By Dave Richards — I flew down to Long Beach to cover the 13th edition of the Amgen Tour of California in May. This is my fourth year covering this race and I feel like I’m settling in and getting to know the race intimately.
The AToC, as the race is referred to, is the only World Tour men’s stage race on the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) calendar for North and South America. The World Tour calendar consists of the highest level of road racing events and all of the 18 World Tour teams compete at these events. The AToC women’s race is also part of the new UCI Women’s World Tour, now in its 3rd year.
The AToC has matured into a solid, one week, 7 stage race thanks to a long term commitment from the title sponsor Amgen and the passionate work by the race owner AEG. Race management is provided by ASO, the owners of the Tour de France, who were brought on 3 years ago to run AToC. Their experience has been an asset in allowing the race to grow and attract top riders to compete in California.
California is a big state to cover with this year’s race starting in Long Beach and ending in Sacramento with a side trip to South Lake Tahoe. Four flat stages plus two mountain stages and an individual time trial combined for over 800 miles of racing. Stage 6 from Folsom to South Lake Tahoe ran 122 miles and over 15,000 vertical feet of climbing. It made for some long days with transfers from hotels to start lines and on to the next hotel after the race. The riders seem to handle it well and it’s not much different for me on the back of a photo moto. Drive, ride, drive, sleep, repeat. You get the idea.
As much as the race seemed the same as previous years, I also detected a difference. The usual big stars were there – Kittel, Cavendish, Sagan, among others. However, starting with the first stage in Long Beach, these guys were not on the top step of the podium. Rising star 23 year old Columbian Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) won the sprint on the flat stages 1, 5, and 7. Another youngster from Columbia, 21 year old Egan Bernal (Team Sky) won the mountain stages 2 and 6 and also claimed the overall race general classification and yellow leader’s jersey. Veteran Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) nailed the time trial on stage 4, but only managed 2nd race overall behind Bernal. After being crowned the “King of California” for winning the most stages ever, Peter Sagan (Bora Hansgrohe) drew big crowds but did not win a single stage. Sagan, Kittel and Cavendish went home without a single win between them.
So what gives? Are we seeing a changing in the guard? New blood challenging the veteran riders? Time will tell. Sagan appears to be in fine form after winning the brutally difficult Paris-Roubaix this year, so maybe California was an anomaly. Cav has had some injuries, but hopefully will be fit and surprise us with some blistering moves at the Tour in July. I’m sure that Kittel will also be there fighting for wins.
In the meantime, I’m excited to see these new young riders coming into their own. I think Gaviria will continue to win big sprints and it will be no surprise to see Bernal in contention to win a Grand Tour someday. You might remember a young rider, 23 year old Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Sky) from his ride here at a previous Tour of Utah. He managed 3rd on the time trial and 5th overall.
This all bodes well for cycling fans. As long as we have a major race like the Amgen Tour of California here in the US, we’ll enjoy watching world class bicycle racing against the backdrop of the beautiful scenery of the Golden State.
The Women’s AToC consisted of 3 stages that ran sandwiched between the start and finish of the men race during the last 3 stages over similar courses. I had hoped to cover the women in depth, but logistics made that unworkable. I did get a chance to shoot photos of stage 2 which featured a 67 mile loop through the mountains and farmlands south of Tahoe. The women rode hard on some challenging climbs and I’ve included photos of that stage. Women’s racing can be very exciting so hopefully, we’ll see more resources devoted to the women’s race in the future. They certainly deserve it.
For complete coverage, more photos by Dave Richards, and past articles about the Tour of California, visit cyclingutah.com/category/racing/road-racing/tour-of-california/