Once again the eyes of the world return to the Golden State for the 12th annual Amgen Tour of California, presented by Amgen. In a transparent attempt to justify my continued inclusion in the Editor’s League VDS, it is time for my glib, poorly researched, and painfully superficial parcours overview. Tradition!
The 4-stage Women’s race started Thursday, May 11th, and the longer Men’s race starts Sunday, May 14. This year the riders will again cover an absurdly large amount of the state, from Lake Tahoe to Big Bear Lake, sprinkled with some beach time. Nobody comes to California without a little beach time. Pretty much the entire route is gorgeous and worthy of commentary, but given that I’m publishing this after the Women’s race has started, I’m going to try to keep things short. Also, there is that glib, poorly researched thing. Tradition!
Full stage maps and other deets can be found at here.
Women’s Stage 1 - Lake Tahoe Loop
Recipe for a cost effective Lake Tahoe bike race: Pick a starting place in the biggest town with the most hotels, ride around the lake on the main road, and finish at the exact same starting place. One cost advantage, possibly the least significant, is that the starting line and the finish line can be printed on opposite sides of the same banner. And while Tahoe is a mountain lake surrounded by lovely mountains, and world-class ski resorts, there are pretty much zero mountain roads. So the options available to the organizers are limited as far as making this an actual mountain stage, with mountain stage features like climbing and steepness. But the scenery will be awesome, and there’s even a chance it might snow and monkeywrench the whole shooting match (Spoiler alert: it did not snow). Also, Will got married here back during the Ford administration. Tradition!
Women’s Stage 2 - Lake Tahoe Loop #2
Recipe for an extra-super cost effective Lake Tahoe bike race: Use the same start/finish place as the day before, but ride off into the surrounding countryside. Plus Nevada. Hey organizers, you could have saved even more money if you’d just had them ride around the lake again in the opposite direction. Dummies! The good news is that this stage has some actual climby bits, with an early 6% Cat 2, 4.1 mi (6.6 km) climb, followed by a slightly more substantial 6.1% Cat 1, 7.8 mi (12.6 km) climb about 6 miles from the finish. If someone goes all-in on that final climb, it might factor, but probably not, because 7.8 mi at 6.1% is barely a climb for riders at the pro level.
Women’s Stage 3 - Elk Grove to Sacramento
Experts said that it was not possible to find a race route with almost zero elevation change. Experts were wrong. This one is flat as a pancake. Expect a bunch sprint that Coryn Rivera will win, because she won Flanders, (I was there!) and that made her an easy pick from that day forward.
Women’s Stage 4 - Sacramento Circuit Race
Experts said that it was not possible to find a race route with even less elevation change that stage 3. Again, experts were wrong. This one is as flat as a wafer-thin pancake that has been run over repeatedly by a steamroller from a classic black and white screwball comedy film from the 20’s. Speaking of “twenty”, this one is exactly twenty laps around downtown Sacramento that will end with another bunch sprint win for Coryn Vande-Rivera, the Lioness of Modesto. Honestly, I have no idea where she’s from, but that sounds good, right?
Men’s Stage 1 - Sacramento to Sacramento
Not much to talk about here as far as parcours goes. The course is another flat ride country loop, followed by three laps around the Capitol, with the only significant elevation change being when they ride across the bridge that crosses the Sacramento river. According to the published stage profile, this one has a net elevation gain, from start to finish of, almost 4 meters, which is remarkable since the start/finish line is in the exact same spot. Curious.
Look for a small early break which gains less than enough of an advantage to stay away until the end. Winner will be Peter Sagan because I PAID AN ABSURD AMOUNT FOR HIM AND I DEMAND VALUE!
Men’s Stage 2 - Modesto to San Jose
If you read the official race description for this stage, this one sounds like a climber’s paradise, with six official KOM points climbs! In reality, most of them are a mile or two in length, and come in quick succession, with the only sort-of-real-climby bit being Mt Hamilton, with almost 5 miles at nearly 9%. So something interesting could happen there, if the gods are kind to us and everyone eats their broccoli. But that “something” might only be the effective end of the climbers jersey competition. Still, a smart sprinter who can also climb, someone like say Peter Sagan for example, could sneak off at the top of the Quimby Rd summit and TT to the finish (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Also, this will not happen.
Men’s Stage 3 - Pismo Beach to Morro Bay
The one is a long country loop from one sleepy central coast beach to another, with a little bump in the middle. Sprinters stage. Nothing to see parcours-wise here, except more amazing countryside. But if you do ever happen to find yourself in this part of Cali, you need to stop, look around, eat a tri-tip sandwich, drink a local brew/vintage, and bask in the magic juju that is the central coast of California, which is truly one of the special places.
Men’s Stage 4 - Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita
Stage 4 is the meat-lover's sampler platter of this years ToC. You get a little beach appetizer, a rack of coastal mountains, a petite filet of steep climb, followed by a long, slow, uphill grind to the toilet (Santa Clarita). That last part is a bit harsh, but I enjoyed typing it so it stays.
The most interesting part of this stage is the short and steep climb up to the Balcomb Canyon Road summit. It’s less than a mile, but at almost 12% it should make for some interesting visuals, if for nothing else than the fact that all the running and costumed jackholes will be concentrated in one short stretch. As a native, I am already embarrassed.
A climbers break could escape today and successfully make it to the end, but more likely this one will come together when the GC contenders teams drop the plunger.
Men’s Stage 5 - Ontario to Mt. Baldy
This one is going to hurt because Mt. Baldy is a total dick. Trust me. I rode this route once, or at least I rode 90% of it before reality bit me, and it’s a long, long climb. 12,000 total feet of climbing in only 77 miles of racing. My knees hurt just picturing it. The profile tries to make the final climb look like a series of climbs, but it’s just a single climb with a KOM banner in the middle followed by a very short descent. Then the real pain starts.
It’s 20 miles from Glendora up to the top of Baldy, with the steepest bits sadistically located in the last few miles. There are fifteen switchbacks at the end with over 1,000 feet of climbing in the last two miles alone. Seriously, this one is hard. So hard that it could prove to be the proverbial turd in the GC contenders punchbowl. So many poop references in one parcours review. Value for money.
My prediction is that Levi Leipheimer will outclass Chris Horner and take the win. Tradition!
Men’s Stage 6 - Big Bear Lake ITT
It’s a time trial. It’s a very flat time trial. It’s also up in the mountains at 6,700 feet, so maybe that will mess some guys up, but probably not. Most interesting parcours feature is that they finish on a jetty that juts out into the actual lake, so hopefully someone’s brakes will fail and they will go flying into the lake like at one of those Red Bull Flugtag things. Wait a minute! Hey race sponsors, you are passing up a golden opportunity for some kickass cross-promotion! We know that Red Bull has money, and that they are very willing to throw it into a lake, right? Okay, picture this: The 2018 Tour of California Team Time-Trial Flugtag sponsored by Redbull! This is genius! Organizers, you can have the idea for free in exchange for 20% of the gate and 10% of beer sales. Also I want some jerseys and a hat, and all the Red Bull I can drink, which is exactly zero Red Bull. Thank you and you’re welcome.
Men’s Stage 7 - Mountain High to Pasadena
I like this stage because it has the potential to change the overall results on the final day. And if the recent US Presidential election results have taught us one thing, it is that things which sound too batshit-crazy to seriously consider, well, sometimes those things actually happen. This one is mostly just a long descent with a sprinkling of easy climbs in the middle. I doubt much will change here, but someone might sneak off at the summit of the final climb and roll into Pasadena unmolested. Poll results say that will never happen so take that to the bank, but my advice is not to choose a Russian bank. Spasiba!
That’s all I got. Hope you enjoyed it and see you next year!
Love and kisses,