The Latvian champ used to edging the World’s top sprinters is looking for more with a fifth participation in the Amgen Tour of California.
“How do I do it? That’s a good question.” Toms Skujins (Trek - Segafredo) is all smiles as he gets ready for his fifth participation in a row in the Amgen Tour of California (12-18 May) - another opportunity for him to shine on American roads and for cycling enthusiasts to try and understand how the Latvian champ does “it”, make the most of tricky stages to snatch successes away from the world’s top sprinters.
Since he first attended America’s biggest cycling event, in 2015, Toms Skujins hasn’t missed a single edition of the Amgen Tour of California. And he hasn’t missed on many opportunities to establish himself as the man to watch when attackers derail the race with long-range moves: four participations, a handful of breakaway attempts and three stage wins. “I have the best memories from there”, Toms Skujins must say. “It’s worked out better for me in California than elsewhere. And it’s always a great experience.”
“The first time, we were the underdogs”, the former Hincapie Racing Team young gun recalls. “We had already been fighting to get the invitation the year before, so it was amazing for the team to finally get this opportunity.” Not only did the team grab the opportunity, Toms Skujins handed them a few days in cycling heaven after soloing to victory ahead of Peter Sagan in San Jose, on stage 3: “It was very special, because we were a small American team and I got to wear the leader’s jersey for a few days. There were a lot of people from the team, staff, sponsors, and obviously nobody expected such success.”
The very next year, Toms Skujins was back in California. He had stepped up to World Tour, with Cannondale-Drapac. And the cheerful Latvian still meant business, playing his breakaway companions and the peloton to take victory at South Lake Tahoe. And if 2017 wasn’t so nice to him with a nasty crash that left him out of the race on day 2, while he was on the attack, another rolling stage saw him claim victory again last year, at the Laguna Seca Recreation Area, on the same day he crashed out of the race the year before.
Such regularity takes legs, to get out of the bunch and then power to victory in the final stretch. It also takes brains: “I chose my days. I really like what Amgen does with the route and it’s not a secret that if I attack it’s because I think there’s an opportunity but it can’t work every time. Last year I tried a few times, we got caught, and once it worked.” Finally, the Latvian adds a bit of inside info to the mix to ensure success: “I know the routes of the Tour of California very well. The first year, Tony Reid showed us around before the race and I knew the climbs and downhills, I knew where to speed up or save some energy.”
As he displayed his breakaway talents to claim his third victory, Toms Skujins also caught the fans’ attention with an exuberant celebration. “Maybe it would look better if I planned my celebrations but this was spontaneous”, he laughs. “I was very happy to win again in California, and we had had a big fight with the chasing group, so I just celebrated. I didn’t have my crash from the year before in my mind. I didn’t remember which day it had happened, someone told me it was the same day, which is crazy.”