that feeling at the beginning of the week. For sure, Bernal was the main guy that everyone was looking at. Tejay is always good here, and obviously he wanted to perform well just because it's in the US and he's won California before. I think a lot of people expected to see those two guys on the podium."
– Mountains classification winner and stage 3 winner Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo)