We are blessed with another year with the coming of the 2019 Amgen Tour of California, and while the course doesn’t deviate much from year’s past, seasoned followers know this will be another great race.
Even with another grand tour taking place, a number of top riders will be competing opting to come to the states to prepare for July’s Le Tour.
This race is special not only because it takes place in our own backyard, but year after year the route is dynamic enough that it’s a real challenge for the favorites to come out on top.
My favorite part of this year’s race is that the women’s race is finally making it down to Southern California and that they’ll battle on ATOC’s most iconic stage Mount Baldy.
Now if we could only expand it to a full week of racing like the men.
Here are some of the big story lines of the 2019 Amgen Tour of California to watch over the next week:
Trial no error
One piece of race dynamics notably absent from this year’s edition is a time trial stage.
While it typically makes for a day of bad television, its inclusion does put pressure on the GC contenders who aren’t TT specialists to make some moves early.
Still, the ATOC has a way of making ordinary stages far more pivotal than seen on paper.
Stage two up to Lake Tahoe has enough vert that if the peloton doesn’t keep a high enough pace, that a select group can escape.
Toms Skujins will tell you that the next two stages ending in Morgan Hill and Laguna Seca can be taken by a skillful breakaway.
Toms Skujins 2018 victory dance at Laguna Seca
Even Stage Five can create gaps as passing through the Central Coast has created splits with the wind in the past.
On paper, the Tour of California may look bland, but every year provides a tremendous amount of daily drama.
The last few years, the ATOC has been blessed with the best sprinters in the world as this select group wants action without trudging through three weeks at the Giro.
This year’s flock has name recognition, but it’s safe to say all are trying to find their form. Mark Cavendish and John Dekenkolb have taken a step or two back from elite to can they ever win a race again status.
Marcel Kittel was due to participate as well, but this long stretch of injuries and illness as caused him to pull out of the sport altogether.
Mark Cavendish dangerously pushing the envelope as is career sunsets
Even three time World Champ and the most decorated ATOC rider ever Peter Sagan has been struggling to find his form again.
With the first, fifth and final stages slated to be sprints, who will end up wearing the green jersey is anyone’s guess.
Also look for socal native Coryn Rivera as the favorite at the Rose Bowl to take home the Sprint victory donning her red, white and blue US National Championship jersey.
An interesting twist for the 2019 Amgen Tour of California is the addition of an American squad with riders from a few different teams giving them the chance to gain experience on a world tour stage.
There’s enough people in this country cycling that it would have been nice for the ATOC to extend this on the women’s side, so 2020 is on notice.
The national team was whittled down from 10 choices to 7 selections.
I’ll be pulling for recent UCLA grad Sam Boardman who has rifled up the ranks after only taking up the sport four years ago while in school.
Red Ball of Hate
To the casual cycling fan, you may not know his name. He may not even win a stage.
But could he dominate the news for the week? Yes, but it wouldn’t be in a good way.
Nacer Bouhanni has always been a talented top tier sprinter just outside of elite status, but he is better known for his misdeeds among the peloton.
Nacer Bouhanni making headlines at the 2017 Tour de France
Even if you look up his Wikipedia, he even has his own section for “incidents”.
My prediction is that he could take the headlines of this race, but maybe not in a good way.
It’s clear for both the men’s and women’s races that the Queen stage will be the most likely one determining who wears yellow on Sunday.
Race after race, Mount Baldy not only supplies iconic scenery, but for great race moments too, like in 2015 when Peter Sagan took the yellow jersey by staying within Julian Alaphillipe’s reach.
Peter Sagan chasing Julian Alaphillipe on Baldy
The last five miles after coming down Glendora Ridge Road is where the peloton will be likely whittled down to a select group ready to attack each other.
This is one of the most dynamic climbs in all of racing not just because the pitch looks so deceiving, but that it happens in so many different ways.
False flats, switchbacks and forced perspectives can give the riders fits as a number of launched breakaways tend to fail.
Get ready for fireworks!
Boys and Girls with the Thorns in their Sides
One of my favorite parts of this race is how the Continental teams use the ATOC as an opportunity to animate the race and make a name of themselves.
Rally finds a way of inserting themselves with Evan Huffman taking two stage wins in 2017 while last year Brandon McNulty took 7th in the GC…as a twenty year old!
My favorite team to watch though is Hagen Berman Axeon as each year Axel Merckx has a flock of young riders ready to race giving them proper toolage before they graduate to the World Tour.
Emma White is a rising star both on the road and cyclocross
Already, this year’s race includes alumni Neilsen Powless (Jumbo – Visma), Will Barta (CCC) and green jersey threat Jasper Philipsen (UAE).
This year’s crop includes one of his most promising squads yet, including current US Road Race Champion Jonny Brown and recent 1-2 finishers at the Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux Mikkel Bjerg and Ian Garrison.
I’ll be keeping my eye also on Rally UHC’s twenty year old sensation Emma White to see what she can do on this big stage.
On paper, there seems to be a clear favorite to wear yellow after seven stages, but as always with the Tour of California, you never know.
Richie Porte has plenty of success winning week long stage races, well as being a constant grand tour threat, but this week he’ll be bringing a strong Trek squad to support his efforts.
EF Education also selected last year’s runner up and former winner Tejay van Garderen as part of their team, but they are also including Rigoberto Uran who would normally be the lead, but his fitness is an unknown with this being his first race back after breaking his collarbone.
Richie Porte crashes out of contention at the 2017 Tour de France
George Bennett is only two years removed from his ATOC victory and is likely to make a return to the podium.
Another name to keep an eye on is UAE’s Tadej Pogačar who already won a stage race this year against good competition as a twenty year old!
On the women’s side, recent World Champs Lizzie Deignan and Chantal Blaak will be lining up, but look for last year’s winner Katie Hall (Go Bears!) as a favorite to repeat.