Sagan, a 22-year-old Slovakian, crossed the finish line at Cabrillo College in Aptos in 5 hours, 2 minutes to retain the overall lead in the race, despite weathering a crash in Bonny Doon and a flat tire during the race.
Sagan — who said he uses this California race to prepare for the Tour de France, cycling’s most notable event — also won the first stage of the eight-stage race on Sunday.
He made it three stages in a row with another win Tuesday, and results from Wednesday’s fourth leg were not available as of press time.
“Today was very hard for me, because the climb was very fast,” Sagan said after Monday’s finish.
He still managed to find himself near the front toward the end of the stage and won a sprint finish on the Cabrillo College campus in Aptos.
During the second stage, the 126 cyclists began in San Francisco and made their way south on Highway 1 before turning left on Bonny Doon Road. The Bonny Doon climb is the same one riders made in 2009 and 2010, the first two times the tour passed through Santa Cruz.
But in a new twist, this year’s route turned onto Empire Grade Road and down Jamison Creek Road into downtown Boulder Creek, before riders crossed Highway 9 and embarked on a second climb up Bear Creek Road to Summit Road. They then rode to Soquel San Jose Road, which they took to the finish at Cabrillo.
The 117-mile stage was admittedly challenging.
“It was a tough day,” said team Bissell’s Jeremy Vennel, who was part of a breakaway pack of six riders that took a 10-minute lead on Highway 1 midway through the race. “We rode conservatively, because we knew the teams behind would just ride harder if we ride harder, so it was a cat-and-mouse game all the way until the bottom of the climb in Bonny Doon.”
The main pack — also called the peloton — quickly reeled in the breakaway riders on the climbs into Bonny Doon and Boulder Creek.
That’s about where Sagan and several other riders crashed near Bonny Doon Elementary School. But Sagan was able to get back up and quickly catch the peloton.
“Bear Creek Road was pretty tame I thought, actually,” said Ben Jaques-Maynes of team Bissell, who was sixth overall following Stage 2. “I think it being a brand new climb, guys haven’t ridden it before, they didn’t really know it leveled off so much at the top, which I was pretty happy about that they rode it so slowly. Having said that, it was the fastest I’ve ever gone up it.”
Jaques-Maynes also was happy with the ride down Jamison Creek Road, because the Watsonville-based cyclist said he knows the road well.
Spectators lined many parts of the course, including the turn from Highway 236 to Highway 9 in downtown Boulder Creek. Large crowds also gathered at the finish line near the football field at Cabrillo College.
“It’s a good race,” said Frank Kuhr of Johnnie’s Market in Boulder Creek. “It’s good for the town.”
Carol Milich stood on Bear Creek Road with her husband to watch the racers zip past.
“It was quite exciting,” she said. “Town was pretty happening with people ringing their bells. Any excitement in town is good.”
Even the rolling road closures that accompanied the race seemed to go as planned.
“It seemed to really go very smoothly,” said Sarah Jackson of the California Highway Patrol.
Jackson closed the intersection of Highway 236 and Highway 9 in Boulder Creek, as well as Park Avenue in Capitola.
“We had to wait for the last (riders), and there seemed to be a pretty big gap between the front and the back. We ended up making it.”
Jackson noted that the extra CHP officers on duty were paid for by race organizers and that officers from neighboring agencies, such as Santa Clara and San Benito counties, also pitched in during the race.
The riders and their teams spent the night at Mount Hermon Conference Center before embarking for San Jose for the third stage.
The race concludes with a 44-mile leg through the city of Los Angeles.