Bradley Wiggins (Sky) sealed the deal in Thousand Oaks on Sunday, finishing with the bunch to win the 2014 Amgen Tour of California.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) sprinted to a narrow victory in the eighth and final stage, a 122.4km race that took in Westlake Village and Agoura Hills, with three trips up the stiff Rock Store climb and down a fast, technical descent before concluding with three laps of a shorter circuit in Thousand Oaks.
With two laps remaining on that finishing circuit a break containing Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare), Jack Bobridge (Belkin), Eloy Teruel (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEdge) had just a couple dozen seconds’ advantage over the yellow-jersey group.
Meanwhile, a second chase containing Cavendish was closing in on the first, which in addition to Wiggins contained green jersey Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano).
Going into bell lap the quartet had just 15 seconds over the chase, and that advantage vanished rapidly. Tereul was last man standing, but he was finally caught up, too, and a bunch sprint was in the offing.
The audacious Bissell Development Team was first to set up a train, but couldn’t keep it on the rails. Then BMC came forward for Thor Hushovd.
Finally, with 1km to go, on a very wide road, Giant-Shimano got set up, but Sagan was right behind, and so were Degenkolb and Cavendish. It was a drag race to the line, and Cav took the prize by a whisker, edging Degenkolb with Sagan third.
“Matteo Trentin got me in a perfect position in the last kilometer,” said Cavendish. “I just wanted to follow Peter because he’s the one who’s probably going to be the one, I tried to follow him. Then Giant came, so I followed them and I squeezed Degenkolb out in the last kilometer. Peter launched and with 200 meters to go, I figured I’d have enough speed.
“I was fortunate. I celebrated early and John nearly beat me. I don’t even want to see it [the photo finish].”
The Manxster applauded the sacrifices made by his teammates to keep him in the hunt after a second-lap flat at the foot of the day’s main climb and losing contact on the final trip up.
“I got dropped a bit on the last lap, I had Mark Renshaw with me and Thor Hushvord and Taylor Phinney, who really wanted to get back, and finally we went full gas on the descent and we almost got back. And then, my teammates were in the break came back and helped with the chase and we got back on,” he said.
Cav even tipped his hat to the man who finished third on the day, saying, “Sagan’s not a sprinter — he’s Peter Sagan, which is something special.”
In the overall, Wiggins took the title by 30 seconds over Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) with Lawson Craddock (Giant-Shimano) third at 1:48.
The newly minted champion praised his teammates for their work on his behalf in California, and said he was happy to have joined the ranks of Amgen-tour winners.
“I’ve led the race for nearly a week now and I think with that comes a lot of added pressure,” he said. “It’s a lot more strenuous, the guys have to take the strain all week. You’re nothing without a team behind you and every day they put themselves on the line and rode. They really raised their game, especially the young guys. I’m very grateful to them.”
Wiggins added: “It’s always an honor to wear a yellow jersey. At 34 … it’s nice to still be winning at this age.”
• Despite his quip about age, Wiggins is far from a doddering codger. Just ask Joe Dombrowski, whose team captain took the front at one point in the pursuit and started breaking legs. “I could barely hold on,” said Dombrowski. “He is a machine. Just in the saddle, 100 cadence. He’s unbelievable.”
• Craddock was delighted to have made the podium after a long, hot week. “I had a great team around me and really supported me and had faith in me. With that, I was able to reach my dreams,” he said. “It’s a really great honor. It’s not every day you get to pop a champagne with a knight.”
• Sagan was content, too, taking home one stage win and another green jersey. “I’m happy I take the green jersey,” he said. “My team did very big work today. We wanted to come to the finish without the sprinters, but then it was different. And I’m happy for one stage win and for another green jersey. I have five now and it’s okay.”