SAN DIEGO (AP) Peter Sagan wasn’t quite ready to strip off the yellow jersey at the Tour of California.
The surprising overall winner a year ago, Sagan unleashed a powerful sprint at the last possible moment on Sunday, overcoming Dutch riders Wouter Wippert and Dylan Groenewegen to win the 109-mile first stage that began and ended along the San Diego waterfront.
Sagan was quiet all day in the peloton, then freelanced his way through the field as the pace picked up on the wide boulevards to the finish. He swung wide of Wippert and Groenewegen within sight of the finish line, thrusting his bike across in first by less than a tire length.
It was the 14th stage win in California for the Slovakian superstar, and continues one of the most impressive stretches in recent cycling history that began on the opposite coast.
Sagan won the world championship last September in Richmond, Virginia.
The opening stage include only one serious climb, midway through the route, so there was plenty of time for the field to come together. An early seven-rider breakaway never stood much chance, and when it was reduced to three, they were swept up altogether with about 2 miles left to go.
The stage figured to be a sprint finish all along, but missing from the front were several of the sport’s biggest names – Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb.
Groenewegen, riding for Lotto-Jumbo, took advantage of his team’s strong lead-out to make the first move at the finish. Wippert flashed by him in his Cannondale colors and looked for a moment like he would give his U.S.-based team a stunning victory in the biggest race on American soil.
The two dark-horses then watched the world’s top-ranked rider storm right past them.
The second stage on Monday, a 92-mile ride from Pasadena to Santa Clarita, could give Sagan an opportunity to hang onto the leader’s jersey. There are four rated climbs that could shake up the field, but there’s also enough time after the final one to produce another bunched finish.