With the Amgen Tour of California (AToC) moving from February to May, one of the major changes pertains to the overall difficulty of the race. Unfortunately for the riders, that means that the individual stages will be getting harder, not easier.
In its new mid-May time slot, the AToC falls only about six weeks before the start of the Tour de France. Since the Tour is the main focus for the Pro Tour and Pro Continental teams, which have been admitted through the wild card process if the AToC wants to attract the best riders to its race, it needs to offer individual stages which will help riders prepare for the Tour.
That translates to stages which are longer than before to more closely resemble the length of the Tour's stages. That also means adding more climbing. Because of the necessary changes, the route of the 2010 AToC is substantially more difficult than in years past, with longer stages and more climbing. In fact, even on the stages which might be considered to be designated for the sprinters, there is more climbing.
Climbing in the North
The race begins with a mostly downhill run from Nevada City to Sacramento, which should see a sprint finish. Stage 2, 114 miles from Davis to Santa Rosa, offers the first opportunity for the overall contenders to show their stuff. Howell Mountain is two miles of climbing with a 10 percent average grade, which is climbed mid-race as it was last year.
To make this stage more difficult, two other difficult climbs—Oakville Grade (one mile at 12 percent) and Trinity Road (three miles of 8 to 10 percent)—have been included at mile 87 and 90 respectively. The addition of these two difficult climbs close to the finish should result in a small group of 15 to 25 riders, including all the overall contenders, coming into Santa Rosa together.
Stage 3 is similar to last year. Several more medium-sized climbs have been added mid-stage, but it will be the climb up Bonny Doon Road just 20 miles before the finish which may force a selection. Stage 4 from San Jose to Modesto has traditionally been a sprinter's stage. Even with the addition of the Mines Road climb, the last 40 miles are downhill and flat, which should see a bunch kick.
2 Stages Not for the Sprinters
Stage 5, 121 miles from Visalia to Bakersfield includes a big, 3,000-foot climb on Old Stage Road. Unfortunately, it tops out halfway through the stage and will probably have little effect. The small, finishing climb, 250 feet of 10 percent average grade up to Bakersfield Community College is more strategically placed. It will be ascended three times and should eliminate the field sprinters.
The most anticipated day of the 2010 AToC is Stage 6, 120 miles from Palmdale to Big Bear Lake. The course includes over 12,000 of climbing including a long finishing climb up to 7,000 feet. Unfortunately, there is about 10 miles of flat and rolling terrain to the line, which probably means that it will most likely be a small group of overall contenders rather than a solo winner.
Speed in the South
Stage 7's 20-mile time trial will, as in year's past, be the most decisive stage. The course features the very steep Figueroa Street and includes lots of turns, making it both difficult and technical.
The final stage is a circuit race, with four laps of a 21-mile circuit in the Santa Monica Mountains finishing in Westlake Village. The key features are the 2.5-mile Rock Store climb and the fast, technical descent of Westlake Drive. There is about 10 miles of flat riding at the beginning of each loop which undoubtedly means any significant move will most likely happen on the final lap.
Bruce Hildenbrand is a freelance journalist covering cycling and a host of other outdoor-related sports. Find the latest news, rumors and more on his Active Expert blog. He splits his time between Mountain View, California, Boulder, Colorado, and Europe.