Crosswinds spark late chaos in Tour of California
Stage 4 was won from the breakaway, but not before echelons gave the GC riders a big scare.
An undulating route between Santa Barbara and Santa Clarita was in store on Wednesday, when despite the four classified climbs sprinkled along the course, everyone was expecting for the winner to emerge from a bunch sprint; everyone, except the five men who decided to go in the break – Rob Britton (Rally Cycling), Lennard Hofstede (Team Sunweb), Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling), Mathias Le Turnier (Cofidis) and Gavin Mannion (UnitedHealthcare) – building an eight-minute maximum gap.
Quick-Step Floors, Katusha-Alpecin and Team Sky took full responsibility and shared the work in the peloton, clawing back time in the second part of the 160km-long stage, but the strong tailwind which made its present felt in the final 20 kilometers played in the favour of the escapees. With ten kilometers to go, the gap went down to 1:30, but strong crosswinds soon blew the peloton to pieces on the long and wide roads to Santa Clarita, disrupting the chase.
The fight for the stage victory soon turned into a battle for survival, and by the time the sprinters' teams reorganized themselves and the riders who got dropped returned in the pack, it was too late, as the quintet rode under the flamme rouge arch with 20 seconds in hand. Evan Huffman was the strongest and took the win, ahead of teammate Britton and Hofstede, while Marcel Kittel sprinted from the bunch 13 seconds later and finished eighth, a result which sees the German move to second in the green jersey standings.
Maximilian Schachmann and Enric Mas, Quick-Step Floors' top two riders in the general classification, came home safely, together with the main group, and will start Thursday's queen-stage to Mt. Baldy 48 seconds down on overall leader Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), giving the team two cards to play on the brutal 8.2km climb.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele