SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — Tejay van Garderen stayed out of trouble to seal his first professional stage race title Sunday, winning the Tour of California in front of BMC Racing Team's home fans.
The American cruised through the smooth and scenic final stage from San Francisco to Santa Rosa without incident to edge Australia Michael Rogers for the overall title by 1:47. Colombian Janier Acevedo was third, 3:26 behind van Garderen.
Van Garderen completed the eight-day, 727.8-mile race that has evolved into North America's most prominent cycling event in 29 hours and 43 minutes. He held the overall lead the final three days.
Sprinter Peter Sagan pulled away to win the 80.7-mile final stage in 3 hours, 4 minutes and 7 seconds. Daniel Schorn was second and Tyler Farrar third in a crowded finish.
With a formidable field and a taxing terrain, van Garderen guided his way through California like he could be American cycling's next big star.
He stayed within striking distance in the desert heat, powered through coastal crosswinds to grab the yellow jersey in a grueling fifth stage from Santa Barbara to Avila Beach, dominated the hilly and technical time trial that followed in San Jose and maneuvered up Mount Diablo to maintain the overall lead that set the stage for a mostly ceremonial and celebratory finale in this cycling-loving city where BMC Racing is headquartered.
So confident he would hold on, race organizers already had etched van Garderen's name on the trophy before the last stage. He avoided a wreck or equipment failure, enjoying the scenic sites on his road to victory.
The memorable week for van Garderen ended with a postcard-like morning ride along the bay in San Francisco's trendy Marina District, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and pedaling beside the sprouting spring vines in Sonoma wine country. Finally, he crossed the finish line in front of thousands of cheering residents who squeezed into Santa Rosa's quaint downtown.
"It's a big relief. It's a weight off my shoulders," van Garderen said just wrapping up his first stage race title. "Hopefully this gets the ball rolling."
Van Garderen, who finished fifth in the Tour de France last year for the highest place by an American, is ready to aim even higher. The 24-year-old, often playing second-fiddle to teammate and 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, said he hopes to be in the top three when cycling's crown jewel ends in Paris on July 21.
At least for a day, van Garderen wanted to savor his proudest professional moment yet.
He won Best Young Rider in the 2011 Tour of California and was second at the USA Pro Challenge and fourth in Paris-Nice last year. But he had never raised the overall trophy in a pro stage race.
Raised in Bozeman, Mont., van Garderen now lives in Boulder, Colo. He looked right at home in the Tour of California, which provided him and the BMC Racing Team a special shot to celebrate in Santa Rosa, where the eight-year-old event had passed through previously but never ended before.
For the first time in the race's eight-year history, the route went north instead of south.
Van Garderen's breakthrough performance in California will still leave him wanting more. After all, about half of the world's best riders weren't competing in the race.
Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard-Trek) of Bend, Ore., who won the 2011 Tour of California, and Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quicstep) of Belgium, the 2012 Paris-Roubaix winner and former world road titlist, withdrew earlier this week because of lingering injuries. Garmin-Sharp sent Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson to the Giro d'Italia, where Evans also was competing for the BMC Racing Team.
And Saxo-Tinkoff's Alberto Contador and Team Sky's Peter Froom weren't racing at all. Instead, they decided to save themselves for June's Criterium du Dauphine, a traditional warmup for the Tour de France.
Now contending to be the one wearing the yellow jersey and sipping champagne on the Champs-Elysees is van Ganderen's next goal.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP