Santa Rosa, California - Neilson Powless survived a high-speed tire blowout, a separate crash and he needed a furious chase to preserve his lead Saturday in the SRAM "best young rider" standings at the Amgen Tour of California.
Ruben Guerreiro's 10th-place finish led the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team in the 175.5-kilometer race that started and finished in downtown Santa Rosa. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha Team) narrowly denied world road champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) a third stage win this week while Danny Van Poppel (Team Sky) was third.
In the overall standings, Powless remains fifth, 68 seconds behind race leader Juliian Alaphlippe (Etixx-Quick Step) with one day to go. The 19-year-old from Roseville, California, said he was fortunate again to have the support of his teammates when bad luck struck. Initially, Powless had help from several teammates after his tire blew out. Will Barta was there to hand over one of his wheels, just as he did on Stage 5 on Thursday, and Geoffrey Curran waited to pace him back.
But not long thereafter, Powless was stopped again – this time after crashing on a descent of one of the six categorized climbs. Fortunately, it was not a serious mishap.
"The whole time leading up to getting out to the coast - the farthest point from the start - I was chasing," Powless said. "For the finish, I told Ruben I was not good so they wouldn't expect me to sprint. I was trying to be very clear with the guys about the way I was feeling. I am happy with holding the jersey and it was a good day in the end."
Powless was not the only Axeon Hagens Berman rider to go down Saturday. Tao Geoghegan Hart also crashed on a technical descent. The 21-year-old from Great Britain said after the race he was OK. He sits 14th overall at 2:55, just ahead of Guerreiro, in 15th, at 3:17.
Like they have been all week, Axeon Hagens Berman riders were in the thick of the action early on. This time, it was Latvian Under 23 national road champion Krists Neilands who was mixing it up. The 21-year-old was part of a 14-man group that slipped away on a day when the up-and-down nature and remoteness of the course even made race communications difficult.
"On one of the climbs, the group split," Neilands said. "I tried an attack and Sagan came with me and eventually it became seven. But I got a message from Sport Director Jeff Louder that I could not work. That made everyone in the breakaway very angry at me. But I was just doing the job for the team.
Axeon Hagens Berman General Manager Axel Merckx said on a day when the pace was high and the racing was aggressive, it was good to see the team's eight riders respond so quickly.
"For example, Neilson's crash happened at the worst possible time so we had to send half the team back to help him," Merckx said. "Then, just as he got back on, he had a crash. So he was chasing again. But all the guys on the team did a great job of getting Neilson back up to the yellow jersey group."
Sunday's final stage is a 136.5 km race that starts and finishes in Sacramento.
(Photo of Neilson Powless by Davey Wilson.)