What has arguably become America’s premier stage race, due mainly to attrition and neglect, the 11th ToC promises to deliver a gorgeous canvas on which these brave riders will paint compelling scenes of pain and suffering for our viewing pleasure. Thank you riders.
This year the riders will cover a golden shit-ton of the state, The race starts in San Diego, way down on the southern border with Mexico, heads up the coast to LA, and up again to Santa Barbara, further on to Monterey, crosses all the way to Lake Tahoe on the eastern border with Nevada, and then back and forth across the north of the state from the Sonoma coast to Sacramento, our state capital. That is a lot of real estate to cover, easily over 1000 miles of driving in 8 days. Transfers are going to suck, but the roads are nice. Plus, a women’s race! Now granted it’s a bit truncated, with only 4 women’s stages, all of which are shorter than the men’s race, which is kind of lame, but it’s better than no women’s race, right?
Anyway, gender politics aside, this preview is about the men's race exclusively, so everyone go put on your sexiest bra and panties, grab something on which to nosh, maybe a cold drink or two, and have a seat on the divan while I lay out my glib, poorly researched, and painfully superficial overview of each stage, served up with some random nonsense that I find interesting. Enjoy!
Stage 1 - San Diego to San Diego
San Diego, discovered by the ToC in 2016, is not a place to visit if you hate the sun, or if you enjoy the color green or the taste of water. Because San Diego is sunny and dry. The elevation profile of this grand loop of San Diego county should look familiar to all of you who have ever taken introductory statistics. It is basically a 109 mile long normal distribution bookended with miles of rollers and one fairly substantial bump in the middle, namely the category 1 "Honey Springs Summit", a 6 mile (9.5 km) hump averaging 5.5%, that tops out at 2600 feet (800m,) in elevation. On paper, it looks like quite a climb, but with over 40 miles of mostly downhill riding to the finish, it shouldn’t prove of consequence as far as the stage win or GC is concerned. Look for bunch sprint that Cavendish wins.
What to eat – Fish tacos, of course. You bread and fry a nice piece of firm-fleshed white fish, like cod, and serve it in a warm corn tortilla with shredded cabbage and cilantro, and a sploosh of lime-mayo sauce. Yum.
What to drink – You know all those aggressively-hopped, craft-brewed IPA’s your local has on tap now? Well you can thank the fine brewers of San Diego for getting that trend rolling. Try any one from a half-dozen excellent brewers such as Ballast Point, Stone, Green Flash, etc. if you want to taste San Diego.
Random movie reference – Iconic 80’s romantic/action epic "Top Gun" was filmed in these parts. Miramar is a real military base, located just a bit north of the race route, which is where the Navy used to run their "Top Gun" program. Apparently they have since moved to Nevada, because the rent is cheaper, and there are fewer neighbors to complain when Maverick goes below the hard deck. Also, nobody, anywhere, plays beach volleyball while wearing blue jeans.
Stage 2 - South Pasadena to Santa Clarita
Today takes the riders from lovely South Pasadena, up and over the rugged San Gabriel mountains, 92 miles to not-as-lovely Santa Clarita. With 11,300 feet (3444 m) in elevation gain, this one is going to hurt. The two early climbs up Angeles Crest (Cat 1) and Big Tujunga Canyon (Cat 2) are long, but not particularly steep. Cleverly, the organizers put a little loop thingy right at the two-third mark of the course, with a couple of shorter, but steeper climbs, followed by about a 20 mile (mostly) descent into boringsville. Something interesting could happen, but I do not recommend holding your breath waiting for it this day.
South Pasadena random movie fun-fact – The home that was used as the home of Michael Myers, anti-hero in the classic thriller "Halloween", is located literally right at the race start. The neighborhood has improved since then. In fact, now it’s a chiropractors office, so you are about 50% less likely to die there.
Stage 3 - Thousand Oaks to Santa Barbara
Finally, after 11 years, the ToC is having a real mountain-top-like stage finish. If you only watch one stage of the ToC this year, watch this one. Because after around 100 miles of less than interesting flatness, stage 3 finishes on the infamous Gibraltar road mega-ultra-death-climb! A climb so brutal, so carnivorous, that our beloved Gavia herself refuses to climb it*. Gibraltar is a 7.4 mile (12km) unrelenting 8% climb with nowhere to hide, and no place to rest. I would say to expect fireworks, but fireworks are illegal in Santa Barbara because the place is too dry, and the whole Spanish-revival-little-slice-of-heaven of a place would all go up in smoke in a hot second.
*This is not a verified fun fact
Stage 4 - Morro Bay to Monterey
Stage 4 is all about the scenery. This stage takes place on arguably the most spectacularly beautiful stretch of road anywhere: the Pacific Coast Highway. Rolling up and down the central coast for over 130 miles, passing Morro Rock, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Carmel, and ending with a lap around famed Laguna Seca racetrack. This stage is pretty. Weather has been a factor in this stage in the past, and this year is heading in the less desirable wind direction, south to north, which promises a pretty solid headwind the entire day. Plus, it is not flat. Ouch. Expect numerous scenic shots of the Bixby Creek Bridge followed by a group finish which Peter Sagan will probably win. Because I need the VDS points, that’s why.
Morro Rock linguistic fun fact – "Morro" is Spanish for "rock", so "Morro Rock" translates as "Rock Rock".
Hearst Castle movie cunning lingual fun fact – Orson Welles masterpiece "Citizen Kane" was based on William Randolph Hearst who was not happy about it. Go google what "rosebud" means and you will understand why. Warning, NSFW.
Stage 5 - Lodi to South Lake Tahoe
Oh lord, we’re starting in Lodi again. Where’s my Credence tape? So after a previous attempt to visit Tahoe in 2011 ended in an impromptu speed skating race, followed by a close call last year, the brave organizers are once again tempting the weather fates. This version is a long 130 mile slow climb to over 8000 feet in elevation with a bit of an uphill finish. Race organizers are saying it will remind us of the Big Bear Lake finishes from a few years ago, which smells like another Peter Sagan win to me, because the Jimbo Line™ must be fed.
Tahoe fun fact – Our beloved lover of cows and European mountain goat Will went there once on vacation. It’s true. I remember him mentioning it in a live race thread. I’m like 60% sure he might even have gotten married there, but I can’t remember for certain. Someone ask him.
Stage 6 - Folsom ITT
Not much to say. It’s a 12 mile ITT with minimal elevation gain. Also, it’s in Folsom, which is famous because Johnny Cash sang a song about how much it would suck to be stuck in prison there for shooting a guy in Reno just to watch him die, which is pretty messed up. Maybe Brad Wiggins, leader of team Wiggins, can pull a win out of his big fat ego?
Stage 7 - Santa Rosa to Santa Rosa
Santa Rosa is a great place to hold a bike race. Sonoma county is lovely, the roads are gorgeous with plenty of green vistas, and punchy climbs, like King Ridge, and Coleman Valley Road, and the downtown is picture perfect for a finishing circuit. How many circuits, you wonder? Well keep wondering because fuck if I can find that level of detail on the ToC’s crap website. And with this being the penultimate stage, your guess is as good as mine as to who might prevail, so expect another Sagan win, because Jimbo Line™.
Santa Rosa fun fact – Celebrity chef, Smashmouth fan look-alike, hero to some, zero to many, the one and only Guy Fieri opened his first restaurant, Johnny Garlic’s, here back in 1996 and the rest is culinary misery, I mean history. This fact kind of makes Santa Rosa the first stop on the express train to flavor town, baby! Also, donkey sauce.
Stage 8 - Sacramento Circuit Race
Laps around the Capitol. How many? More than one, less than a million billion. Flat as a proverbial pancake with the only elevation being when they ride across the bridge that crosses the Sacramento river. Look for an early break of less than five riders, which gets less than one minute advantage, and which will undoubtedly be sacrificed on the alter of the sprinter god, who I think is Mario Cipollini, but I might be mistaken. Smart money is on Cavendish, so I’ll go with Sagan.
So that’s it. If you’ve read this far, then you are both my friend, and a moron. Enjoy the race, and when you get sick of watching the Giro, aim your inter-webs-viewer towards California, because everyone, eventually, comes to California.