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AFP / Yuzuru Sunada
Slovakia’s Peter Sagan claimed his first win of this year’s Tour of California Saturday, winning the seventh stage of the event in a mad dash to the finish. Former Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins easily held onto the yellow jersey heading into Sunday’s eighth and final stage. Cannondale’s Sagan earned his 11th career Tour of California stage win, finishing the 143 kilometer ride from Santa Clarita to Pasadena in 3:24:33. Former world champion Thor Hushovd (BMC) and Danny Van Poppel (Trek Factory) were second and third.
“Finally I take one victory for me and for my team,” said Sagan. “I am very happy for this victory. Eleven stages, I have one more.”
Wiggins (Team Sky) safely held onto the overall lead as runner-up Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) was unable to make up any ground in stage seven. Dennis, of Australia, is 30 seconds adrift of Wiggins while American Lawson Craddock is 1:48 back of the leader. Wiggins is confident he can close the deal on Sunday in Thousand Oaks, in rolling countryside west of Los Angeles, and win the overall title.
“I think we’ll continue to do the same thing, keep an eye on the Garmin guys. I’m sure we’ll be all right,” Wiggins said.
Stage seven included a long descent into the city of Pasadena and then a dizzying series of twists and turns over the final five kilometers. Javier Mendes began to push the pace among the leaders as the bell lap sounded. Garmin’s Janier Acevedo then tried to outfox the field but like Mendes he soon slipped back. Hushovd started his sprint too early, allowing the technically-savvy Sagan to charge through the final turns and emerge with a comfortable victory.
“At the start there were a lot of riders in the breakaway. But we pushed all the time and all day for the finish,” Sagan said.
Cannondale’s Cameron Wurf said they have faith in Sagan’s leadership.
“Peter is such a great captain. When he puts his troops to work, 9.9 times out of 10, he finishes it off,” said Wurf. “It is pretty easy as a team to motivate yourself and do as he asks.”
Wiggins was relieved to get through stage seven without any major problems.
“It’s never really done until you cross the line,” said Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France champion who took the lead in California in the individual time trial second stage. “With the speed we were going – you puncture and you’re not going to get back into the race, even with a change. I’m just glad another day’s down and it’s down to tomorrow now.”
Tour of California Stage 8
1. Peter Sagan (SVK/Cannondale) 3:24:33
2. Thor Hushovd (NOR) @ s.t.
3. Danny Van Poppel (NED)
4. Zakkari Dempster (AUS)
5. John Degenkokb (GER)
General Classification After Stage 8
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/Sky) 25:28:15
2. Rohan Dennis (AUS) @ :30
3. Lawson Craddock (USA) @ 1:48
4. Tiago Machado (POR) @ 2:02
5. Adam Yates (GBR) @ 2:14