CiclaValleys 2017 Amgen Tour of California Preview

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The Super Bowl of American cycling is here again!

Once again, the Amgen Tour of California promises to be an exciting race with many of the top pros in attendance.

This year’s course comes with some of the old favorites mixed in with some new dynamics.

Let’s just get to it as there’s too much to mention:

 

Point I will cut & paste every year until it becomes a reality: The women need equal days of racing as the men. If you’re talking glass half-full, many other races don’t even include women and the ATOC has grown the competition over the years. Still, this is California. I’d like to think that we’d be the ones setting the standard, while just asking for equal opportunity is a bit shameful in the 21st Century.

Women’s racing is just as fun to watch as the men’s. The US has had some of the top riders in Megan Guarnier and Kristin Armstrong. Even locals Evelyn Stevens and the young and upcoming Coryn Rivera should be hailed as the race comes through. Unfortunately, the women’s race is only staying in the Tahoe / Sacramento area, so I won’t be able to cheer them on. The only bright spot is that my #BringBryonyBack campaign worked.

 

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Glad to see Bryony back in California, even if it’s for a short time..

 

The Reign is over? Peter Sagan has pretty much had his way in the points competition taking the green jersey every year since 2010 except two years ago when he ended up in yellow. On paper, this year’s competition looked like a strong field, but John Degenkolb still seems to be returning from form since being hit from a car last year, Alexander Kristoff has been called “too heavy” by his team and both Mark Cavendish and Nacer Bouhanni are out with injuries. Enter Marcel Kittel.

Gulp.

This guy is unworldly. He was going to make his mark on this race last year, but sickness took him out of the competition. While Sagan seems to clean up on sprint points in the middle of hilly races and has the pride of wearing World Champion stripes again, five out of the seven stages could end in a sprint finish where Kittel is more powerful striaght up. Will cycling’s Ivan Drago doppelganger come through?

 

“I will break you Peter….”

 

Best development for 2017: For the first time in it’s history, the TOC has been upgraded to a World Tour event. This means a bump from 10 to 12 world tour teams and a move from two to three Pro Continental teams. The bonus of having more world tour teams is that the burden to chase down others can be more evenly distributed. Compare that to the 2016 Tour of Utah where it was 4 WT teams vs. 11. As a result, continental teams took the top two slots where no rider of this designation has ever placed higher than third at the TOC. At the same time….




Worst development for 2017: The expanded World Tour field means three of the continental team slots are getting the axe. I’m most disappointed in the Axeon-Hagen Berman team not making the cut. Team Manager Axel Merckx (son of legend Eddie) has always gotten his young squad of riders into the mix for stage wins and this team’s lineage has brought along the next generation of exciting riders, like Lawson Craddock, Taylor Phinney, Jasper Stuyven and Joe Domrowski to name a few.

Just looking back to last year, Neilson Powless changed the dynamics of the queen stage as the leaders were forced to react earlier than they had planned up Gibraltar, teenager Adrien Costa took second at the Tour of Utah and Greg Daniel became the US Road Race National Champion. So yeah, I’m bitter…

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Of course, there’s an Axeon rider in this breakaway move.

 

The stage I don’t know what to make of: Looking at the profile of the Central Coast stage year after year would bring you to the conclusion that it’s going to be a sprint finish. This year is more of the same in Stage 3 as it’s basically flat except a minor climb in the middle. What can’t be conveyed in the graphics is the wind. Racing through heavy gusts suck.

I’m pretty sure these guys will be a bit more organized than my 35+ race, but you have to be ready to act because you never know when strong winds will split the peloton up. You can point to Jens Voigt’s last race win in 2013 as a classic example of a veteran knowing how to take advantage of the conditions. This stage will be ending in Morro Bay instead of the usual Pismo Beach, so what will happen is anyone’s guess.

 

Veteran moves win on the Central Coast (image: Getty)

 

Worst developments for 2017 part 2: This year’s race has also been shortened from eight days of racing to seven. It would have been nice to have another climbing stage with that extra day early on, but this race has to cater to the sprinters too. My question is what does NBC have scheduled for Sunday that they wouldn’t let the Tour go for another day?

 

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Will Peter Sagan wear yellow instead of stripes this year?

Something you will never get tired of: The Baldy stage. It’s inclusion always bring dramatics because race dynamics are never the same and the combatants always threaten to redline the last three miles. If you’re in the hunt for the GC, odds are you’ll find yourself lying on the ground past the finish line trying to recover. We’ve had great recent battles with Robert Gensik taking a 39 second lead away from David Zabriskie in 2012 and Peter Sagan showing incredible versatility keeping close to Julian Alaphillipe in 2015.

 

I’ve ridden Baldy enough to know the fluctuations in the switchbacks make it difficult to find consistency as you ascend. And when you have that brief respite on the downhill with a mile left, the final ascension is far steeper than it appears. There’s no doubt that this will be the most pivotal stage of the race, the question is how much will Baldy wreck the riders?

 

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These switchbacks aren’t half bad…they’re all bad!

 

Welcome to the party? Two years ago, the Big Bear Time Trial was the biggest question mark of the race. Unfortunately, rain and snow moved the stage to Santa Clarita which was a feat in itself. How the racers will adjust to the high altitude will be the biggest question mark as its rare to have a time trial at this elevation. I wish it came after the Baldy Stage because TT’s just aren’t made for good television. Unless they start letting more dogs loose.

Worst developments part 3: This year’s jerseys have stuck to the TOC’s aesthetic showing elements of promise, but a disaster in execution. If you’re watching the race from the rider’s right side, the jerseys look quite classy, but at any other angle, what is happening? The left arm sleeve and the irritating scaled Assos logo make you think of a higher level storm trooper. BMC started this trend of disproportionate sleeved logos. Isn’t the point of having a future to learn from your mistakes?

 

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Even Mugatu disapproves.

 

The whole salami: Who is going to take it all is the biggest question mark for the week. Julian Alaphillipe didn’t return to defend his title preparing for the Tour de France, but ended up injuring himself anyways. Chris Froome almost got run over a car too, so maybe racing the TOC would have been the smart choice guys?

Robert Gensik has to be the favorite being a past winner who made his winning move on Baldy. Two years ago Ian Boswell did the most work up Baldy to help support Peter Kennaugh, but their roles will likely be reversed this week. Cannondale-Drapac will have a two headed monster with Lawson Craddock and Andrew Talansky which has yet to yield results.

 

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I think Chris Froome should have taken his chances here in California.

 

If you’re looking for more American contenders, BMC’s Brent Bookwalter always puts in a solid enough effort to linger around podium position. Lachlan Morton took the Tour of Utah last year and seems to perform well on North American soil. The one other rider I’m keeping an eye on is Rafal Makja who has the skills to win it all, but I’m wondering how cohesive this Bora team is. Of course, it’ll be someone else, but who goes back and reads these columns anyways?