Mt. Baldy, CA – Throughout the week, Amgen Tour of California race announcer, Brad Sohner, heralded the up-and-coming talents of 20-year-old Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates). But up-and-coming quickly turned into here-and-now, as Pogacar fought his way to hard earned victory atop Mt. Baldy and set him up to become the youngest ever Amgen Tour of California champion when the race concludes in Pasadena tomorrow.
First-timers to this race, Pogacar and 21-year-old Sergio Higuita (EF Education First Pro Cycling) battled 2017 Amgen Tour of California winner, George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma), to the steep summit finish atop Southern California’s Mt. Baldy. Pogacar would best the Columbian rider in the closing meters in a two-up sprint, and fended off a fast charging Bennett, who claimed third.
“It was for sure a team effort. Once again, my team did a really good job protecting me all day and leading me out to the final climb and supporting me all the ways that they could. I just did my best the last 5 or 6km, and I was climbing really well today,” said Pogacar.
The penultimate race day began with just 36 seconds separating the top-10 riders on the overall race leader board, which shattered on the steep ascent up Mt. Baldy.
Pogacar, who began the day in fourth place 16 seconds off the race lead and in the TAG Heuer Best Young Rider jersey he has worn for four consecutive days, now holds the overall race lead by 16 seconds ahead of Higuita. Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), as self-described man of the Classics continued to show he might be much more, as he held his own on the slopes of Mt. Baldy. The young Dane would retained the Visit California Sprint Leader Jersey. Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First Pro Cycling), who has held the overall race lead since day two, lost time on the final uphill section, falling to ninth place in the overall, over a minute back.
The Queen Stage from Ontario to Mt. Baldy, presented by Visit California, was the shortest but toughest of the week with 12,000 feet of climbing – more than half of that in the last 27 miles. Through the village of Mt. Baldy itself, through Icehouse Canyon, and up the ten switchbacks, the brutal ascent averages 9.4% with a max incline of almost 16%. In fact, the last half mile alone averages 12.8%.
Two thirds of the way into the stage, today’s breakaway held a three-minute advantage before things turned upward near the Glendora Sprint, and contained Hagens Berman Axeon Cycling Team’s Mikkel Bjerg (DEN), who was awarded today’s Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey.
BORA-hansgrohe’s 25-year-old German rider Max Schachmann, who began the day in fifth place and within reach of the overall win, attacked the peloton with less than eight miles left to ride and quickly caught then passed the lead group, the day’s first threat to the leader board. He nurtured his lead to 45 seconds, becoming the virtual race leader, as Trek-Segafredo and EF Education First worked together to close the gap in defense of their GC riders.
Pogacar and Asgreen rode near the front as the peloton gave chase. Van Garderen dropped off the back of the peloton with about 2.5 miles left to ride as it drove up the pace and bore down on Schachmann, a Giro d’Italia stage winner in 2018. Bennett and Pogacar were at the front of the chase group who caught him with two miles to ride.
Higuita soon attacked with Pogacar and Bennett responding, and Trek-Segafredo’s Richie Porte (AUS) following the trio, then leaped out to a solo lead with 1.7 miles left before Pogacar caught up to him in the final half-mile and sailed past on the final corner to victory.
“I think for sure my form is better now than what it was when we started. We’ve done some big days and I feel that I’ve gotten better but today is a really hard day… there’s no easy day in these races but today is a proper climb,” said Porte earlier today.
“We have a plan, we had a good team meeting, and the most important thing is there’s going to be pink on the top step of the podium tomorrow,” said van Garderen before the stage. “We expect an aggressive race out there but the fact that we have such a strong, deep team, I think that’s obvious to our advantage.”
Davide Ballerini (Astana Pro Team) garnered enough points on the stage to effectively sew up the Lexus King of the Mountains Leader Jersey.
Results Stage 6 – Ontario to Mt. Baldy
- Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)
- Sergio Higuita (EF Education First Pro Cycling)
- George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma)