Have you guys ever read press releases describing the route of upcoming races? They're gold, really, especially for stage races where the writer has to find a way to make a sprint stage super interesting. Fun fact: Stage 2 of the Tour of California, for all it's flat sprintiness, goes over the tallest bridge in the United States. Should they decide to look around, riders will see the American River some 730 feet beneath them. Fun fact two: it would take 6.7 seconds to hit the water if you fell off the bridge. Really, shouldn't these be the facts people include?
Anyway... the reason for this rambling is the announcement of the route for this year's Tour of California. All in all, the race will resemble past versions, though not a replay of last year's route. Instead, the route picks stages that have worked well for in years past and pieces them together in a long southerly jaunt. So what does the route look like?
Stage 1: Sacramento - Sacramento, 203km (127mi)
Hey! Remember me? This is where Mark Cavendish narrowly pipped John Degenkolb in a tight sprint famously captured from Degenkolb's on-bike camera here. Really, you should go watch that again. Fun fact for the stage? Riders will cross the Sacramento River four times before hitting the familiar finishing circuits in the state capital. I've been promised many of these bridge crossings are new to the race, so tune in early and don't miss them.
Stage 2: Nevada City - Lodi, 165km (120mi)
This is Nevada City's third time to host a race start, but instead of heading to Sacramento as the race did in 2010 and 2011, the route meanders towards Lodi and another all-but-guaranteed sprint finish. According to the race website, riders will cross "several railroad crossings." For more exciting news, Lodi is known as the Zinfandel Capital of the World, so pour yourself a glass to enjoy as you watch the Etixx-Quickstep guys try to lead out Mark Cavendish to yet another stage win. In other Noteworthy Things About The Stage, racers will travel down Dog Bar Road. Sounds fun, if you ask me.
Stage 3: San Jose - San Jose, 170km (106mi)
San Jose is the only city to host ten consecutive stages in the Tour of California, but the route is a twist on past editions. In the first stage for the climbers, the stage will go over the back side of Mount Hamilton, drop down a technical descent to the next KOM on Quimby Road, and then head towards the Motorcycle County Park on Metcalf road. The last four miles of the stage are rolling and the final 400m of the stage rise at gradients topping 10%. Assuming Peter Sagan tends again, this sounds like the sort of stage he will already be thinking of because he should be able to get over the climbs near the leaders. Sadly, the race website has to use too many words describing the climbs to tell us interesting facts about the stage. Have no fear, though, your trusty editors are on the case: San Jose is home to the world's largest monopoly board, statue of a rat, and is the home town of Screech from Saved By The Bell.
Stage 4: Pismo Beach - Avila Beach, 154km (96mi)
Tepusquet Road is, if you read the race website, one of the highlights of today's stage. A winding climb with lots of shade surrounded by "tranquil farms and ranches" sounds pretty nice to me, at least. Aside from that, today should be another day for the sprinty types. Avila Beach sounds pretty nice too. Ages ago the Chumash tribe that lived here named the beach "hole in the sky" because of its tendency to be warmer and sunnier than all the coastline around it.
Stage 5: Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita, 154km (96mi)
This is one of those trademark Tour of California stages with lots of climbing (four categorized climbs and 7,600 feet elevation gain) but with a flat run in to the finish. If you're wondering why Peter Sagan has had such success here, it's stages like these. Someone like Cavendish may make it over the climbs okay, but he won't be quite as spry at the finish as the more all-rounder Sagan. The guy or gal writing the stage descriptions must be getting tired, because we have no more fun facts, but I do hear the surfing in Santa Barbara is pretty rad, as are the tacos and espressos (Handlebar Coffee, anyone?). But, we do learn that Balcom Canyon is so steep and intimidating most people wouldn't think of riding their bikes up it. Sounds like just the place for us to go for a spin, yeah?
Stage 6: Big Bear Lake (ITT), 24km (15mi)
What kind of race has two stages at sea level and then follows them with a time trial at 6,700 feet elevation? No, seriously, what kind of madman thought up that plan? Anyways, here we are at Big Bear Lake where much of the 1920 version of Last of the Mohicans was filmed, as were portions of the 1936 movie Daniel Boone and Gone with the Wind. Never mind that Ohio, Kentucky, and Georgia are about 2,000 miles to the east. Geography never was Hollywood's strong point. Anyway, today is a short, mostly flat time trial, so I suggest you watch Scarlett and Rhett until the last few guys set off.
Stage 7: Ontario to Mt. Baldy, 129km (80mi)
Mountains! The organizers made us wait for it, but we have finally gotten to the Queen Stage of this year's race. Isn't it funny how "queen stage" is often made into a proper noun by race organizers? Today's stage joins the 2011/2012 route fairly quickly, climbing over Glendora Ridge Road and Glendora Mountain Road before the steep, switchbacked climb to the summit of Mt. Baldy. I like to think back to the 2012 version when Robert Gesink won ahead of Darwin Atapuma (that name!) with then-espoir Joe Dombroski coming home in an astounding fourth place. It wasn't long before Dombroski was off to join the World Tour ranks after that performance. Fun fact: back in the Prohibition era, locals knew Mt. Baldy as a place to slip away and imbibe forbidden elixirs away from the watchful eyes of the police. Sounds a lot like what we can expect of fans on the roadside, no? Appropriate.
Stage 8: L.A. Live to Pasadena, 95km (59mi)
Todays' stage begins at the arena where the Grammys, Emmys, and ESPY awards are handed out each year. But, no red carpet for our riders today as they begin their stage at an uncharacteristically early 9:15AM in order to get in a few circuits of downtown Los Angeles before the city truly wakes up for the weekend. After three scenic circuits the racers head to Pasadena for seven laps of a short 5 kilometer (3 mile) finishing circuit. I know little about Pasadena, but I hear they have a pretty special Rose Parade in early January.
That's it for our little trivia-based look at this year's Tour of California. We will look in more depth at the three-day stage race for women the organizers are holding during the same time soon!