Tour of California Preview: Riders to Watch For

If you haven’t checked out my week’s preview of the Tour of California, you can find a link here.

You could say that just a week’s worth of racing can cause a lot of unpredictability, but last year’s edition of the Tour of California totally threw that out the door.

Peter Sagan has had a stronghold on the Green Jersey(sprints) ever since 2010, but really nowhere close to the GC the last few years. With the help of a bunch of flat stages, Sagan found himself in second place coming into the TT. Due to snow up in Lake Arrowhead, the stage was shortened and placed at a lower elevation where he put on a remarkable performance to take the yellow jersey by winning the stage.

The following day, Sagan was able to fend off varying degrees of attacks to remain with the lead pack until there was some separation on the switchbacks on Mt. Baldy.

Sagan emptied the tank, ultimately sitting two seconds behind new leader Julian Alliphillipe with the final stage the next day favoring sprinters.
Sagan could of taken the lead on the intermediate sprint, but Alliphillipe also got points, meaning Sagan was only one second behind.

TOC_Sagan

 

Will Sagan be in the hunt for yellow again?

All he had to do to win was to finish in the top three and ahead of Alliphillipe. When Sagan crossed the line, my guess at the time was that he finished fourth, but not even the best sports movies could have matched the anticipation waiting to find out that he captured third by just millimeters.

Yes Sagan won, but there were a number of variables that could have easily altered the shape of the race. You can always second guess team tactics and gut instincts, but the one point I always wonder about is if Marcel Kittel didn’t have to back out because of sickness?¬†He surely would have taken a few sprint bonus seconds away from Sagan altering the notion whether he’d contend for yellow or not.

That’s why this year’s race is so interesting. There are so many angles that if you raced it a thousand times, you would come up with a thousand different results.

On paper, you could normally circle Bradley Wiggins’ name as the winner and I’d be done with the column, but with his focus on gaining the hour world record and competing in track for the Summer Games, this could just be an excuse for a family vacation in California.

Yes, Sagan is back and this time he’s coming as a World Champion, but a repeat performance with all the competition is quite tenuous.

Let’s take a look at the other competitors and gauge their impact on this year’s race:

Team that excites me the most: BMC
Taylor Phinney is one of my most favorite riders able to breakaway and win a stage all on his own like in 20. Greg van Aamermart has the skill and savy to do the same always in contention at the spring classics. The favorite for the GC has to be Rohan Dennis who briefly held the hour world record last year.

Crumbiest team at ATOC: Cannondale
This is an interesting team because there’s so many Americans you can consider as contenders. Andrew Talansky hasn’t performed as smoothly as he’d liked to in 2015, but he’s still capable of great things. Phil Gaimon also has put up some solid performances at the ATOC. The rider who appears on the biggest upswing is Texan Lawson Craddock who has a number of high finishes this year and finished 3rd at the ATOC in 2014 as a 22-year old. Why are they crumby? See below.

 

ICYMI The start of the @amgentoc is right around the corner. Here is the #GreenArgyle squad that is ready to take on California!

A video posted by Cannondale Pro Cycling Team (@rideargyle) on

What about me award: Mark Cavendish

Yes, he’s back again and little did people remember that last year he unseated Peter Sagan for the Green Jersey for the first time since 2009. Mark is still a sprinting superstar and looks to be the favorite to be wearing the yellow jersey after day one, unless….

I pinch you award: Alexander Kristoff

If there’s one rider to complete the trinity of elite sprints, it’s going to be the crafty Kristoff. I think the peloton is still trying to figure him out, but somehow he continues to cause rubbernecking as he passes everyone at the finish line. I’d also keep an eye on Wouter Wippert of Cannondale after a couple of 2nd place finishes last year.

Benjamin Button Award: Lachlan Morton

In 2013, Morton finished the racing season strong making the peloton take notice. Little did we know he was getting burned out my pro cycling but rediscovered the sport through his adventures on his Thereabouts series. Now, Lachlan is putting in some serious work winning last week’s Tour of the Gila stage race. With all of his stories, it’s hard to imagine he’s only 24. ¬†

 

I swear I have ID award: Holowesko-Citadel Racing Team & Axeon Hagens Berman
These young development teams save a lot on razors, but still are looking to make their mark. The ATOC is their one chance to make their mark and their team directors always seem to give them the freedom to take a shot. Last year, it was Tom Skujins wearing yellow for the Holowesko-Citadel(nee Hincapie) team. Now, we can keep and eye on Robin Carpenter(H-C) and Toa Geohegan Hart(Axeon) to get some TV time.

Team follow the guy with a dolphin: Etixx – Quick Step
As great as it was to see Tom Boonen almost take Paris-Roubaix this year, how do you ever follow a guy to has the ability to paint his Ferrari with dolphins? His inclusion raises the level of classics riders at ATOC, but he’ll be putting work in for Julian Alaphilippe, who’s looking to improve from last year’s finish, which would put him first.

Riches doesn’t buy you style Tom Boonen

Team wishing for a million dollar stage: Giant – Alpecin
Giant Alpecin doesn’t seem to have high GC aspirations for this race, but they are bringing John Degenkolb, who won both Paris-Roubaix and Milan San Remo last year. Unfortunately, the team suffered a crash from a wayward driver early this year and this is only Degenkolb’s second race since. Still, with all the firepower of the classics riders here in California, imagine the fireworks if Stage 7 was turned into a million dollar, winner take all affair. Guns ablazin’.

Team Lurking for a Strong Finish: Trek – Segafredo
Peter Stetina returns this time as the team leader for Trek while still finding his form from last year’s crash at the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco. He is a very capable GC rider that can compete at a race like this while the ageless Haimar Zubeldia(39) always seems to perform well here. Kiel Reijnen is also crafty enough to find himself a stage winner here too.

Of course we have a British Champion: Team Sky
Peter Kennaugh takes the helm as Sky’s team leader proving capable as a climber. Peter doesn’t seem to have the same arsenal of teammates from a year before, but somehow Team Sky makes things work.

Chopped Liver Award: Team Lotto NL – Jumbo
Robert Gesink won the ATOC in 2012 and has had a series of high finishes, but rarely gets mentioned as a contender. This Dutch outfit also includes the young and upcoming Aussie George Bennett, so there’s a capable one-two punch here. This team is quiet enough just to make some noise.

Have I missed anyone? Of course. This is anyone’s race.

All this prognosticating may be for naught, but isn’t that the beauty of sport, where no fate is determined? And we get eight days of it!