LOS ANGELES: Reigning champion Peter Sagan extended his Tour of California stage victories record on Sunday (Monday in Manila) as he opened the defense of his crown with a win.
The Slovak Tinkoff rider sprinted to victory in the 106-mile (170.5km) first stage held in and around San Diego, finishing clear of Dutch duo Wouter Wippert and Dylan Groenewegen.
Sagan, who won the Gent Wevelgem at the end of March before claiming the prestigious Tour of Flanders in early April, bided his time to weave through a strong field to cross just ahead of Wippert.
It was a record 14th career stage victory in the Tour of California for Sagan, a surprise winner of the race last year.
The Slovak star was the ultimate beneficiary of co-operation between teams in the peloton who worked to reel in a long breakaway of seven riders.
Britain’s Daniel Patten (Wiggins), Americans Daniel Eaton (UnitedHealthcare), Jacob Rathe and Michael Sheehan (Jelly Belly), Danny Pate (Rally Cycling) and Oscar Clark (Holowesko) along with Finland’s Joonas Henttala (Novo Nordisk) built up an early six-minute lead.
However, Katusha led the the chase and eventually closed the gap.
But Katusha and Dimension Data were not rewarded for their efforts in hunting down the breakaway, with both their respective sprinters — Norway’s Alexander Kristoff and Briton’s Mark Cavendish — failing to challenge in the sprint finish.
That opened the door for Sagan, who powered home to reclaim the yellow jersey he had last worn at the conclusion of the 2015 race.
Sagan leads the general classification by four seconds from Wippert after crossing in 4hr 20min 31sec.
Monday’s second stage is a 92-mile ride from South Pasadena near Los Angeles to Santa Clarita.
While the stage features a sprint finish, a series of of long gradual climbs over an elevation gain of 11,300 feet could take its toll on the sprinters.