MOUNT BALDY — Andrew Talansky's consolation prize was merely a signature victory on arguably the most famous climb in North America, the grueling ascent of Mount Baldy during the Tour of California.
The American rider sprinted clear of overall leader Rafal Majka as the duo approached the top Thursday, throwing his arms in the air in exhausted celebration. The victory came one day before the potentially decisive time trial and gave Talansky a shot of much-appreciated confidence.
"I knew I felt good. I was expecting more intense attacks at the bottom," said Talansky, who began the day 48 seconds behind Majka in eighth place overall. "They're strong riders and they were able to hang on. When I realized I didn't have a chance to shake them I thought, 'Go for the stage win.'"
Indeed, Talansky wasn't able to bite much into Majka's overall lead. They were granted the same time, so he only gained four seconds by virtue of a time bonus awarded at the top of the climb.
But winning the stage? Hardly a reason to hang heads.
"Really this is a credit to my team," Talansky said. "There isn't anything I did to earn this."
Majka's second-place finish allowed him to put two more seconds and a time bonus into third-place finisher George Bennett, who now sits six seconds back in second overall. Ian Boswell is 25 seconds back in third with Talansky suddenly within shouting distance.
"My teammates worked for me very well," Majka said. "I didn't win but still second, and tomorrow I'll try to keep the jersey. But it should be difficult."
The runner-up in Santa Clarita a day earlier, Rob Britton once again found the break and did everything he could to stay away. But with the road pitching upward at 10 percent, he was nailed back about four miles from the line by teams with general classification aspirations.
Dancing in his pedals, Talansky immediately went to the front and began pushing a pace that strung out the leading riders. His challengers dropped one by one as he rode toward the sky, the pack whittled down to four riders with about two miles to the summit.
Talansky attacked and opened a gap, only for Majka and Bennett to reel him back. Boswell briefly was dropped but clawed his way back, and the foursome continued to churn up the hill.
Majka suddenly attacked with about mile to go, and the Bora-Hansgrohe rider hardly looked as if he'd been defending the yellow jersey since Stage 2. Talansky was late to react and a decent gap opened, but the American eventually managed to pull back his Polish rival.
Boswell tried his hand on a left-hand corner nearing the finish, but the stress of trying to keep contact with the leaders had depleted his reserves. Talansky and Majka brought him back, then began to trade blows as they sought to assert themselves within sight of the finish line.
Talansky finally stood up and sprinted along the rails, coming through the final tight left-hander in the lead. He had enough gap on Majka to throw his arms up in celebration.
"I've never been at the front of this finish, but I knew that last corner. I knew to be on the inside. I knew to come around it," he said. "I had a good sprint and I was able to make it."
It was Talansky's first win since the sixth stage of the Tour of Utah, and followed a fourth-place overall finish in the Tour of California and fifth in the Vuelta a Espana last season.
Now, he will set his sights on making up 44 seconds on Majka in the race against the clock. It's a tall order, but hardly one that's impossible for the former U.S. time trial champion.
"I prefer to be in the yellow jersey right now. That said, we'll enjoy today," Talansky said, "and tomorrow we'll focus on the time trial."</