With just one category three climb, the ascent to Pardee Dam Road Summit, coming around a third of the way through the 176.5km route from Stockton to Elk Grove, stage 5 was expected to be one for the sprinters in the race.
It didn’t take long for the breakaway to form with five riders going clear almost as soon as the flag dropped and opening up an advantage that settled at around the three-minute mark after 30km of racing.
With the yellow jersey on the shoulders of van Garderen, BMC Racing Team was initially patrolling the front of the peloton before the sprinters’ teams took control and began to set the pace in anticipation of the bunch sprint to come.
The gap remained stable going into the second half of the stage with van Garderen surrounded by his teammates in the first half of the bunch as the chase started to heat up approaching the 50km to go mark.
However, despite the increase in pace, it took another 35km to bring the three remaining leaders back to within one minute and the catch was eventually made inside 2km to go.
From there, the speed of the peloton got faster with every pedal stroke and after a chaotic final battle for position going under the flamme rouge, the sprint was launched with Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) taking the honors.
After being protected by his teammates perfectly, van Garderen crossed the line safely in the main bunch and continues to lead the General Classification by 23 seconds heading into a big day of climbing on stage 6 tomorrow.
“Looking ahead to tomorrow, first of all, I think the breakaway will not roll off the line like you’ve seen it do the past few days. I’ll bet it will be a hard breakaway to get into, just attrition-wise, and then the final climb heading up into Tahoe I expect that [Egan] Bernal and a lot of the other climbers will try to attack and win the race there.”
“The guys did a super job today. Five guys went clear and almost immediately the sprinters’ teams started to ride. We were nervous that there would be some windy sections that would split up the group but it was never a really big issue until the final. However, overall it was a pretty straightforward stage for us. Our guys rode in the front all day and in the final, it got pretty hectic with all the fighting for position. There was one big crash and a few of the major sprinters got a flat tire so it was definitely chaotic.”
“Teamwork will also be important for us tomorrow. It’s a hard, long day and we know that it’s a climbers’ day so we will have to have guys there with Tejay to pace the race and control the attacks. It’s really the last time that anyone can make up time and I think everyone will try to do something if they can. We know that going in though and our guys are strong. Luckily today was a day that we could stay safe in and I think we are ready for tomorrow.”