Peter Sagan, top, douses champagne over fellow racers as they celebrate the end the Tour of California.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Mark Cavendish of Team Etixx-Quick Step finished first in the final stage during the Tour of California, in Pasadena on Sunday.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Racers speed by the finish line as they make laps around the Rose Bowl during the
Cyclists prepare at the start of the Tour of California at L.A. Live on Sunday.(Christina House / For The Times)
Fans watch as the cyclists at the start of the Tour of California race at L.A. Live on Sunday.(Christina House / For The Times)
Cyclists in the Amgen Tour of California climbed mountain roads, careened down hillsides, sprinted along the coast and negotiated downtown turns during the 724-mile, eight-day road race from Sacramento to Pasadena.
And after all of that, the margin of victory for Slovakian Peter Sagan came down to less than a tire width.
“Crazy,” Sagan said.
Sagan edged American Tyler Farrar for a third-place finish in Sunday’ final stage from L.A. Live to the Rose Bowl, collecting bonus seconds that gave him the dramatic overall win in the closest race in the event’s 10-year history.
Mark Cavendish of Britain won the stage — his fourth in this year’s race. But Sagan emerged as winner of the tour, finishing with a time of 28 hours 13 minutes and 12 seconds, three seconds ahead of Julian Alaphilippe of France. Colombian Sergio Luis Henao Montoya of Team Sky was third, 37 seconds behind Sagan.
Sagan, who rides for the Tinkoff-Saxo team, won despite the loss of two teammates who were forced out of the race in earlier stages because of injury and illness.
“Peter deserves it,” Cavendish said. “He rode strong, his teammates rode strong. Even when they kind of fell apart, he was aggressive and chased all the moves down on his own.”
Sagan, 25, completed a week in which he showed his versatility and bike-handling skills.
He finished second in each of the first three stages, won the fourth stage from Pismo Beach to Avila Beach and finished third in the stage from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita.
Sagan got a break when race organizers moved the stage six time-trial from Big Bear to Valencia because of snow, changing a scheduled 15.1-mile stage at altitude to a 6.6-mile time trial that started and ended at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia.
Sagan won the time trial, then positioned himself for a shot at the overall victory with a surprisingly strong sixth-place finish in Saturday’s 80-mile stage from Ontario to Mt. Baldy, which included a tortuous climb.
“The last four kilometers, it was very hard,” Sagan, known more for strong sprints than for climbs, said Sunday. “My legs were burning, and I just kept going up.”
Sagan entered Sunday’s 65.3-mile road stage two seconds behind Alaphilippe, Cavendish’s Etixx-Quick Step teammate, and in dire pursuit of bonus seconds available at mid-stage and the end of the race.
It was a familiar situation for Sagan, who overcame similar circumstances to win the 2011 Tour of Poland.
Cavendish won the mid-stage sprint on Sunday, but Sagan finished second and Alaphilippe third, pulling Sagan to within one second of Alaphilippe as they continued circuits around the Rose Bowl.
As the riders approached the last thousand yards, Sagan said teammate Daniele Bennati helped position him for his final assault.
Cavendish broke away and Alaphilippe fell off slightly as Wouter Wippert of the Netherlands, Farrar and Sagan chased to the finish.
Wippert finished second, with Sagan and Farrar behind in a photo finish.
“I didn’t know if I was third or fourth,” Sagan said.
The photo showed Sagan finishing millimeters ahead, giving him four bonus points and the victory.