• Rúben Silva

Tour of California Preview

It's only the 13th edition of the Tour of California but the race has gained quite the reputation and the place on the World Tour calendar, filling a place mostly occupied by riders targeting the Tour, mostly the sprinters.

There's a very diverse list of winners in the last few years with lots of types of riders, with Peter Sagan, Julian Alaphillipe and Egan Bernal in the list. Bernal won last year with a dominating performance, this year it's set to be a battle between the climbers, with the particularity of the absence of a time-trial.

The Route

The race starts off with a pan-flat stage as it is usual in California. There's no place to catch the peloton off guard and the sprinters will take the lead and the win in Sacramento, but in the following day the story should be totally different already.

Stage 2 will be a familiar one for the California peloton, the format hasn't been used since 2012 but the race regularly visits the area and it is one very popular in the region. The stage isn't a hifgh mountain one, more hilly despite the big amount of climbing. There's a slow uphill drag until the altitude reaches 2000 meters. In reality, the riders will go over 2600 meters but the finish line will be in the previous number, the finish isn't overly hard but the final 1.2Km are at a 7.5% gradient.

There's over 4000 meters of climbing on this day so even though it isn't terrain to make gaps, there will definetely be a selection throughout the day, and the climbers may get in the battle for the bonifications.

This stage will also be familiar, most of the route was raced back in 2017 where Rafal Majka won a brilliant stage finishing in San José, after an attacked ascent of Mt. Hamilton. This year the finish will come later, in Morgan Hill, but the same decisive climbs will be on the menu.

Mt. Hamilton is 7.2Km at 8.4% with some 69Km to the finish, it's definetely hard enough for serious attacks, the combination of steep descents and ascents almost until the finish section will be favourable for offensive racing, it will be up to the riders to see if it will kick off.

Stage 4 will be completely by the Pacific Ocean, it's a flat stage but with several bumps in the profile but the sprinters will once again have their say. There will be a technical finish in Morro Bay, and with 212 kilometers in lenght it's one that will push the riders.

Stage 5 will be another hard stage, but this one an unusual presence in this race, a very punchy stage, suited for sprinters who can fly over the hills but definetely for the puncheurs if the stage is attacked enough, there are several opportunities to do so.

A set of longer yet punchy climbs en route to Ventura, but it is with 5 kilometers to go that gaps can be made. The stage is 218 kilometers long and in kilometer 213 will summit a punchy 900 meter ramp at 9%, combined with an intermediate sprint which will trigger some attacks certainly, and from there it's a fairly technical route to the finish line so there's a good chance for an attack to succeed if a good gap is made and there's no organized chase.

Stage 6 will be a California classic, with the ascent to Mt. Baldy set to host the finish of the queen stage of this year's edition. As it is usual there will be some ascents around Glendora Ridge in a very short stage, only 127 kilometers in lenght.

The final ascent is well known, there's 8.1Km at 8.3% which is a very dificult ascent at such altitude, although not as extreme as some past days, it summits with almost 2000 meters of altitude, and wil be the final playground for the climbers to attack each other and for the race to be decided.

And the final stage as it's costum fits the breakaway down very well, rare to see such well suited stage for it. There's only 141 kilometers on the road, the first half is almost all in a slight uphill with two real ascents there in the middle, and from 48Km to around 20Km the riders loose 1200 meters in altitude, lots of descending and very technical roads will make it almost impossible to claw back time and will allow the escapees to also get a good recovery before the final 20Km on the finishing circuit in Pasadena.

That circuit is rectangular, criterium-shaped, and is only 5km long, so even if the peloton manages to bring back the escapees there will be a very messy aproach to the closing kilometers.

The Weather

Using Morro Bay as an intermediate point in the race, its's fair to say the conditions will be normal for te week, with neither the heat neither the cold set to modify the race. There seems to be a day where rain is predicted that's thursday which is the hilly stage to Ventura.

The Favourites

Richie Porte may be coming as the main favourite into the race. He hasn't looked like himself lately, riding well in January but not ever since, he is a 1-week stage-race specialist though and so he is to be considered, it's a big goal for Trek so they can definetely do something here.

