Skujins escapes in the mountains to deliver Stage 5 victory in Tour of California |

Skujins escapes in the mountains to deliver Stage 5 victory in Tour of California

Cannondale Pro Cycling's Toms Skujins celebrates the Amgen Tour of California Stage 5 win, crossing the finish line first at Heavenly Mountain Resort's California Lodge base area, Thursday, May 19.
Sebastian Foltz / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — After a long day in the breakaway as the peloton took off from Lodi, California, Cannondale Pro Cycling Team’s Toms Skujins (Latvia) led a group of three out ahead of the leaders Thursday, May 19. That lead continued up the mountains where elevations approached 8,600 feet at the apex on Carson Pass, and eventually over the finish line at Heavenly Mountain Resort’s California Lodge base area in South Lake Tahoe.

“It wasn’t easy to get in the break, of course, because people knew that the break might stick,” Skujins said. “I luckily managed to get in the right one.”

Speeds were high on the flattest part of the 131.7-mile course Thursday, the second longest of the 2016 Amgen Tour of California, as the peloton rolled out along Lodi’s vineyards and orchards. That offered a reprieve before the rising altitudes approaching South Lake Tahoe, where crowds were 10 deep for long stretches.

“Today was a really hard stage,” general classification leader Julian Alaphilippe said. “Everyone was suffering. We didn’t have as much time to enjoy the beautiful view.”

A breakaway of 18 riders escaped about 45 minutes into the race and held a three-minute advantage around the midway point. Cannondale’s Skujins attacked at Kirkwood summit, the first of three King of the Mountain (KOM) categorized climbs in the day. Now down to 16, the leaders increased their lead to four minutes with 20 miles left to ride and the second KOM at Carson Pass in their sights.

BMC Racing Team picked up the pace between the two climbs, pulling the peloton to steadily close the gap. Meanwhile the 24-year-old Skujins, who claimed the mountainous San Jose stage and had a three-day stint as race leader last year, launched a solo attack on the leaders at the front.

He was soon joined by Rally Cycling’s Adam De Vos (Canada) and Team Sky’s Xabier Zandio (Spain), the oldest rider in the race at 39. The three quickly built their lead to nearly a minute over the remaining breakaway riders.

The peloton containing Etixx – Quick-Step’s Alaphilippe (France) wearing the Amgen Race Leader Jersey and World Champion Peter Sagan (Slovakia) of Tinkoff was about three minutes back from the leaders with less than 10 miles to go. With less than four miles left, the chase group remained about 50 seconds back from the race leaders, splintering with various attacks and counters.

The three leaders held strong on the final uphill mile to Heavenly, all vying for the stage win, with Skujins ultimately coming to the line the clear winner of the day. In addition to the stage win, he came away from the stage with the Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider Jersey.

Riding in the main peloton Thursday, Sagan retained the Visit California Sprint Jersey. The SRAM Best Young Rider Jersey stayed with Roseville, California, native, Neilson Powless of Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team for the third consecutive day, and Rally Cycling’s Evan Huffman (United States) retained the Lexus King of the Mountain Jersey, which he’s worn since Stage 3.

The leaderboard remained mostly in tact after Thursday, with Alaphilippe retaining the overall lead by 22 seconds over Trek – Segafredo’s Peter Stetina (United States), followed by George Bennett (New Zealand) of Team Lotto NL – Jumbo, who held onto third place overall despite a flat tire on the descent of the second KOM.

The Amgen Tour of California rolls onto Folsom on Friday, May 20, for individual time trials. Stage 7 will begin and end in Santa Rosa on Saturday, May 21, with the race concluding in Sacramento on Sunday, May 22.

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