UAE-Team Emirates’ Tadej Pogačar belied his age and experience to win stage six of the Tour of California and with it seized the overall lead.
In a thrilling final to a sensational stage that finished atop a misty Mt. Baldy, the 20-year-old caught Sergio Higuita (EF-Education First) inside the final kilometre and beat the Colombian in a sprint on the line.
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The Slovenian, who won the Volta ao Algarve in February, replaces Tejay van Garderen (EF-Education First) as the leader of the race, holding a 16 second advantage to Higuita with just one stage remaining.
On the slopes of the vicious climb, Van Garderen could not keep pace with firstly the chasing bunch and then the flurry of attacks, with the young climbers of Pogačar and Higuita showcasing their immense talent.
Higuita, who is just 21-years-old and racing his first WorldTour event, looked to be on course for his maiden professional win after powerfully attacking with three kilometres to go. But Pogačar then passed him to claim his third win of the season.
George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) finished five seconds behind the duo, while Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick Step) rode strongly to limit his losses and keep him on the GC podium, dropping from second to third.
How it unfolded
The day’s breakaway was made up of eight riders, with Owain Doull of Team Ineos amongst them. He was joined by Michael Storer (Sunweb), Juraj Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Pawel Bernas (CCC Team), Hugo Houle (Astana), Matteo Fabbro (Katusha-Alpecin), Lennard Hofstede (Jumbo-Visma) and Mikkel Bjerg (Hagens Berman Axeon).
The break sat five minutes ahead of the peloton, while Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin), Ben King (EF-Education First), Joao Almeida (Hagens Berman Axeon) and Alex Hoehn (United States) tried to bridge across to them, but their efforts were ultimately futile.
Mads Pedersen, teammate of Trek-Segafredo’s Richie Porte, spectacularly jumped across from the peloton to the break with 30km to go, but the chances of the escapees being successful were very slim by this point.
At the foot of Mt. Baldy, Porte’s team and EF-Education First took charge of the peloton, while the breakaway up ahead watched their time dwindle.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s Max Schachmann, just 22 seconds off Van Garderen in the GC, attacked with 14km remaining and quickly joined the break who struggled to keep pace with the German. He subsequently pulled clear all by himself, holding a 40 second lead to the peloton.
Despite Schachmann being the virtual leader on the road by 20 seconds, Van Garderen refused to panic, with Bennett’s Jumbo-Visma team also working on the front of the reduced chasing peloton.
Third on GC overnight, Gianni Moscon (Team Ineos) cracked with five kilometres to go. Then, 800 metres later, Van Garderen fell back, too, leaving just nine riders up ahead including Asgreen. At this juncture, Schachmann was only around 200 metres ahead of the chasers.
Porte led a four-men chasing group that caught Schachmann, with Pogačar the first to overtake the German. He brought Higuita along with him, while Asgreen struggled to keep up.
Bennett put in an enormous effort to catch the two riders up ahead and as a result of spreading themselves across the road and thus slowing down, they allowed Porte to catch back on.
The Australian pulled away slightly, but then Higuita powered ahead. As the Colombian amassed a lead of 15 seconds with just 2km to go, Porte suffered a drop chain.
Bennett led Pogačar in the chase, but then the New Zealander failed to maintain his effort, allowing Pogačar free to reel Higuita in just after the flamme rouge.
Dancing on his pedals and swaying his bike from side-to-side, Higuita rode ahead of Pogačar, with Bennett just behind as they reached the flatter terrain at the summit.
Bennett sprinted furiously to catch the duo, and this prompted Higuita to launch his own sprint. However, as he went round the final corner in pole position, he was too aggressive and swung too wide, allowing Pogačar to ride past him on the inside and sprint to victory.
Stage seven from Santa Clarita to Pasadena features a significant amount of climbing during the middle of the stage but ends with a lengthy downhill and a probable sprint, meaning that Pogačar shouldn’t lose the yellow jersey.
Tour of California stage six 2019: Ontario to Mount Baldy (127.5km)
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE-Team Emirates in 3-48-49
2. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF-Education First, at same time
3. George Bennett (Nzl) Team Jumbo-Visma, at 5 secs
4. Richie Porte (Aus) Trek-Segafredo, at 10 secs
5. Riccardo Zoidl (Aut) CCC Team, at 20 secs
6. Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck-Quick Step, at 22 secs
7. Simon Špilak (Slo) Katusha-Alpecin, at 25 secs
8. Rohan Dennis (Aus) Bahrain-Merida, at 47 secs
9. Rob Britton (Can) Rally UHC
10. Jesper Hansen (Den) Cofidis, all at same time
General classification after stage six
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE-Team Emirates in 30-01-56
2. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF-Education First, at 16 secs
3. Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck-Quick Step, at 20 secs
4. George Bennett (Nzl) Team Jumbo-Visma, at 29 secs
5. Richie Porte (Aus) Trek-Segafredo, at 41 secs
6. Simon Špilak (Slo) Katusha-Alpecin, at 1-03
7. Jesper Hansen (Den) Cofidis, at 1-18
8. Felix Grossschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time
9. Tejay van Garderen (USA) EF-Education First, at 1-22
10. Rohan Dennis (Aus) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-23