Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) rode superbly to stave off repeated attacks to ensure she emerged victorious in the Tour of California.
On the third and final stage of the women’s WorldTour race, Elisa Balsamo (Valcar Cylance) was the fastest in a reduced bunch sprint, beating Arlenis Sierra (Astana) and Leigh Ann Ganzar (Hagens Berman-Supermint).
It was another excellent result for an in-form Balsamo. The 21-year-old, who was second on stage one, won Trofee Maarten Wynants a week ago, while she recorded some impressive spring results.
The stage could have turned out much differently, however, if it wasn’t for the effort and relentless work from Van der Breggen who, predictably, had to contend with attacks from her general classification rivals.
Such was the ferocity of the racing, the world champion lost three of her team-mates to the pace and she was forced to do much of the chasing herself, before eventually finishing in the leading bunch.
She won the race by 29 seconds from her teammate and 2018 champion Katie Hall, who won stage two atop Mt. Baldy. It is the second time Van der Breggen has topped the race’s GC, doing so last in 2017.
How it happened
The opening exchanges of the 125km stage were fiery, with several breaks trying but failing whilst the pace saw three distinct groups emerge from the peloton.
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) and Leah Kirchmann (Sunweb) were among five riders who attempted an audacious but ultimately futile breakaway.
Just 35km into a race, a group of 20 launched and stayed away, holding an advantage of 30 seconds. Unfortunately for Van der Breggen, neither she nor any of her team-mates were present, forcing them to work hard to try and reel the group back in.
The group contained big-hitters such as the Canyon-Sram trio of Hannah Barnes, Omer Shapira and Lisa Klein, Brodie Chapman (TIBCO-SVB), Kirchmann and Kathrin Hammes (WNT-Rotor). Chapman was the best placed on GC, 1-47 shy of Van der Breggen.
The fierce proceedings meant that the gruppetto fell drastically behind, while Boels-Dolmans were down to just three rides in the chasing bunch with 70km remaining, leaving Van der Breggen chasing.
The Dutchwoman caught the break and for a brief period the antics calmed as the escapes merged with the chasers to form a peloton once more.
Ahead of the climb of the Angeles Forest Highway, Jasmin Duehring (Sho-Air Twenty20) ignited another breakaway, bringing with her Hammes, Queen of the Mountain victor Liliana Moreno Blanca (Astana), Eric Magnaldi (WNT-Rotor) and Pauliena Rooijakkers (CCC-Liv).
A three-person chase group of Barnes, Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) and Juliette Labous (Sunweb) managed to bridge across to the breakaway, and the eight riders had a 40 second advantage to a peloton that was being dragged along by the yellow jersey of Van der Breggen.
Eight became two, when Hammes and Rooijakkers attacked from the break, and with their former companions swallowed up by the peloton, they were allowed to stretch a lead out over to 90 seconds with 40km to go ahead of the downhill ride into the finish.
One the first of three laps in Pasedena, the duo had a 35 second lead, but it was only with 8km remaining that they were joined by Olga Zabelinskaya (Cogeas-Mettler).
The three were then joined by Marta Cavalli (Valcar-Cylance) and they put 20 seconds between themselves and the chasing group.
With two kilometres left, though, they were reeled in by a reduced bunch of around 20 riders. Cavalli attacked again under the flamme rouge but was sucked in with 500m left.
Riders spread themselves across the road and Belsamo came from the left, powering into the lead and despite a strong effort from six others who tried to edge around her to the right, she held off the challenge from Sierra and Ganzar.
Women’s Tour of California 2019 stage three: Santa Clarita to Pasadena (125km)
1. Elisa Balsamo (Ita) Valcar Cylance in 3-19-57
2. Arlenis Sierra (Cub) Astana
3. Leigh Ann Ganzar (USA) Hagens Berman-Supermint
4. Chloe Dygert (USA) Sho-Air Twenty20
5. Leah Kirchmann (Can) Sunweb
6. Lisa Klein (Ger) Canyon-Sram
7. Lizzie Deignan (GBr) Trek-Segafredo
8. Brodie Chapman (Aus) TIBCO-SVB
9. Tatiana Guderzo (Ita) Bepink
10. Sara Bergen (Can) Rally UHC, all at same time
General classification after three stages
1. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels-Dolmans in 8-32-34
2. Katie Hall (USA) Boels-Dolmans, at 29 secs
3. Ashleigh Moolman (RSA) CCC-Liv, at 1-06
4. Clara Koppenburg (Ger) WNT-Rotor, at 1-25
5. Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-Sram, at 1-34
6. Brodie Chapman (Aus) TIBCO-SVB, at 1-46
7. Kristabel Doebel-Hickok (USA) Rally-UHC, at 1-58
8. Omer Shapira (Isr) Canyon-Sram, at 2-12
9. Emma Grant (GBr) Sho-Air Twenty20, at 2-15
10. Pauliena Rooijakkers (Ned) CCC-Liv, at 2-28