Toms Skujins Parlays Breakaway Ride into Amgen Tour of California Stage Five Win
Toms Skujins rode himself into the early breakaway, launched multiple attacks from the escape and proved fastest in a three-up uphill sprint to take out stage five of the Amgen Tour of California in South Lake Tahoe on Thursday. It’s the second stage win of the week for Cannondale Pro Cycling Team and the second year straight that the 24-year-old from Latvia has parlayed a breakaway ride into a stage win.
“It’s brilliant to take the victory,” said Skujins. “To get into the break, you have to try at least a couple of times. I knew that the altitude was going to make people suffer, and I knew that even if it wasn’t the steepest hills that the race would be blown to bits. It was a good day for the breakaway. I was really happy I could get into the move, and of course, I was happy to take out the win.”
An 18-rider breakaway escaped 23-kilometers from the stage start in Lodi. Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickStep) was the best placed rider on the general classification at 4:19. With 16 of the race’s 18 teams represented in the escape, it was a move with staying power. Initially, the group worked well together to build an advantage.
“It’s never easy getting into the break on a day like today,” noted Skujins. “People know it might stick, and everyone wants in. Once we were away, we built up as big of an advantage as we could, and I tried to save as much energy as possible.”
When the breakaway’s gap ballooned beyond five minutes, a handful of teams began to half-heartedly give chase. The gap fell slowly as the breakaway headed toward Carson Pass.
“It was a really long and really hard ride in the breakaway,” said Skujins. “Not only did we cover 212 kilometers, but there was over 13,000 feet of climbing. That’s a lot.”
“There was a tailwind most of the day, which makes it a bit easier and a bit faster,” Skujins added. “The climbs weren’t steep but with the altitude, they were painful. You’re slowly going up, up, up. I definitely felt the altitude. When we climbed, I was breathing harder than I would normally, but I was in Mammoth Lakes, California before this, so I knew I had a big advantage. Training at altitude definitely paid off in the end.”
Adam de Vos (Rally Cycling) was the first to attack the breakaway, jumping to take mountain points on the Kirkwood summit. Skujins was quick to follow, and the sudden lift in pace on the steep ascent caused a split in the breakaway.
The breakaway regrouped on the descent, but de Vos jumped again over Carson Pass. Again the front group split, and eight riders went clear. About ten kilometers later, the chasers rejoined the leaders.
Skujins went on the attack 32 kilometers from the finish. Alone briefly, he was eventually joined by de Vos and Xabier Zondo (Team Sky).
“I knew I had to make a selection because I knew if we came to the last 15 kilometers together the attacks would be constant,” Skujins explained. “It would cost a lot more energy to respond to attack after attack than to make one big effort and invest in making that stick.”
“When I attacked the second time and was solo before the sprint, I started to worry I had made a mistake,” Skujins admitted. “I turned into a massive headwind and was using a lot of energy there. That’s why I waited for those two guys chasing behind.”
The trio complimented each other perfectly, trading pulls in the wind and over the lumps and bumps all the way to the finish. It was only in the final kilometer as the road kicked up toward the line that the collaboration waned.
De Vos was the first to jump, but Skujins had plenty left in the legs to respond and enough of a gap before the line to throw a victory salute as he crossed the finish.
“I was pretty sure we could hold off the peloton,” said Skujins. “Pretty sure I could hold on to the line, anyway.”
“I have to say, I like Lodi,” Skujins added. “I’ve raced Tour of California for the last two years, and both times there have been stages that started in Lodi, and both times I’ve won.”
The Amgen Tour of California continues tomorrow with a 20-kilometer time trial in Folsom.
“I’ll have sore legs tomorrow after the effort today, so I’m going to take it easy, but it’s a big day for Lawson [Craddock],” said Skujins. “The day after will be really interesting. We’ll be racing around Santa Rosa. There’s lots of climbing. It’s a really hard day, and it should be loads of fun.”