Cal­i­for­nia’s Colom­bian cav­alry

Procycling - - De Brief -

Since the WorldTour de­buted in its cur­rent guise in 2011, only three riders have won a toplevel stage race in their first year with a WorldTour team. Moreno Moser, aged 21, won the Tour of Poland in 2012 for LiquigasCan­non­dale and Il­nur Zakarin won the Tour de Ro­mandie in 2015 for Ka­tusha. The third to join this elite lit­tle club is Team Sky’s Egan Ber­nal, who took the the yel­low jersey at the Tour of Cal­i­for­nia in dom­i­nat­ing fash­ion.

Not that the re­sult was out of the blue. The young Colom­bian’s GC results have been so im­pres­sive in 2018 that Sky are said to be con­sid­er­ing fast-track­ing him straight into their Tour de France line up for his grand tour de­but. Those results in­clude vic­tory at the Colombia Oro y Paz, sec­ond at the Tour de Ro­mandie and sixth at the Tour Down Un­der. There was also a near miss at the Volta a Catalunya, where a crash just a few kilo­me­tres from the fin­ish-line on the fi­nal day de­prived him of an­other WorldTour GC podium.

While Ber­nal lit up the moun­tain stages, win­ning the two sum­mit fin­ishes on his way to the yel­low jersey – the first by a Colom­bian rider – his com­pa­triot Fer­nando Gaviria swept up three sprint vic­to­ries with ease. Few race results sym­bol­ise quite what the fu­ture of cy­cling could very likely be as those of the Tour of Cal­i­for­nia. Matxin Fer­nan­dez, a UAE Emi­rates sports di­rec­tor with a back­ground in talent scout­ing said Colombia was, in his view, the num­ber one source of promis­ing ju­niors and U23 riders.

Cal­i­for­nia was one of the few races where the bulk of the main sprint­ers went head-to-head be­fore the Tour. Peter Sa­gan, Mar­cel Kit­tel, Mark Cavendish, Caleb Ewan and Alexan­der Kristoff were among those join­ing Gaviria on the start line. But it was the 23-year-old Colom­bian who set the tone by win­ning stage 1 in Long Beach. Gaviria won the sprint a wheel ahead of Ewan, with Sa­gan third and pre-race favourite Kit­tel in fourth. Four days later on stage 5 in Elk Grove, Gaviria’s vic­tory was even more pro­nounced, as he sprinted a bike length clear of Ewan, and had time to sit up and cel­e­brate. A late charge from Max Walscheid on stage 7 threat­ened to snatch the fi­nal stage from Gaviria, but a photo-fin­ish proved oth­er­wise. The re­al­ity was that Ewan was the only Tour ri­val to get near the Colom­bian.

In the bat­tle for the yel­low jersey Ber­nal fol­lowed Gaviria’s lead and set the tone early by win­ning on stage 2, the first sum­mit fin­ish. An­other of Sky’s im­pres­sive young tal­ents, Tao Geoghe­gan Hart, set up Ber­nal, who at­tacked with 2km to go. Ber­nal was quickly out of sight and he crossed the line with a 21-sec­ond buf­fer and a handy 10-sec­ond time bonus to boot. Adam Yates, Te­jay van Garderen and Rafa ¯ Ma­jka, his clos­est chal­lengers, fin­ished in dribs and drabs be­hind.

The 34.7km time trial on stage 4 was never go­ing to suit the young

climber, how­ever, and Ber­nal re­lin­quished the lead as ex­pected to Van Garderen, who won the stage – his first vic­tory since the 2017 Giro d’Italia. The fi­nal show­down came on the climb to South Lake Ta­hoe on stage 6.

BMC’s Van Garderen had no an­swer to Sky’s young guns when the road went up­hill and Geoghe­gan Hart and Ber­nal ran amok. The Bri­ton was the first to at­tack with 10km to go, be­fore Ber­nal bridged across and pressed on im­me­di­ately. He won his sec­ond stage by a whop­ping 1:28 to se­cure the yel­low jersey, and his first WorldTour stager­ace win. It looks like it may be the first of many mem­o­rable wins to come.

Gaviria won the three sprint stages in Cal­i­for­nia against many ri­vals he will face on his Tour de­but

Ber­nal rides clear from the pelo­ton on the climb to South Lake Ta­hoe on stage 6, to seal the win

The vic­tory was the irst GC WorldTour stage race win for 21-year- old Ber­nal

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