The Norwegian out-paced 15-time ToC stage winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) to take the victory in Santa Rosa with Danny van Poppel (Sky) in third.
Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) endured a tough day to defend his overall race lead, but finished in the peloton to retain his grip on the general classification with one stage remaining.
The penultimate stage of the 2016 ToC featured six classified climbs, providing the final chance for the overall favourites to gain time on their rivals. With Alaphilippe only 16 seconds ahead of Rohan Dennis (BMC) going into the stage, it was going to be down to BMC to take the fight to the Frenchman.
And sure enough, BMC riders were some of the main animators of the day. The composition of the day’s escape group was fluid, with riders dropping out and others bridging over. With GC danger man George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) involved, the escape was simply not allowed more than a minute or two’s grace.
Then world champion Sagan bridged over to the break, and attacked to go solo before the final classified climb of the day with 50km remaining. Behind, attack after attack was launched out of the peloton until the chase group settled on Bennett, Lawson Craddock (Cannondale), Rob Squire (Holowesko), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Krists Neilands (Axeon Hagens Berman).
Sagan forged ahead, tucking low over his bike on the descents and powering on the flats and hills, and managing to maintain the gap. Eventually, the peloton caught the chase group, leaving Sagan out front solo – and keeping Alaphilippe’s lead safe.
With the hills completed, and the road flattening out towards the finish circuit in Santa Rosa, Sagan realised that he couldn’t evade the peloton, so sat up to save himself for the finish.
Katusha immediately took control of the bunch for Kristoff, keeping the speed high enough to prevent any last-minute attacks. Sagan tucked in behind the red line of Katusha riders, but simply didn’t have the energy after his earlier exploits to prevent Kristoff taking the win.
Stage three of the women’s Tour of California took place prior to the men’s event, with Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv) taking the victory. Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) finished in fourth place to retain the overall lead. Dani King (Wiggle-High5) is the highest placed British rider overall in 13th, 1-24 behind Guarnier.
Both the men’s and women’s 2016 Amgen Tour of California conclude on Sunday, May 22, with a fast and flat stage around Sacramento. With little to tax the GC riders and climbers, it will be a day for the sprinters.
Amgen Tour of California 2016, stage seven: Santa Rosa to Santa Rosa, 175.5km
1. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff
3. Danny van Poppel (Ned) Sky
4. Mike Teunissen (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
5. Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie
6. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
7. Travis McCabe (USA) Holowesko
8. John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant-Alpecin
9. Timo Roosen (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
10. Ruben Guerreiro (Por) Axeon Hagens Berman all same time
General classification after stage seven
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx-QuickStep
2. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing at 16 secs
3. Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing at 38 secs
4. Andrew Talansky (USA) Cannondale at 47 secs
5. Neilson Powless (USA) Axeon Hagens Berman at 1-08
6. Lawson Craddock (USA) Cannondale at 1-17
7. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC Racing at 1-17
8. Laurens ten Dam (Ned) Giant-Alpecin at 1-24
9. George Bennett (NZl) LottoNl-Jumbo at 1-45
10. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel) Katusha at 1-48