Eight months after cycling abruptly catapulted Julian Alaphilippe off his bike and into bed, the young Frenchman has returned to the forefront of the sport.
After assuming the race lead last Tuesday with a solo mountaintop win in Stage 3 just outside of Santa Barbara, Alaphilippe finished 11th in the main field Sunday in Stage 8 and claimed the Amgen Tour of California for the biggest triumph of his career.
“It’s incredible; I’m supremely happy,” said Alaphilippe, the 23-year-old Etixx-Quick Step rider who contracted mononucleosis via overtraining last September and spent the rest of his third pro season and the offseason recovering. “It’s difficult to believe, but I believe in myself, and I believe in my team.”
It’s incredible; I’m supremely happy. It’s difficult to believe, but I believe in myself, and I believe in my team.
Julian Alaphilippe on his Tour of California title
Australia’s Rohan Dennis (BMC), who won the Stage 6 time trial in Folsom, was second in the 11th annual event, trailing by 21 seconds. Brent Bookwalter (BMC) of Asheville, N.C., placed third overall, 43 seconds behind.
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) of Great Britain sprinted to a two bike-length win over Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) of Slovakia in the finale of 782-mile event that began May 15 in San Diego.
Sagan, the defending race titlist, finished 35th overall. But the reigning world titlist won Stages 1 and 4 and finished second in Stage 7 after riding alone at the front for 25 miles in mid-stage.
The men’s field pedaled 85.7 miles on the final day, leaving Sacramento and onto Highway 160 to Clarksburg before the turnaround just south of Walker Landing. The return route progressed north on Route 84, advanced over the Tower Bridge and concluded with three 2.2-mile circuits on a several-block radius around the state Capitol.
Norway’s Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) , who edged Sagan to win Stage 7 in Santa Rosa, finished third in the final stage.
Less than two hours earlier, Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans), who lives in France and San Mateo, claimed the four-day women’s race. She placed 28th in the main field of the 43.5-mile Stage 4 won by Kirsten Wild (Hitec) of the Netherlands. Lisa Brennauer (Canyon-SRAM) of Germany finished second in the 20-lap women’s finale. Marianne Vos (Rab-Liv) of the Netherlands, the winner of Stage 3, was third in the pack sprint.
Guarnier, who won solo on Stage 1 in South Lake Tahoe, maintained her opening day margin and was victorious by 17 seconds over Kristin Armstrong (Twenty16-RideBiker) of Boise, Idaho. Evelyn Stevens (Boels-Dolman) of Claremont was third, 28 seconds behind.
Guarnier, the only U.S. athlete currently qualified to compete in road events in the Summer Olympics, finished fourth Saturday in the 69-mile Stage 3 road race in Santa Rosa. Her squad finished second in the Stage 2 team time trial in Folsom.
Since beginning her season in February, Guarnier has raced well consistently and now has four wins. In addition to her stage win and overall title in the Tour of California, Guarnier won Stage 4 of Euskal Emakumeen Bira in Spain on April 17. Three days later, she finished third in La Flèche Wallonne Feminine in Belgium. Guarnier also has three runner-up finishes and 12 top-10 finishes in her 20 race days this season.
Alaphilippe had a breakthrough season last year. He finished second in La Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, two of cycling’s biggest one-day races. He then finished secondin the Tour of California, losing to Sagan by three seconds of bonus time on the final day.
On Sunday, Alaphilippe claimed his first win of the year and first stage race title of his career, and he became the first French winner of the Tour of California. The race, which began in 2006, has had four American winners and one titlist each from Australia, Great Britain, Slovakia and the Netherlands in addition to France.
Roseville’s Neilson Powless (Axeon Hagens Berman), the youngest rider the field, finished ninth overall. He began the final day in fifth but crashed with about two laps remaining.
“It was a bit scary at first, and it took me a while to get going again,” said Powless, 19, a second-year pro. “But this whole week has been a dream; it has exceeded my expectations. I came into the race hoping to finish in the top 10. To be top-10 here, racing against some of the riders I used to come out and watch myself a few years ago, is amazing.”
It was a bit scary at first, and it took me a while to get going again. But this whole week has been a dream; it has exceeded my expectations. I came into the race hoping to finish in the top 10. To be top-10 here, racing against some of the riders I used to come out and watch myself a few years ago, is amazing.
Roseville’s Neilson Powless, who crashed with about two laps remaining
Powless, a former runner at Roseville High School, had a long amateur mountain biking and cyclocross career but decided to devote himself to road racing after high school.
“I had a couple stages where things went bad – a couple flats and a crash – but each time I had a teammate or two or three to help me,” Powless said. “So I have to thank them for helping me out.”
El Dorado Hills resident Evan Huffman (Rally), who finished second in Stage 2, placed 84th overall in the field of 131 and claimed the mountain classification (best climber).
“I think I exceeded expectations for myself and for the team,” said Huffman, 26. “I felt good from the first day, and obviously the second stage I was really strong. I went out again in Stage 3. There were a couple of tough days after that, but I came round in time for Santa Rosa, and I was able to hang on to the (climbers’) jersey.”