Peter Stetina sprinted to 11th from a small, select group at the end of the 217-kilometer stage four at the Amgen Tour of California to hold onto his second place in the overall.
The longest stage of the eight-day race traveled north along the iconic and scenic Highway One. The rolling road with beautiful vistas snaked alongside the Pacific Ocean for most of the day and ended with a grueling category-two climb over Laureles Grade Road followed by a steep uphill into the Laguna Sega motor circuit.
On the circuit, a sharp pitch up with one kilometer to go was the last obstacle before a drop down the infamous corkscrew and a fast finish. Twenty-two riders entered the circuit to fight out the stage win, including Stetina and Haimar Zubeldia.
"I felt pretty good today," Stetina said. "It was a hectic start; we were racing through dense sea fog and you couldn't even see who was up the road at times. It took over an hour for that breakaway to go and coming into a 220-kilometer stage it kinda makes it a hard day.
"It was an iconic route - up and down Highway One - and at times you felt like you were above the clouds and floating in heaven and everyone was able to take that in. In the end, everyone recovered enough that it got really hectic for the final. I had done recon here, so I knew how hard the ending was, more I think than a lot of guys because it seemed on every hill they blew themselves up early and had to slow down and I was able to pace it."
Once on the circuit Stetina – not known for explosive climbing – punched over the final steep uphill, stretching the group and opening up a few gaps. Coming into the finish, 12 men raced for the line with Sagan taking the win and Stetina safely in 11th. Zubeldia arrived in 19th place (+3") and also maintained 10th place in the GC.
Honestly, I was a little nervous for today because my forte is not the explosive power for this kind of finish.
"I was fresh enough to try and hit it over the final little bump coming into the corkscrew, but Sagan is just so fast when he turns on the gas that a little flyweight like me can’t do much about it," continued Stetina. "When I attacked, I was just racing on instinct. Honestly, I was a little nervous for today because my forte is not the explosive power for this kind of finish. This was my weakest link for the overall this week, so it was really nice to get through it with the guys.
"We still showed that we deserve to be where we are in the GC; the guys positioned me well all day. Markel (Irizar) and Niccolo (Bonifazio) just rode a time trial into the Laureles Grade climb for me, and then Haimar (Zubeldia) and Julien (Bernard) sheltered me from the wind up the steep wall into the circuit. I can't ask for much more."
Tomorrow's stage five will feature a lot of climbing as it finishes in Lake Tahoe, a place that Stetina knows very well.
Stetina: "Tomorrow I am going back to Tahoe – my power place – and we will be racing over seven thousand feet for the last hour, and looks can be deceiving up there. It will be tough."