Helped by a strong team, the 23-year-old finished the penultimate day safely in the pack.
On paper, stage 7 of the Tour of California (Santa Rosa – Santa Rosa, 175.5 kilometers) could have concluded either way, with a win from the escape or one from a bunch gallop At one point, no less than 14 riders made it into the breakaway, many of them from such teams as BMC, LottoNL-Jumbo and Trek-Segafredo, which infiltrated men in that move in order to put pressure on race leader Julian Alaphilippe, who was holding a 16-second advantage over Rohan Dennis, his closest rival in the general classification.
With a rolling terrain lying ahead, the pace was a relentless one on the first four categorized climbs of the day, when the peloton exploded following the countless breakaway attempts. Having the clear goal of protecting Julian, who was wearing the yellow jersey for the fourth consecutive day, Etixx – Quick-Step proceded to taking things into its own hands and controlling the escapees. On the final three ascents, as a result of the work put in by our riders, the gap decreased and it became only a matter of time until the break was reeled in, on the flat run-in to Santa Rosa, where three laps on a pan-flat circuit awaited.
In the last kilometer, Katusha drove the peloton for Alexander Kristoff, who notched the win ahead of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Danny van Poppel (Team Sky). In the same time as the winner came Julian Alaphilippe, who had Petr Vakoč alongside to help him safely negotiate the hectic finale. Thanks to the strong effort of the team, the Frenchman will now go into stage 8 (Sacramento – Sacramento, 138 kilometers) with a margin which allows him to hope that he'll add the Tour of California to his palmares.
"My opponents tried to make the stage as hard as possible and attacks came from all over the place in the first two hours, but my team was incredible and responded to each and every action, and I must thank the guys for their outstanding work and for the way they fought", said Julian referring to the action-packed Saturday afternoon. "The race is not over yet, and even though tomorrow's stage should be an easy one, we'll stay focused and keep an eye out for any move. Our outfit is a strong one, we showed a fantastic team spirit since the start of the competition and we're confident ahead of tomorrow."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele