After a long day of slowly reeling in a breakaway and knocking out three-quarters of the field in the process, team Cannondale seemed poised to give Peter Sagan a stage victory for the first time in the 2014 Amgen Tour of California.
Sagan had been picked by most teams and announcers as the favorite of the day and the team went out of its way to wear out much of his competition in the first three-quarters of the stage.
But no one had mentioned the kid from Colorado, Taylor Phinney (BMC) -the time trial specialist- or a talent he has for using considerable size for a rider -6'5" 185 pounds- to turn his bike into a gravity-powered missile down steep grades.
Stage five started out much as stage four had with a breakaway and the riders in it piling up points for reaching sprint and king of the mountain checkpoints.
Michael Schar (BMC) Danny Van Poppel (TFR) Maarten Wynants (BEL) , Isaac Bolivar (UHC), Iker Camano Ortuzar (TNE) and Serghei Tvetcov (JBC) broke free early and had a 2 minute advantage 25 minutes and 40 miles into the race.
Van Poppel, Schar and Ortuzar rang up first, second, and third place points for the first sprint checkpoint.
Ortuzar won the second sprint, with Schar and Bolivar also gaining points.
As the breakaway weakened with 20 miles to go, Jens Voigt (TFR) tried to catch the peloton napping, but was soon caught. The breakaway was caught halfway up San Marcos Pass about five minutes later.
George Bennett had led Cannondale and the peloton on a grueling march to catch the lead group and set up Sagan to blow away the competition at the end.
The lead group was about 35 riders by the time they approached the peak of San Marcos. Will Routley attacked again to win King of the Mountain -again. As he celebrated, Phinney plotted.
As the peloton reached the crest, Phinney blew past the pack and went into a tuck.
“Sometimes you just have a voice inside you that says go,” he said later.
The tuck involves him sitting on the top tube of the bike and squeezing his arms and legs together around the headset and the down tube.
Almost before the peloton could react, Phinney was going 75mph down the side of the mountain with a 20-second lead. He would alternate pedaling furiously with conserving energy in the tuck until the flat before the finish.
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