SACRAMENTO (AP) — The organizers of the Tour of California ought to consider changing its name.
Tour of Colombians sounds about right.
Fernando Gaviria sprinted to his third stage win of the weeklong race on the crowd-lined streets of Sacramento on Saturday, while 21-year-old Egan Bernal of powerhouse Team Sky finished safely in the main field to secure the overall race victory.
Throw in a third-place finish by Daniel Martinez in the overall standings and it was a dominant performance by Colombian riders, even without more well-known riders such as Nairo Quintana in the field.
“I’m really happy with this Tour of California and I’m really happy with our team,” said Quick-Step Floors’ Gaviria, who nipped Max Walscheid in a photo-finish to take the seventh stage Saturday.
“It was a really good week. A lot of people, a lot of Colombian guys,” Gaviria said. “A lot of atmosphere, too. I really enjoyed the race.”
Earlier in the day, Arlenis Sierra outsprinted Emma White and Alexis Ryan to win the final stage of the women’s race, while American star Katie Hall finished in the pack to wrap up the overall win.
“It feels so, so good, especially after losing this race last year by one second,” said Hall, who won the mountaintop stage the previous day to assume the race lead. “To defend it, come away with a win, really rely on me teammates to help me out today, it feels so good.”
The final stage began with a long run-in to Sacramento, followed by three circuits for the men on a course with sharp right-hand bends. But not even the technical nature of those corners allowed for anyone to breakaway, and the stage came down to the bunch sprint that everyone expected.
Marcel Kittel was the first to line up behind his Katusha-Alpecin team, trying to win over the same course where he claimed victory last year. The Bora-Hansgrohe team of world champ Peter Sagan also moved to the front, trying to position their fast-man for his first stage win of this year’s race.
Kittel was still third in line as the field strung out due to the rapid speed, then tried to pop to the front. He was joined by Caleb Ewan, who had made a habit of landing on the podium this week but had yet to achieve victory — though both of them ultimately went too soon.
Gaviria and Walscheid, a 6-foot-6 powerhouse, rushed by them to the finish line, and the live shots appeared to show the German sprinter winning. He even raised his arms in celebration.
It took the camera positioned right at the finish line to show Gaviria winning by inches, which also allowed him to claim the green points jersey give to the race’s top sprinter.
“It’s always important to take the jersey. Today the sprint was really difficult, a really close victory,” Gaviria said, “but I’m really happy with the team and happy with the green jersey.”
Bernal wound up maintaining his advantage of 1 minutes, 25 seconds over Tejay van Garderen in the overall standings. Martinez was 2:14 off the pace with Adam Yates another two seconds behind.
“I came here with the goal to win. That’s not me saying that I am not stoked to finish in second place,” van Garderen said, “but I came here thinking I had the ability to win. I think I showed I have pretty good form and we are still a couple of months away from (the Tour de France).”
Sagan had his streak of eight straight Tours with a stage victory come to an end.
“Every day the team worked hard and I would have liked to win a stage for them, as well as for the fans here. I really appreciate their warm welcome,” he said. “That’s bike racing. You can’t always win.
“We now focus on continuing my preparation and then the Tour de Suisse in three weeks.”
Van Garderen and Sagan may be pointed to bigger races this season, but nothing trumps the Tour of California for Hall, whose UnitedHealthcare team races primarily in the United States.
Her victory in the women’s event proved in front of friends and family she can race with anyone.
“It was just perfect, a perfect day,” she said. “It was so fun hearing my name all the way around the course today, on every lap. That was just the coolest thing.”