Eighth place felt like first for Julian Alaphilippe on Friday.
The French cyclist known for his climbing ability turned in a surprising performance in the Stage 6 time trial at the Tour of California, minimizing his losses in a discipline that has proven difficult for him in the past to retain his overall race lead.
Rohan Dennis won the stage with a blistering performance, covering the 12.6-mile course in 24 minutes 16 seconds. But the Australian rider — and one of the world's best against the clock — was still 16 seconds behind Alaphilippe heading into the penultimate stage.
BMC Racing's Brent Bookwalter turned in the fifth-best time, vaulting into third in the overall standings. The veteran American rider was 38 seconds behind Alaphilippe.
"I think that today was probably one of the best time trials that I've done, so I am happy with that," Dennis said. "It was also a good indication that after six days, everything I have done leading up to now has been working and I am on the right track, especially after not a whole lot of racing. I'm in a good place mentally with my form and I was happy to come away with that win."
Earlier, Twenty16-Ridebiker won the women's team time trial over the same course, followed by Boels-Dolmans and UnitedHealthcare. Megan Guarnier retained the overall lead.
The stage figured to be the biggest hurdle to victory for Alaphilippe, who doggedly held onto the leader's jersey he won with an impressive climb up Gibraltar Road. He was 14 seconds off the pace of Dennis at the midway checkpoint before fading to eighth place on the stage.
The reigning U.S. time trial champion, Andrew Talansky, finished 17 seconds behind Dennis to take second on the stage. Taylor Phinney was 20 seconds back in third place.
Their performances could prove critical in selecting the U.S. team for the Rio Olympics.
Due to the way spots in the Olympic road race are allocated, the Americans only received two starting spots. But they also have two spots in the time trial, and riders must compete in the road race to take part in the time trial, meaning time-trial specialists could get the nod.
Talansky and Phinney certainly showed USA Cycling officials their ability against the clock.
The women's race was changed to a team time trial for the first time, and Twenty16-Ridebiker pulled off an upset of sorts by pipping world silver medalist Boels-Dolmans by 6 seconds.
"We're a unique team. We each bring something different to the table, a different strength," said Twenty16's Kristin Armstrong. "Every team member gave it everything they had."
It wasn't enough to give Armstrong the overall lead. The two-time Olympic gold medalist remained 12 seconds back of Guarnier, one of the Boels-Dolmans riders, with two stages to go.
Guarnier's teammate, Evelyn Stevens, was 22 seconds back in third.