Skujins wins in California

Toms holds off the peloton to take a thrilling win in stage three

In a never-say-die performance, Toms Skujins held off the peloton to take a thrilling win in stage three at the Amgen Tour of California Tuesday.

His finish line celebration told the story.

In the final few hundred meters Toms Skujins dared look back, and only then he realized he had claimed victory. He danced on the saddle, then held his head in disbelief, finally throwing his arms in the air. It was a riveting finish to stage three at the Amgen Tour of California – a nail-biter to the very end.

©Matteo Marchi/BettiniPhoto©2018

©Matteo Marchi/BettiniPhoto©2018

©Matteo Marchi/BettiniPhoto©2018

Skujins had won stages in 2015 and 2016 at the Tour of California but was knocked out of the race in stage two last year, concussed from a nasty crash. There was nothing better than returning to his winning ways this year, and to do it in the longest stage, by holding a precarious lead over the final climbs with a peloton breathing down your neck, well, that made it even sweeter.

“The only time I actually dreamed I would win was in the last 300 [meters],” exclaimed Skujins. “I’m serious. I expected someone to come from the back, full throttle, but I guess it had been a hard day for everyone with the wind and hard pace. Also, the breakaway was really strong that went away in the beginning, and that all played into my advantage.”

©Matteo Marchi/BettiniPhoto©2018

Skujins jumped off the front with Logan Owen (EF Education First-Drapac ) on the Cachagua Road Summit with around 30 kilometers to go, joining the last two of three breakaway riders who had been out front all day.

Skujins explained: “When the break was almost back, we slowed down on one of the GPMS (categorized climbs) and Logan Owen attacked, and I was on the lookout and just followed him. We caught the two guys remaining from the break just at the top. We ripped the downhill and got like 45-55 seconds.”

Coming into the penultimate climb, the Laureles Grade Summit, the peloton had reduced the lead to the leaders and had them in sight. Skujins pressed on. The riders with him fell off the pace, while a few others attacked out of the bunch.

“At the bottom of the next [climb] we didn’t have much time, but I knew that there weren’t that many guys left in the field, so I just went full gas from the bottom and was solo for a little bit until I was caught by Howes and Bennett” continued Skujins. “Bennett attacked and dropped Howes, and I couldn’t believe that the group wasn’t closer.”

©Matteo Marchi/BettiniPhoto©2018

The peloton, only five seconds back at the start of the climb, had fallen a little further behind, but still had the escapees within a catchable distance. Sean Bennett (Hagens Berman Axeon) was the only rider to stick with Skujins as the gap hovered between 17 and 25 seconds, but with more than 10 kilometers and a few stiff climbs to go, it seemed futile.

Entering the race track circuit of Laguna Seca the pair held no more than a fistful of seconds. One sharp uphill remained, followed by the corkscrew descent and a fast, final meters to the line. Somehow Toms found reserves. He powered to the top of the last ascent, dropped Bennett, and soloed the final meters for an incredible victory.

Skujins said: “We got into the speedway, and I know this circuit when I raced with the Hincapie team here. I knew that it was a question of whoever goes over the top of that last climb first, and I wanted to be the first guy. And then I saw Bennett crack a little bit and I just did five more pedal strokes tucked, and by the bottom, I had a gap. It was enough to enjoy it the last 300 meters.”

©Matteo Marchi/BettiniPhoto©2018

It was a sweet win.

“It’s not the easiest run-in to the line, but luckily I had raced on Laguna Seca before, and that definitely helped me. I’ve done this stage – a similar stage – before and I knew how to play it. I was never feeling really good, but once I saw my breakaway compatriot crack a little bit, that’s the only time I believed it might happen.”

Stage three highlights:

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