Stage-by-stage guide to the men's Amgen Tour of California in the USA, from May 14-20
Run at the same time as the Giro d’Italia, the first American race to be awarded WorldTour status has historically attracted a variety of riders, with a combination of stages tailored to the sprinters, a time trial and a summit finish high in the mountains.
The 2017 race is no different and world champion Peter Sagan, the winner of 15 stages in seven editions and the overall title in 2015, has already confirmed his participation. Julian Alaphilippe, the 2016 victor, has not yet announced if he will defend his title.
The race will get underway in Sacramento, as it did in 2013 and 2014, before hurtling down the coast for the next three stages. Then, the race heads inland into the mountains for three days of mountains and a time trial where the race will be determined.
Interestingly, the race has dropped a day: traditionally it has even contested over eight days, but in 2017 there will be just seven race days, concluding on Saturday, May 20 in Pasadena.
Stage 1: Sunday May 14, Sacramento to Sacramento
The 2016 race will begin in California’s state capital, Sacramento. The city is a familiar stage host in the race, having hosted the final stage in 2016 and the opening stages the two years before that.
Peter Sagan may be the rider most synonymous with this race, but stages in Sacramento have been the happiest hunting ground for Mark Cavendish, who has won each of the last three stages to have taken place here. The flat circuits in the city lend themselves to yet another sprinter success on the first day.
Stage 2, Monday May 15, Modesto to San Jose
San Jose may be near to the coast, but that doesn’t mean a flat, fast finish is in store. Far from it, in fact. The route the peloton will take from Modesto includes six demanding climbs and an uphill finish.
Apart from 2016, San Jose has welcomed the race every year of its existence, and its most memorable stage was in 2011 when Chris Horner won a summit finish on Sierra Road, his nearest challenger Andy Schleck 75 seconds adrift.
Stage 3: Tuesday May 16, Pismo Beach to Morro Bay
A new stage finishing venue, Morro Bay is a small coastal town with a population estimated to be around 10,000. The day’s racing will begin at Pismo Beach and head north towards the finish line via a detour inland.
The uphill sprint at the end shouldn’t deter too many fast men, but it could pave the way for a puncheur or an Ardennes Classics-type rider to spoil the sprinters’ chances.
Stage 4: Wednesday May 17, Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita
Santa Clarita was last a stage host in 2015 when Mark Cavendish proved too fast for his rivals. A favourite climb among locals, Balcom Canyon features once more, but a bunch sprint at the end of the day’s racing is expected.
Stage 5: Thursday May 18, Ontario to Mt. Baldy
America may lack the prestige and history of Europe’s fabled climbs, but Mt. Baldy is as iconic in the States as Mont Ventoux and Stelvio are in cycling’s traditional heartlands.
This Queen stage starts in Ontario before heading into the Angeles National Forest to take on the 40km climb; the summit finish likely to go a long way to deciding the overall winner.
In 2015, Peter Sagan rode superbly to keep within touching distance of the GC that he eventually wrapped up. With the time trial to come the following day, this is the start of three huge days.
Stage 6: Friday May 19, Big Bear Lake time trial
A technical 24km course around Big Bear Lake is the challenge for the riders on stage six. Although flat, the high altitude of almost 7,000ft could affect some riders.
A similar stage was intended in 2015, but a snowstorm forced organisers to relocate and shorten the stage to just over 10km, which was won by Peter Sagan.
Stage 7: Saturday May 20, Mountain High to Pasadena
A final day that could go many ways: the sprinters could have the final say, the breakaway could cruise to victory or riders in touching distance of the GC could cause chaos and result in a frantic last day reshuffling.
The stage starts on Mountain High ski resort and then takes on two climbs with an elevation of more than 2,400m. But that is where the climbing relents, and the race then sets off downhill towards Pasadena, with the sprinters hoping to be all together for one final dash to the line.