Amgen Tour of California preview

The seventh edition of the eight-day Amgen Tour of California kicks off on Sunday in Santa Rosa and finishes a week later in Los Angeles. The only UCI 2.HC race in the US, the Tour of Cali brings world-class riders and teams to American fans.

What kind of race is it?

A healthy balance of sprints and climbs – often within the same stage – the Tour of California is popular with riders who want to test their climbing legs in anticipation for their summer in the Alps and Pyrenees. This is also one of the few opportunities for American-sponsored teams like Garmin-Barracuda, RadioShack-Nissan and BMC to show off their best riders to their US fanbase.

Leipheimer (in Astana kit here) will want to do well in stage 1 in his hometown of Santa Rosa (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The most recent winners of the race are:

2007: Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel)

2008: Levi Leipheimer (Astana)

2009: Levi Leipheimer (Astana)

2010: Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia)

2011: Chris Horner (RadioShack)

Levi Leipheimer considers this race his own, winning it three times on the trot, and finishing second last year. This year, the race starts in his hometown of Santa Rosa and no doubt he’ll be looking to do well in stage one, but since his horrific accident a few months ago, it would be difficult to imagine he would be a serious contender for the win this year.

What happened last year?

Due to heavy snow and near blizzard conditions around Lake Tahoe, stage one was cancelled at the last minute. A shortened stage two saw Sky take the first yellow jersey with a sprint victory by Ben Swift, handily led out by Greg Henderson, who then took the yellow jersey from his teammate with his own sprint win on stage three.

The evergreen Horner made it five American winners in six years (image courtesy of RadioShack-Nissan)

With stage four’s five climbs ending in a mountain-top finish, here was an opportunity for a rider to make a statement, and RadioShack’s Chris Horner did just that, gaining over a minute on his rivals, including Leopard Trek’s Andy Schleck and teammate Levi Leipheimer, taking the yellow jersey.

Weather conditions caused the organisers to reroute stage five, taking the riders over four categorised climbs before ending in a sprint finish win for Liquigas-Cannondale’s Peter Sagan. Stage six was a 24km individual time trial around Solvang, won by Garmin-Cervelo’s David Zabriskie. The queen stage of the Tour split the peloton to pieces over three climbs, ending in Horner gifting the stage to his teammate Leipheimer while sealing his own overall win.

Stage eight’s hilly route ended with five finishing laps around the town of Thousand Oaks to end in a sprint finish. HTC-Highroad led out Matt Goss, who fended off Sagan and Henderson for the stage win. Sagan ended the Tour in possession of the green jersey, Pat McCarty of SpiderTech-C10 was named King of the Mountains, Tejay van Garderen of HTC-Highroad won best young rider and Garmin-Cervelo took the team classification.

1. Chris Horner (Radioshack) 23:46:41

2. Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack) +0:38

3. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) +2:45

4. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo) +3:18

5. Tejay van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) +3:23

This year’s race

The organisers have put together a vibrant mix of climbs and sprints, with stages five (an ITT) and eight the only real ‘flat’ stages, and six and seven both mountain-top finishes that will certainly separate the men from the boys. The queen stage is stage seven, one of the most difficult stages devised for a cycling race in the US. It may only be 126km but the big climbs and mountain-top finish at 1,829m on Mount Baldy will be where the race is won or lost.

Who to watch

One final race for McEwen (image courtesy of GreenEDGE)

Look out for Tejay van Garderen, Greg van Avermaet and American hero™ George Hincapie for BMC. Garmin-Barracuda is fielding Tom Danielson, who would like to do well on his home soil, and we’ll see how Heinrich Haussler is going this year. This is also another chance to get a good look at Andrew Talansky, who nearly took the time trial stage away from Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de Romandie.

Liquigas are coming with a strong team of Vincenzo Nibali, Daniel Oss and last year’s green jersey winner, Peter Sagan. OPQS bring Leipheimer, plus Stijn Vandenbergh, Gerald Ciolek and Dries Devenyns. This is also the first time we’ll be seeing Tom Boonen since his spectacular Classics season. We’ll also see Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) challenge Sagan for the sprints.

Finally, a few crowd favourites are coming along, including Jens Voigt, who will ride in support of Horner for RadioShack. And, in his last race as a professional cyclist, sprinter Robbie McEwen (Orica-GreenEDGE) will take one final bow before stepping down a month shy of his 40th birthday.

Race details

May 13th: Stage 1 – Santa Rosa to Santa Rosa, 186.5km

May 14th: Stage 2 – San Francisco to Santa Cruz County, 188.5km

May 15th: Stage 3 – San Jose to Livermore, 185.5km

May 16th: Stage 4 – Sonora to Clovis, 209.6km

May 17th: Stage 5 – Bakersfield, 29.7km individual time trial

May 18th: Stage 6 – Palmdale to Big Bear Lake, 186.3km

May 19th: Stage 7 – Ontario to Mount Baldy, 126.0km

May 20th: Stage 8 – Beverly Hills to Los Angeles, 72km

The Amgen Tour of California starts on Sunday 13th May and concludes on Sunday 20th. Live action will be shown daily on Eurosport and, for our American fans, NBC Sports Network. For other channels check cyclingfans.com.

Link: Official website

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