Whilst many of us focus our cycling-fan attention on Italy and the battle for the Maglia Rosa, some of the world’s top cyclists have made the long journey to the sunny west coast of the United States to take place in the Amgen Tour of California.
The Tour of California is one of the biggest races to take place in the US each year, and naturally attracts a strong field. Those who are preparing for the Tour de France, and also those who have American based sponsors, are all in the Golden State to fight for the top step of the podium.
Names such as, van Garderen, Hushovd, Gilbert, Sagan, Voight and Schleck are all present at the race. Either here to fight for the final overall victory on Sunday, or just here to get some stage wins, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) being the man to watch after his strong spring campaign.
Already on stage 3 the races have been nothing short of red-hot. Stage one saw a rider in the break all day survive to the finish. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoliel) attacked his fellow breakaway riders 5km from the finish and managed to cross the finish line 6 seconds in front of the hard charging peloton, lead by Sagan.
Stage two was the first stage that would cause a shake up on the general classification. Heading inland towards the arid and hot climate of the California, Arizona state boarder, this stage had a 6.5km climb in Palm Springs called the Tramway. 6.5km is not going to rank with the hardest alpine climbs, but with an average grade of 10% it was going to see massive time gaps at the finish. The peloton rolled to the base of the climb in searing heat, 110°f was the official temperature, though some riders saw 50°C on their SRMs. This heat naturally took its toll on the field, as Brazilian rider Acevedo (Jamis-Hagen Berman) dug deep to take the stage victory and overall lead. Behind him was van Garderen (BMC) who will be a major threat in the stages to come.
With the high temperatures on stage 2 the field was well spread out on the road. Some of the riders who had come from the cooler temperatures of Europe suffered from heat stroke, Pinotti (BMC) of note, and had to be taken to hospital after the stage. Though a greater number of riders abandoned in stage 1 we are yet to see how many of those who have suffered with stage 2’s heat will take the start of stage 3.
Ahead of the riders is a cooler race for the next couple of stages. Heading back down to the coast, it is not until stage 6 that we shall see the next shake up on the GC. An individual time trial will see riders such as van Garderen and Meyer (Orca Green Edge) go on the attack and strike for the leader’s jersey. The second summit finish of the race, which could see the leader’s jersey change shoulders, follows stage 6.
Bookending these two GC stages will be finishes for the sprinters and long breaks. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) will be looking to emulate his dominance of last year’s race, putting his teammates on the front to make sure he gets the perfect lead out.
If the drama taking place in Italy in the Giro is not enough for you, then the Tour of California is your second daily dose of top-flight racing. Don’t let its non-Grand Tour status fool you into thinking this will be a straightforward race. As we have already seen, the racing is red-hot, with those riding for the smaller teams taking the bigger teams by surprise in the Golden State.
Author: Phil Gale