On a day that whittled down the peloton long before the finish in San Jose, the two neo-pros climbed with the best.
Two years ago, at the Tour of California's previous visit, San Jose didn't have a significant impact on the overall standings, with a day-long break taking the spoils, but this time around it proved to be a completely different story, as the general classification – led by Marcel Kittel following his victory on the opening stage – was reshuffled by the tough course which was jammed with five classified climbs, including the punishing Mount Hamilton (6.9 kilometers, 8.7% average gradient), and several tricky and technical descents.
Penultimate ascent on the course, this signaled the real start of the stage, as a four-man group jumped from the severely reduced pack on its tough slopes and went in pursuit of the early escape, with whom they made contact before Quimby Road. Quick-Step Floors and BMC led the chase behind, cutting the gap at one point, but a new attack of the quartet, just a few kilometers away from the uphill drag to San Jose, helped them stretch their advantage once again to a minute.
Of the four, Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) turned out to be the strongest, notching the win from a highly-contested sprint against George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo). Ian Boswell (Team Sky) finished third, while the chasing group, which managed to scratch off 20 seconds in the last kilometer, arrived around half a minute later.
Enric Mas (22 years) and Maximilian Schachmann (23 years), who put in a brave effort during the 143km-long stage which had 2500 meters of vertical gain, came home together with that group, in 9th, respectively 11th place. Their results are even more impressive considering that the Spaniard needed a bike change in an important moment of the race, while his German teammate crashed on a descent.
"Today was a really stressful day. It was very fast right from the start, as there was a big battle to get into the break. Of the climbs we had in the menu, Mount Hamilton was a long and hard climb, with steep gradients and some bumpy roads, which made it even harder", said 23-year-old Max, who came to the US after completing another World Tour event, the Tour de Romandie, in 19th place.
"Unfortunately, I crashed on the last descent, on a left-hand bend when I was trying to move to the front of the chasing group, but fortunately it's nothing serious, so I can count myself lucky. I made it soon back to the group and tried to help Enric as the finish line was nearing, but it was difficult after this energy-draining stage. Overall, I think we can be satisfied with these results. There's still five more stages to go and we'll continue to take it day by day", concluded Schachmann, now 9th in the general classification.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele