While attention is heaped upon the first Grand Tour of the 2016 season in Italy, there’s also another race going on that arguably deserves as much attention: the Amgen Tour of California (May 15-22).
Starting on Sunday, May 15, the 11th edition of the AToC pits some of the biggest names in the sport against the cream of homegrown US teams. And it’s all run with the stunning scenery of the Golden State as a backdrop.
Here are five reasons why we love the Tour of California.
>>> Tour of California 2016: Latest news, reports and info
1. Peter Sagan owns the race
Well, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) doesn’t literally own the race, but he’s been a regular feature for the past six editions and last year he surprised everyone by winning it overall. No other rider has won as many stages as Sagan – he has taken no less than 13 stage victories.
Of course, this year Sagan will be wearing the rainbow jersey of world champion and goes into the race with a highly successful spring campaign already in the bag. In the past, Sagan has reliably been a rider who has animated stages and brought an element of excitement to the top US stage race. There’s no reason to think that this year will be any different.
2. Wiggins and Cav are there
Along with Sagan, British stalwarts Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish have a good relationship with the Tour of California. Wiggins won it in 2014, and Cavendish is second only to Sagan in the list of AToC stage winners, with nine victories. The reigning Madison world champions may be on different trade teams, but have been training together in Big Bear prior to the race alongside the Great Britain track team, and word is that both are on flying form.
You can bet that Cavendish will be gunning for stage wins – he took four last year – but there’s a bit of a question mark over what Wiggins will be aiming for, particularly since he’s concentrating on his Rio Olympics aims and pulled out of the recent Tour de Yorkshire after half a stage. The prospect of him having a bit of a dig at the stage six time trial is a great one, surely decent enough preparation for the track?
Watch: Tour of California 2016 official preview
3. California is stunning
From sun-kissed beaches to the vineyards, lakes and snow-tinged mountains, the Californian scenery provides a beautiful backdrop to the action. It’s like watching a tourism promotional video that just so happens to feature a bike race – and we don’t mean that in a bad way.
The weather isn’t always promo video-perfect, however, with heavy snow and extremely high temperatures both having been factors in recent editions. That just adds to the appeal, although the riders may disagree.
Tour de France organiser ASO has had more of a hand in this year’s route, and the mix of hills, mountains, flat sections and time trials should conspire to make for some great action.
4. It’s an easy race to follow
For those in Britain and Europe, the Tour of California is an easy race to watch live on television. The time difference means that the stage happens in the late evening over here, and as long as you don’t mind watching until just past midnight you can watch every stage live without worrying that the boss will spot that you’ve got a video window open on your work computer.
Praise must also be directed at the race organiser, which provides an excellent ‘Tour Tracker’ online service and app, with live streaming video, commentary, text updates and instantly updated standings. If only all races were presented this way.
5. We’re looking forward to the women’s race
This year’s men’s AToC is accompanied by a women’s race that uses parts of the final four stages of the men’s race (May 19-22), including the key individual time trial in Folsom. This should make it as easy to follow as the more established men’s event.
It’s status as part of the new UCI women’s WorldTour means that all of the top teams and many of the top riders will be there, including British squads Wiggle-High5, Drops and Podium Ambition.