Gaviria and his Quick-Step Floors team laughed all the way to the line after hitching a ride on Katusha-Alpecin's sprint train. Despite that, it wasn’t as convincing as the Colombian would have liked.
Gaviria from the overhead broadcast shot looked to have finished second to surprise-showing Max Walscheid (Sunweb), but the finish line camera showed otherwise. Australian Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) rounded out the podium.
“Today was a little more close. When I passed the finish line I thought, ‘f—k, second’ but after someone came to me and said I’d won,” Gaviria said. “I’m really happy with the team and this week.”
Ewan was if nothing else consistent through the race. He twice finished second to his contemporary Gaviria, the rising star he will square off with again on their respective debuts at the Tour de France.
It was a different story for Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), with both found wanting during the final stage and the tour. Sacramento has previously been a happy hunting ground for the rival pair. Kittel won in the capital last year, while Cavendish was typically bullish, referencing his previous unbeaten run there in the lead-up to the tour.
The duo finished the seventh and final stage apparently fighting for Gaviria’s wheel as Quick-Step Floors again gave the peloton a lesson in timing, waiting until about the last kilometre to move up.
Dimension Data weren’t prominent at the front of the bunch as it hit the 2.5km finishing circuit, which it lapped three times.
Kittel’s men assembled there in a display of strength and intent, working to bring back the break within the final five kilometres before Ewan’s sprint train rode-up alongside it inside the last three kilometres. Katusha-Alpecin was still leading inside two kilometres.
“We were too early at the front,” Kittel’s teammate, Rick Zabel said. “It was difficult because we had to be in the front because of all the corners.
"There was a headwind on the finishing straight and so Quick-Step was laughing on our back wheel. When they passed, they were 10km/h faster than us."
“I could equalize the difference in speed, but then Cav and Marcel were fighting in for Gaviria’s back wheel so they took themselves out of contention and the final was over for us. It looked good for us but was ineffective.”
Quick-Step Floors, taking the conditions into consideration, moved to the fore with 800 metres remaining and briefly gapped the field.
Gaviria launched off teammate Max Richeze’s wheel, as Ewan opened his sprint with about 300 metres to go and looked to challenge before Walscheid sped through the middle.
World champion Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe), who finished fourth, holds a record for stage victories here but this year was forced to settle for minor places.
“It’s a pity this is the first time I don’t win a stage but I’m so grateful for the BORA-hansgrohe riders, for supporting me so well,” said Sagan.
For sprinters, the Tour of California was an opportunity to measure up ahead of the Tour de France, which offers them a chance to take the first yellow jersey of the race. Quick-Step Floors sports director Brian Holm believes Gaviria could also challenge for the points classification in France.
“It’s a good time to take more condition," said Gaviria. "The first stage is possible 100 per cent for the sprinter but other riders also want to take the [yellow] jersey."