Tour of California 2016 – preview

Beginning on Sunday, for an eleventh straight year, the Amgen Tour of California will be the highest-profile UCI stage race held on North American soil.

The race, which began in 2006 and has held the same title sponsor throughout, begins in San Diego, not far from the Mexican border, and ends eight days later in Sacramento, the state capitol.

Between those endpoints the peloton of 144 riders will cover nearly 800 miles (1280 kilometers) and over 60,000 feet of climbing over eight days, including two critical stages for the general classification — a new summit finish, on Gibraltar Road in Santa Barbara, and a 12.6-mile (20km) time trial, in Folsom.

The Race

Stage 1: San Diego – San Diego, 175km

The opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California starts and finishes in stunning, beach-front city of San Diego, and it should offer the race it’s first chance at a bunch sprint to settle on the first yellow leader’s jersey of the race. It will not be plain sailing for the bunch, however, with a relatively tough first category climb to conquer mid-stage, 9.5km at an average of 5.5% gradient. But with there being mainly descent and then flat roads from 101km to the finish at 175km, there should be plenty of time to reel in those who have pushed ahead.

Stage 2: South Pasadena – Santa Clarita, 148.5km

The second stage offers little flat from start to finish, and the 14km climb from the start will remind the riders of this fact. Despite all this climbing, the ascents aren’t too aggressive, and if a breakaway moves clear early on you could still see a relatively decent sized bunch stick together over the hills. There are four classified climbs along the parcours, the second reaching the highest point of the stage, 1,410m, before descending for over 40km towards two second category climbs. The crest of the final climb comes with 30km to go, so there’s still a long way to go for it to be a real launch pad for attacks.

Stage 3: Thousand Oaks – Santa Barbara County, 167.5km

Day three is definitely the queen stage, and the day that will shuffle the general classification by the finish, with its 12km finishing ascent of Gibraltar Road, averaging 8% gradient. The day starts with two smaller classified climbs, serving as a launch pad for the day’s escape, before a long valley stretch mid-stage. The road then rises gradually to a third category climb after 121km before dropping back down towards the bottom of the day’s main difficulty.

Stage 4: Morro Bay – Laguna Seca, 217km

The longest stage of the race falls straight after the hardest, and despite only featuring smaller climbs along its route, stage 4 still has a sting in its tail. The day features three third categorised climbs within the first 142km, before more flat roads towards the final 15km where two more climbs await. The first of these climbs for 5.5km at 5.7% average, before dropping down then straight back up for a 1.1km ramp at over 10% gradient. The finish comes on a plateau after this final climb.

Stage 5: Lodi – South Lake Tahoe, 212km

Starting in Lodi, south of Sacramento, the race moves north east towards its finish on the shores of Lake Tahoe, Nevada. After around 50km of flat roads, the race gradually starts to climb, and continues for nearly 100km reaching the highest point of the week, 2,615m, after 164.5km. From here the stage rolls to the finish which comes atop a third category climb of 1.7km to the line. Altitude could play havoc on the riders today, but one thing’s for sure – the scenery will be spectacular!

Stage 6: Folson – Folson, 20.3km, ITT

The race’s only time trial is an out and back downtown route that gradually climbs in the first half, and descends back on the return leg. The ascents are shallow and the roads large, so will suit those that like the discipline.

Stage 7: Santa Rosa – Santa Rosa, 175.5km

There may be six classified climbs to tackle on the stage, but the climbs come in flurries and return to the flatter roads after each, and then there’s a long 30km flat run-in to the finish. The first climb is just 1.9km at 7.6% average, coming just 19.5km into the stage. Flat roads fill the gap until the climbing starts again after 53km with four categorised climbs in succession, the longest of which is just 2.8km in length. The final climb, 2.5km at 7.9%, crests at 123km so there’s plenty of time for the bunch to grow in size and for another group sprint opportunity.

Stage 8: Sacramento – Sacramento, 138km

As always, the race culminates in a sprint showdown in the city street, this year in Sacramento. A pan flat out-and-back loop brings the peloton to three finishing loops around the Capitol Park in the city centre. Tinkoff will be looking to add another stage win to the growing number Peter already has in his palmares.

The Favourites

*** Lawson Craddock, Samuel Sanchez, Rohan Dennis

** Peter Kennaugh, Julian Alaphilippe, Jurgen Van den Broeck

* Tiago Machado, Brent Bookwalter, Lachlan Morton, Daniel Jaramillo, Romain Sicard, George Bennett, Peter Stetina, Janez Brajkovic, Julian Arredondo, Haimar Zubeldia, Tao Geoghegan-Hart, Laurens Ten Dam, Jacques van Rensburg, Maxime Bouet, Petr Vakoc, Rob Squire

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