This week, we finally got a look at the challenging route for the 2016 Amgen Tour of California, which was revealed at a media event presented by Visit California. From top to bottom – actually that should be from bottom to top since for only the second time ever, the race will travel south to north – the courses for the May 15-22 event will showcase California’s breathtaking beauty while taking the breath of the world’s most accomplished cyclists in a stage race that could be described as long and tall. The route for the eleventh edition of America’s Greatest Race is one of the longest in race history at nearly 800 miles and one of the tallest with almost 65,000 feet of climbing.
It was a flat out drag race to the finish line atop Metcalf Road in San Jose during Stage 3 of the tenth Amgen Tour of California and it was neck and neck. Fan favorite Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and upstart Julian Alaphilippe (Ettix-Quick-Step) clashed for the runner-up spot after Hincapie Racing’s Toms Skujins rode off with the day’s top prize. Trading a series of jabs and body blows, Sagan, who has the record for stage wins at America’s Greatest Race, barely edged out the 22-year-old Frenchman riding for the first time in California. That mad dash to the finish presaged the ultimate result in the GC battle that would unfold in the shadow of the iconic Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Stage 8. One could argue that Sagan won the Amgen Tour that sunny Tuesday afternoon. Standing 50 meters past the line, I watched Alaphilippe take his left hand off his bars to pat the speedy Slovak on the back in an offer of congratulations. It was a classy sporting gesture of respect from the second-year pro who in his breakout season was the breakthrough rider of this year’s Amgen Tour of California.
What an extraordinary week it was, the tenth edition of the Amgen Tour of California. Like the inaugural Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race empowered by SRAM won by pint-sized Trixi Worrack (Velocio-SRAM), the yellow jersey changed hands on the final day with the aid of time bonuses in a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat sprint showdown that crowned Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) the new King of California by a scant three-second margin over 22-year-old French phenom Julian Alaphilippe (Ettix-Quick-Step).
I’m scared of rollercoasters. My pulse quickened just driving into Six Flags Magic Mountain in the face of what looked like an endless array of frightening roller coasters that turn, twist, drop from dizzying heights and go upside down at dazzling speeds. This was the colorful backdrop for the Amgen Tour of California Stage 6 men’s and women’s 6.7-mile individual time trial at sea level in Santa Clarita after wintry weather conditions forced the move from the original location at Big Bear Lake, which was a planned 15 miles at altitude. My own thrill ride was to take place in a Drapac team car and I was nervous.
Planning for each Amgen Tour of California stage starts almost a full year in advance, sometimes even longer. It’s mindboggling when you consider the avalanche of logistics and bureaucratic red tape involved with permitting, city planning requirements, local organizing committee considerations, sponsorship arrangements, police and security; staffing and housing issues; UCI approval to protect the athletes and so much more that is involved with ensuring a safe event for the riders, staff and spectators alike. Everything is planned, itemized and scheduled down to the minutest detail. However, the one variable that cannot be planned or controlled is the weather. What’s a race organizer to do when Mother Nature forces them to slam on the brakes and pedal fast in an entirely different direction? Act decisively in order to preserve the safety and security of everyone involved and that is exactly what the Amgen Tour of California organizers – AEG Sports and Medalist Sports - did this week when faced with that exact scenario, which ultimately resulted in the relocation of Friday’s Stage 6 men’s and women’s individual time trial from Big Bear Lake to Santa Clarita at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
One of the unique elements of cycling as a sport is being able to measure your time on climbs against the world’s best pros. On May 16, you have the chance to do just that at L’Etape California by climbing the menacing Mt. Baldy ahead of the Stage 6 mountaintop finish at the 10th anniversary Amgen Tour of California. Cyclists will “enjoy” (as much as one can enjoy suffering up a massive climb) a true pro experience while riding with cycling legend Jens Voigt when participating in the ride fully supported by SRAM. Whether opting to pedal the short or long route, you have the exclusive opportunity to ride over the official finish line that the peloton will cross during the Queen Stage of America’s Greatest Race. You will also score a cool “Shut Up Baldy” t-shirt, gain entry into the post-ride barbecue and reserved viewing area, and have the moment captured for posterity with a photo snapped by a professional photographer in addition to receiving other event perks.