Alex Candelario continued Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies’ hot streak today in stage five of the Amgen Tour of California, finishing seventh from an elite lead group. It was the team’s fifth top 8 finish in five days, and Candelario was the only domestic rider, and the only rider from a Continental or Pro Continental team, to make the decisive split, joining 15 ProTour riders for a chance to contest the stage. Jens Voigt (Radioshack) decided the stage with a bold solo attack, and no chase was organized in time to catch the peloton’s oldest rider on his way to victory.
“I was in good position when a big split was happening and I felt like I had to jump on it,” said Candelario. “We were rolling really fast, and it became pretty clear we would make it to the line. Jens launched a brilliant attack and the finish was on a pretty tough hill, so once he had a decent gap I knew he was gone. I wanted to get a podium for the team today, but unfortunately it wasn’t in the cards.”
A small breakaway of riders battling for Nissan King of the Mountain points was pulled back by the peloton quickly when a stiff crosswind split the field. 120 kilometers into the race, the Radioshack-Leopard-Trek and BMC Racing teams picked up the pace significantly on one of the windiest sections of the couse. The peloton was slow to respond and suffered the consequences, quickly breaking apart into several groups, struggling to hold the pace on the exposed country roads. Candelario was quick to recognize the narrow window of opportunity.
“It looked like the right combination of general classification riders and sprinters heading up the road in that moment, so I jumped into it.” said Candelario.
Shortly before the decisive move of the day, Performance Director Jonas Carney instructed his riders to move to the front of the peloton before a windy, exposed section of the course. The Optum p/b KBS team was able to advance near the front and prepare for the oncoming assault.
“The guys got into pretty good position on a hard part of the course, but unfortunately we were only able to place Cando into the lead group,” said Carney. “Obviously we wanted to have Haga there, but when you consider that Candelario was the only non World Tour rider to make the selection, it gives you an idea of hard it was.”
Candelario’s lead group contained many of the the peloton’s top racers, including Voigt, Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), Michael Rogers (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), and Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing). The 16 riders quickly expanded their lead on the chasing field, and with general classification favorite Van Garderen in tow, the lead men were motivated to stay out to the line.
A hard chase commenced from the second group, which contained the vast majority of general classification contenders, including Optum p/b KBS’ Chad Haga, who was sitting in 7th overall. The team did it’s best to keep Haga safe and protect his general classification position heading into tomorrow’s decisive San Jose time trial.
Riders from several teams banded together but the chase was unorganized, and Candelario’s ProTour heavy group proved uncatchable on the rolling hills entering Avila Beach. With his group advancing to the finish alone, the yellow jersey fell from the grasp of Colombian Jose Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and onto the shoulders of Van Garderen. Candelario was left somewhat frustrated with the result, and wondered about the effort to chase down Voigt over the closing kilometers.
“I was a little shocked when Orica-GreenEDGE, with Michael Matthews, and BMC with Thor Hushovd, decided to let Jens Voigt ride away like that. Sagan, Farrar and I were solo in the move, so I think we were hoping the bigger teams might try and bring back Voigt, but that’s bike racing. Hopefully we can get more chances at the podium this week.”
Tomorrow is arguably the most important stage in determining the race’s overall victor. The 31.6 kilometer time trial in San Jose features a grueling final climb, unusually steep for a time trial course, and should suit Haga well.
The team has had an impressive streak of results at the 2013 Amgen Tour of California. Alex Candelario finished seventh in stage one, Chad Haga finished sixth in stage two, Alex Candelario finished seventh in stage three, Ken Hanson finished second in stage five, and Candelario took his third seventh place finish in today’s fifth stage. Every placing has occurred alongside a who’s who of the sport’s top riders.
See photos from all five stages of racing at optumprocycling.com