SAN JOSE — Rafal Majka and George Bennett knew they won't be able to touch some of the other big names in the time trial at the Tour of California, so they looked at the hilly profile of Stage 2 on Monday and decided they needed to attack.
Along with Lachlan Morton and Ian Boswell, the pair formed a breakaway that managed to stay away on the 90-mile trip south to San Jose, and that set them up for a sprint finish of their own.
Majka and Bennett went clear of the other two riders on the final uphill finishing stretch, and it was the Polish rider from Bora-Hansgrohe who was first to the line, not only winning the stage but also taking the overall lead from Stage 1 winner Marcel Kittel.
"It was a really tough stage. In the end, we tried the best and we won," Majka said. "We put some time in the other riders, (Samuel) Sanchez and (Andrew) Talansky, but it's not so easy with the time trial. But yeah, it's a hard stage when it's uphill and we won."
In a sense, all of them were winners.
Majka has a two-second lead on Bennett in the overall standings, while Boswell is 14 seconds back and Morton is 16 seconds adrift. But more crucial is the fact that some of the best in the race against the clock, including Talansky and Brent Bookwalter, are now 48 seconds off the lead.
"We all worked together well. We had the same ambitions," said Bennett, the Kiwi rider from Team Lotto NL-Jumbo. "None of us can beat Talansky in a time trial so we wanted to put space between us."
It took a while for the breakaway to form after an opening stage dominated by the sprinters, and the foursome had some help up Mount Hamilton. But riders kept dropping off the pace, and Tom Skujins hit the deck hard on the descent, tearing up his jersey and forcing him to abandon the race.
Team Cannondale tried to reel in the breakaway and prevent Talansky, their top overall hope, from losing too much time. But with a couple of miles left to the finish and about 50 seconds on the peloton, it became clear the breakaway was going to win the day.
Morton was the first to attack, going a kilometer from the finish line, but Majka jumped right on his rear tire. Morton tried again and Majka responded, only for Bennett to sweep past both of them and for a brief moment establishing a gap on the other three riders in the break.
"You have to make a move like that," Bennett said. "We wanted to really ramp it up."
Majka proved he was the strongest when he reeled him in, though. The pair kept a gap on Boswell and Morton before the Polish rider swept to the front and won the sprint to the line.
Boswell beat Morton in the sprint for third.
"It was the perfect situation for us," Bennett said. "It's pretty cool that we tried something like that and it almost worked. I'm pretty disappointed that it didn't work. But at the same time we got some valuable seconds on Talansky, Bookwalter and those guys."
The third stage Tuesday takes riders 120 miles from Pismo Beach to Morro Bay, and the flat profile with the only significant climb at the midway point should give the sprinters another chance.