Day 5 at the 13th Amgen Tour of California was a day for the sprinters. After the individual time trial Wednesday and the climbing stage on Monday, it was finally time for the fast men of the sport to show their strengths. An untimely flat put Team KATUSHA ALPECIN’s Marcel Kittel out of contention, but teammates Nathan Haas and Rick Zabel took over sprint duties for the final, with Zabel earning a fourth place.
“It was about 6km to go when I saw that Marcel had a flat. Nathan and I were on the radio waiting to hear from the sports directors if he could come back, but soon we heard the news that he could not and Nathan was to help me in the sprint. He actually brought me into a very good position into the last corner with 1.3km to go. We knew there was a slight headwind, so I tucked in behind the QuickStep train, knowing that I could do a decent sprint from distance and coming from behind with speed. I started my sprint with 350m to go but when the big sprinters started their sprints they were just faster than me,” said Rick Zabel.
At 176.5km starting in the city of Stockton, the route wound through the agricultural growing region of the Central Valley to end up at Elk Grove with a group sprint to the line with Fernando Gaviria (QuickStep Floors) earning top honors (4:04:34, 43.4 km/h). Second and third places went to Caleb Ewan of Mitchelton-Scott and Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe), with Zabel just behind in fourth place. There was no change to the top of the leader board with BMC’s Tejay van Garderen still wearing yellow by 23-seconds to Egan Bernal of Team Sky.
Zabel continued: “Overall it’s a quite good result for me, a fourth position in a flat sprint like this, so personally I am pleased. But still, we’re all a little bit disappointed. When you see that I can finish 4th, this shows us what a world class sprinter like Marcel could have done. It’s a pity, but that’s cycling and what can you do? Tomorrow is a day to survive for the sprinters and then we have another chance to win in Sacramento. Marcel won there last year so we will be focused on that.”
Only two stages remain to be raced before Saturday’s conclusion of the Amgen Tour of California in the capital of Sacramento. Friday’s stage 6 begins in Folsom, made famous by Johnny Cash’s 'Folsom Prison Blues', and winds through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to conclude at beautiful Lake Tahoe after 196.5km.
“For me personally it’s always a really cool adventure to race in California. It’s one of my favorite races during the year. And now we’ve gotten two 4th place finishes, so we are close but this is not what we want. We want a stage win for sure. We try hard every day and give everything we have. I’m sure it will turn around for us soon,” concluded Rick Zabel.