MORGAN HILL, Calif. — Remi Cavagna began his post-race news conference by apologizing for his heavily accented English.
He should have apologized to the field for his powerful legs.
The Frenchman decimated the peloton with an audacious solo breakaway to win Stage 3 of the Tour of California on Tuesday. He was so far clear of the field – more than seven minutes by the finish – that he had toweled off and recovered by the time the rest of them crossed the line.
“Today was really hard. It was a long day,” he said. “But we go the maximum we can and I could go on the climb to the end. But it was really hard. I’m really happy.”
So was American rider Tejay van Garderen, who was able to easily protect the leader’s yellow jersey in part because the peloton was so far behind that nobody was willing to push the tempo.
In essence, they simply allowed Cavagna to roll to the win.
“It was really important for the team, for us to win here,” said Cavagna, whose Deceuninck-Quick Step team is sponsored by Specialized, a bike-maker based in the finishing town of Morgan Hill.
The third stage took riders 129 miles from Stockton, and Cavagna broke away early with 21-year-old Alex Hoehn of the U.S. national team. The two of them quickly built a sizeable gap on a peloton that was content to take it easy after a brutal ride Monday to South Lake Tahoe.
“It was an extremely hard stage today,” Hoehn said. “I feel fine now. I was really messed up after the race. I probably had a few too many caffeinated gels. It’s all they kept giving me. I kept asking for solid food and they kept giving me gels. But no, I’m better now. The stage was really hard.”
It was on Mt. Hamilton that the 23-year-old Cavagna finally rode away from Hoehn, and then he managed a tricky descent before the flat run-in to the finish. Cavagna got into an aerodynamic tuck and cruised the rest of the way, punching a fist as he crossed the finish line.
That gave his team back-to-back stage wins after Kasper Asgreen was victorious Monday.
The real drama was for second place.
Hoehn, making his Tour of California debut, earned the King of the Mountains jersey before he was caught by Simon Geschke and Ben King. The two of them kept the rest of the peloton at bay to set up their own sprint finish, and King swung out from behind Geschke to take second for Dimension Data.
Asgreen won the field sprint for fourth to hold onto his green jersey, and van Garderen was hardly out of breath after a perfect day by his EF Education First team to protect his leader’s jersey.
Van Garderen has a six-second advantage over Gianni Moscon.
Hoehn wound up being the hero of the day, though. His gutsy ride at the front of the pack made him plenty of fans, and he had some special ones waiting at the finish line – his family had flown in from his home near Kansas City earlier in the day to watch the stage unfold.
“I couldn’t ask for a better gift. It’s amazing that they are here,” he said. “I knew they were coming today and I didn’t really expect this. When I was alone, I was thinking of them, and that’s what kept me going through a lot of the day.”
The fourth stage on the weeklong road to Pasadena begins at Raceway Laguna Seca and takes riders on a visually stunning 138-mile ride along the Big Sur coast to Morro Bay.