Like most of the previous stages at the Amgen Tour of California, the break went off early in stage 6, when Jeremy Vennell (Bissell) attacked – again – less than two kilometers into the 186.3 km stage. Soon seven riders were up the road. What was different this time is that the break stuck when one rider survived to take the win. That rider was Sylvain Georges, a 28-year old Frenchman on the AG2R La Mondiale team.
Though Georges had wanted to get into a break at the race, he had circled the earlier stages, prior to the time trial. “What happened today is that we had the order to get into the breaks because we didn’t have anyone placed in the GC. As usual, I went into a break and it was the right one.”
The seven riders worked well together until the KOM climb, when three were engaged in the battle for points. Georges was watching all of his breakmates.
“It’s true that after 10km I told (DS) Julien (Jurdie), if this goes all the way, I will win. I told him because I had super legs and I could see that the others were suffering on the climbs and I was fine. So, in my head I started to build confidence in me and as the kilometers went by, more I imagined…. there was an instant, at 120 km in, that I imagined lifting my arms and all but I stopped that immediately because it’s not good to think of that.”
The gap went up and up, just like the roads all the way up to nine minutes before the field woke up. By the time of the third climb, the gap was down to under six minutes as Georges and KOM leader Sebastian Salas (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) dropped the others.
However, once Salas had garnered more the KOM points as the duo crested, he was done for the day.
“After the KOM was finished, Salas told me that he didn’t have the legs anymore and to continue on.” Georges said. He then put his head down to continue solo with around 50 km to go, including a fourth climb and all at altitude.
Solo off the front, one against the field, Georges never felt alone. “Because I know that my friends, my family were in front of the tv watching live and following me, that my director sportif was encouraging me and that my concentration stopped me from feeling scattered. I must really stay focused on my effort and even if it was long, I had to stay focused. The fact that the people around me were also in front of the TV maybe helped pushed me a bit more.”
Behind the chase was on, with teams wanting the stage win but Georges pushed through his suffering and held on for the win. Too tired to lift both arms as he imagined, Georges did manage to lift one to salute the crowd for the most beautiful win of his career.
“The most beautiful because all the biggest teams in the world are here and I wasn’t thinking of the win today. For me, it was a bit of a surprise because I thought that the big leaders wouldn’t let a break go so, that’s the reason that I went for it at 50 km to go. I think that the big teams don’t really know me so I had a little card to play.” said Georges who had four prior victories since turning pro.
Georges was not done charming the crowd, showing his delight on the podium.
He said that he loved the race. “The people are nice, the organization is top notch, the roads are safe. We can do our job safely, there is zero danger. With that, we are more free and less stressed. There haven’t been many crashes because we are racing in good conditions. It really is a superb organization with beautiful stages. The accommodations are super.”
After he had listened to GC leader David Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda) comment that getting up early for the stage made it more difficult, Georges said, “Like David was saying, getting up at 6am is a bit difficult but I worked before, I had my own company, I had to get so it doesn’t bother me to get up early. I know I am lucky to be able to ride my bike (for a living).”
For his fabulous ride, Georges was also awarded the Most Aggressive jersey.