Mount Baldy - French all-rounder Julian Alaphilippe claimed his first victory of the season with a powerful finishing kick up Mount Baldy on Saturday to dislodge Peter Sagan from the Tour of California lead.
Alaphilippe, who turns 23 next month, sprinted away from the challengers with about four kilometers to go in the 128km seventh stage from Ontario to the Mount Baldy ski resort.
"The last two kilometers were the hardest of my life," Alaphilippe said. "I gave everything to go the distance, my legs felt like they were exploding."
The Etixx-Quick-Step rider now has a two-second lead over Sagan in the overall classification following a courageous performance from the overnight leader from Slovakia.
Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) crossed the finish line 47 seconds adrift of Alaphilippe after starting the stage with a 45-second lead over the Frenchman.
Sagan had nothing left after his storming ride up the out-of-category switchback ascent, climbing off his bike and collapsing to the pavement at 1 964m. He finished sixth in the stage.
Pre-race favorite Sergio Henao finished runner-up, 23 seconds behind Alaphilippe in the stage with Sky team-mate Ian Boswell, Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) and Riccardo Zoidl (Trek) rounding out the top five.
"At about four kilometers to go I decided to attack," said Alaphilippe. "I went and Henao didn't respond immediately. I thought he was playing with me and that he would arrive at any second and pass me. But I kept going.
"It wasn't until the final 200m when I finally understood I had won the stage. I won a mountain stage in the Tour of California."
Sunday's 105km eighth and final stage from downtown Los Angeles to the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena should end with another sprint finish.
This year's race comprises 13 host cities and eight stages run over a total distance of 1 165km.
Results on Saturday after the seventh stage of the Tour of California, 128.7km from Ontario to Mount Baldy:
1. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA/Etixx-Quick-Step) 3hrs 42min 13secs
2. Sergio Henao (COL/Team Sky) at 0:23
3. Ian Boswell (USA/Team Sky) s.t.
4. Joseph Dombrowski (USA/Cannondale-Garmin) 0:36
5. Riccardo Zoidl (AUT/Trek) 0:45
6. Peter Sagan (SVK/Tinkoff-Saxo) 0:47
7. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP/Trek) 0:53
8. Robert Gesink (NED/Team LottoNL) 1:00
9. Peter Kennaugh (GBR/Team Sky) 1:17
10. Laurens ten Dam (NED/Team LottoNL) 1:26
1. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA/Etixx-Quick-Step) 25hrs 58min 21secs
2. Peter Sagan (SVK/Tinkoff-Saxo) at 0:02
3. Sergio Henao (COL/Team Sky) 0:33
4. Joseph Dombrowski (USA/Cannondale-Garmin) 1:10
5. Robert Gesink (NED/Team LottoNL) 1:11
6. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP/Trek) 1:12
7. Ian Boswell (USA/Team Sky) 1:19
8. Riccardo Zoidl (AUT/Trek) 1:20
9. Peter Kennaugh (GBR/Team Sky) 1:40
10. Rob Britton (CAN/Team SmartStop) 2:06