Anal­y­sis, in­sight and data

Procycling - - Contents -

John Stein­beck’s Amer­i­can clas­sic Of Mice and Men tells the story of how the am­bi­tions of two Cal­i­for­nian itin­er­ants are de­railed by a poor de­ci­sion that quickly spi­rals out of con­trol. An­drew Talan­sky of Can­non­dale-Dra­pac and Brent Book­wal­ter of BMC may not have been think­ing about Stein­beck’s de­pres­sion-era novel while their 2017 Tour of Cal­i­for­nia GC hopes dis­ap­peared up the road dur­ing stage 2, but the duo’s de­ci­sion not to join even­tual over­all win­ner Ge­orge Bennett of Lot­toNL-Jumbo in a move with Bora-Hans­grohe’s Rafa¯ Ma­jka, Sky’s Ian Boswell and Lach­lan Mor­ton of Di­men­sion Data sealed their fate just as surely as the de­ci­sions by Stein­beck’s char­ac­ters Ge­orge and Len­nie led their own plans astray. The route for this year’s in­au­gu­ral World-Tour edi­tion of the race looked straight­for­ward. The sprint­ers would have their days on stages 1, 3 and 7, while the op­por­tunists could try their luck in breaks on stages 2 and 4. The GC men would be left to fight it out on the slopes of Mt. Baldy on stage 5 and along the shores of Big Bear Lake dur­ing the stage 6 time trial.

Things were go­ing to plan after Quick-Step Floors led out Marcel Kit­tel to an im­pres­sive win at the end of stage 1 in Sacra­mento. In the early go­ing of stage 2, Can­non­dale’s Toms Skuji !š in­fil­trated the break­away and then soloed on after Mt. Hamil­ton, the hors-cat­e­gorie climb that topped out about 50km from the fin­ish. Skuji !š was fa­mil­iar with the route after hav­ing won on an al­most car­bon copy of the stage in 2015 us­ing a sim­i­lar tac­tic.

That’s when things be­gan de­vi­at­ing from the script. Be­hind Skuji !š, Lot­toNL-Jumbo were busy ex­e­cut­ing a plan they’d hatched weeks be­fore. Bennett and Robert Gesink, the 2012

On the lower slopes of Baldy, Bennett, Boswell, Mor­ton and Talan­sky started at­tack­ing each other

Cal­i­for­nia win­ner, sent their team of young climbers to the front at the bot­tom of Mt. Hamil­ton. About two kilo­me­tres from the top, Bennett launched his at­tack. Ma­jka latched on to the move, fol­lowed by Mor­ton and Boswell. Talan­sky marked them briefly, then faded back.

“I saw some­body from Can­non­dale cover the move,” Mor­ton’s team-mate Ben King said later. “I’m not sure if it was Talan­sky or who it was. To me it looked like Talan­sky, but I guess in the end he didn’t have the legs to fol­low.”

The four riders up front sensed their ad­van­tage and be­gan co­op­er­at­ing. Mean­while, Can­non­dale was chas­ing down a GC group that in turn was chas­ing down their leader on the road, Skuji !š. As Bennett would say later, Lot­toNL-Jumbo had ex­e­cuted their plan per­fectly.

“It was good team tac­tics,” Gesink said, adding a bit more de­tail. “The boys did a good job pulling, and then Ge­orge at­tacked. I think the strong­est four went on Hamil­ton. Talan­sky didn’t re­act or couldn’t re­act. I don’t know. It doesn’t re­ally mat­ter.”

The group even­tu­ally caught and passed Skuji !š, who crashed dra­mat­i­cally, while Ma­jka was able to slam the door shut on Bennett as they sprinted for the fin­ish line. Boswell came in third and Mor­ton fourth. Gesink led home the re­duced pelo­ton, which in­cluded Talan­sky and Book­wal­ter, 37 se­conds later, and the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion bat­tle was set. Stage 3 played out as pre­dicted, with Peter Sa­gan tak­ing a tech­ni­cal up­hill sprint in Morro Bay, while Evan Huff­man won stage 4 from a break.

The GC hos­til­i­ties re­sumed the next day on the lower slopes of Baldy, where Bennett, Boswell, Book­wal­ter, Mor­ton and Talan­sky started at­tack­ing each other and es­pe­cially leader Ma­jka. In the end, Talan­sky set­tled for a stage win, sav­ing his ef­fort un­til the fi­nal two switch­backs be­fore strik­ing for the line just ahead of Ma­jka. Bennett came in two se­conds later for third. Boswell was fourth, five se­conds back, while Mor­ton was 27 se­conds in ar­rears. Talan­sky had his re­venge for miss­ing the move on stage 2.

“I think to­day showed it wasn’t be­cause of the legs,” Talan­sky said when asked about miss­ing the cru­cial move ear­lier in the week. “I made a tac­ti­cal de­ci­sion, and I told my team af­ter­wards it was the wrong one, ob­vi­ously. That’s bike rac­ing. These guys rolled the dice, laid it out there and came away with the time.”

That time proved to be the de­cid­ing fac­tor in the over­all race. Head­ing into the flat, 24km stage 6 time trial, Ma­jka led the GC by six se­conds over Bennett, 25 over Boswell, 44 over Talan­sky, 49 over Mor­ton and 1:02 over Book­wal­ter.

Ma­jka watched the lead slip away as he fin­ished 59 se­conds be­hind win­ner Jon Dibben of Team Sky, while Bennett put in the ride of his life to fin­ish fourth, just 18 se­conds off the win­ner’s time and good enough to take the race lead by 35 se­conds over Ma­jka. Talan­sky was third on the day and fin­ished third over­all, 36 se­conds off Bennett’s time, just one sec­ond fewer than the 37 se­conds he lost to the Lot­toNL rider on the fate­ful sec­ond stage. Book­wal­ter fin­ished sec­ond on the stage and climbed to fourth over­all, 45 se­conds back.

Ge­orge Bennett laid the foun­da­tion for his Cal­i­for­nia GC win in the stage 2 es­cape with Rafa ¯ Ma­jka

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