There are several riders who will bring majour competition, Rigoberto Uran is leading a very strong EF team. He's barely raced this season due to injury but he's on the comeback to form for the Tour and should be good here, he has with him Tejay van Garderen, runner-up last year, Sergio Higuita in his debut for the team, Lawson Craddock and Lachlan Morton for support.

Bora have Felix Grossschartner who's been flying this month, he will have pretty much only one rider to support him as the team will be backing Sagan, but that rider is Maximilian Schachmann, that after the massive month of April he's had it's hard to ask for a better rider. He himself isn't the best of climbers for the overall fight, but the punchy stages will suit him very well.

Tadej Pogacar will lead UAE Emirates, the young talent has been quite the revelation this season and if he rides at the same level he did in the Basque Country there's definetely a place for him in the final podium, not the best of support for him aswell but not many teams will be able to support their leaders. As 2017 winner George Bennett, coming in strong for the race it seems but will also lack some support in the mountains, with a team more focused on stage opportunities and the sprints. Also Rohan Dennis, he won't be able to profit from any time-trialing this week but he's a good climber in his own right, with Ivan Cortina Garcia and Hermann Pernsteiner in the team with him he can be a threat under circumstances, and benefit from the stages with longer climbs.

Team INEOS have David De la Cruz set to lead the team, hasn't been the brightest of season for him so far but he's got a confortable peloton for his level, he'll have Gianni Moscon in here aswell but his form shouldn't be on a good level as he was withdrawn from the Giro team for no particular reason.

There's some outsiders in Jesper Hansen of Cofidis, Ricardo Zoidl of CCC, Brandon McNulty and Rob Britton of Rally, João Almeida of Hagens Bermans, but also from Katusha who bring a very interesting team. Simon Spilak is in good form and will lead the team, but he will have with him aswell Ian Boswell and José Gonçalves, good playing room for the Russian team that is trying to turn it's season around.

The Sprinters

The sprinters are usually the main attraction of the race, the amount of flat stages this year is smaller but the sprinter field is just as good, lots of them like coming here as a preparation for the Tour and as a place to fight for a good World Tour win.

Sagan the reference for Bora, brings a strong leadout and is the record stage winner of the race, he will be looking to enlargen his streak and also to recover from a slightly disapointing spring. Versus him, almost every World Tour team brings a sprinter.

Deceuninck have to be mentioned as the headliners, their leadout for Fabio Jakobsen is really strong with Max Richeze and Michael Morkov in the main duty, but also a set of very powerful riders rounding out the team, Kasper Asgreen, Sdenek Stybar, Remi Cavagna and TIm Declercq.

John Degenkolb of Trek, Phil Bauhaus of Bahrain, Rick Zabel of Katusha and Max Walscheid of Sunweb form a very strong German armada, they can be there in every sprint and also disccuss the hillier stages with Degenkolb mostly.

Halvorsen leads INEOS with a strong leadout, Owain Doull, Leonardo Basso and Luke Rowe as powerful riders to position him, there's Danny van Poppel of Jumbo-Visma, Magnus Cort Nielsen and Davide Ballerini will be looking to discuss mainly the hillier sprint stages, Jasper Phillipsen will be representing the Emirates in the faster finishes, Mark Cavendish still fighting for a rebound on his form with some opportunities this week, Cofidis with a strong duo in Nacer Bouhanni and Fillipo Fortin coming strong into the race, and finally also Travis McCabe for the USA National team.

Prediction Time

Porte, Grossschartner, Pogacar

Uran, van Garderen, Spilak, G.Bennett

Schachmann, Higuita, Schachmann, De la Cruz, Dennis, Zoidl

I think Felix Grossschartner will lead the way in the overall fight, with Scachmann in support it will be a major confidence boost, but the sheer quality of riding he's been displaying this last month (1st in Turkey, 4th in Romandie) I think he's the fittest GC contender in the race, and lack of recent racing is something real for any of the other contenders who are instead using this race as a buildup for something bigger. Grossschartner is still growing within the peloton as is racking up the nice results by focusing on specific races, he's ame to form very well and I consider him the main contender to win the Tour of California.

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