After starting the 2019 Amgen Tour of California in a familiar locale, Stage 2 begins in the new host city of Rancho Cordova, fifteen miles upstream along the American River. Rancho Cordova may be a new partner for the race, but the peloton’s journey to the slopes of South Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Ski Resort is well-known and feared by local cyclists and the peloton. From the start, the route gradually prods uphill. Over the next 122-miles, the peloton will climb over 14,500 feet and three KOMs - even finishing uphill to the mountain’s ski lifts. The race’s Queen Stage comes later in the week, so the overall contenders can go for the General Classification lead here but they would be well-advised to save their legs.
The start at the Rancho Cordova City Hall and Sacramento Children’s Museum makes this a fun place to bring the family, especially if they include the youngest of fans. From here, the race heads east, quickly coming to the sprawling Prairie City State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA). The former mountain bikers in the peloton will be licking their lips, for this is the region’s off-roading mecca, complete with motorcycle and ATV areas, 4x4 obstacle course and tracks, go karts, and the popular Hangtown Moto-Cross Track.
Slowly, the road ventures into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is California Gold Country and much of the history of these parts is intertwined with the Gold Rush and migration of the mid to late 1800s. Thirty-three miles into the Sierras is historic Placerville. Originally known as Hangtown, Placerville was the epicenter of the 1948 Gold Rush - places like Sutter’s Mill were not far away. The entire town of Placerville is a California Historical Landmark, but there is a rich history in the surrounding hillsides too. One of the best places to dig into this past is at Gold Bug Park, only one mile north of town. The Gold Bug Mine was a working mine 170 years ago. Today it serves as a wonderfully fun and educational museum that kids will love. Guided tours of both Gold Bug and Priest Mines take visitors underground to experience what it was like for the original gold seekers, albeit now in a safer and more enjoyable environment. Get your hands dirty trying gem panning in a trough or get out in the backcountry to explore the hidden gems of this 60-acre park on hiking trails through forests and past hidden mines or stamp mills.
Not twenty-miles up from Placerville, the peloton makes a right turn at a fork in the road onto the historic Mormon Emigrant Trail. The Amgen Tour of California follows this same route for the next fifty miles to the bottom of Luther Pass. The history of the trail, however, is one that is little known but is marked with history and breathtaking scenery. In 1848, about fifty members of the famed Mormon Battalion from Sutter’s Fort decided to rejoin their families in Utah. With the usual passes further north still covered with snow, the group decided to try a route further south and only previously explored by Kit Carson. Setting off from the present-day location of Jenkinson Lake, the Battalion cleared a new trail that would become a preferred alternate for new migrants heading west. Now the world’s best cyclists retrace this route, passing many roadside markers along the way. Perhaps catch the race as it turns onto Highway 88 and then follow the trail yourself, taking time to stop along the way to marvel at the result of these trailblazing soldiers.
Forty miles after turning onto the Emigrant Trail, the race comes to the highest point of the week’s racing at the crest of Carson Pass, just under 8,600 feet. This is an opportune reminder that the surrounding mountains offer limitless opportunities to see nature up close. For its part, South Tahoe’s expansive menu of hikes promises to take you further off the beaten path and into an unspoiled painting. Along the final run-in to the Stage 2 finish are several trail options for all levels of hikers. The closest and easiest is a lightly undulating five-mile roundtrip portion of the Pacific Crest Trail that starts at Echo Chalet and hugs the north side of Upper and Lower Echo Lake. These glacial bodies of water are cratered between the stony monoliths of Talking Mountain and Echo Peak to form a blissful scene in summer or winter. From the far end of Upper Echo Lake are a web of additional trails that continue further into the Desolation Wilderness. If so inclined, take the path up to Echo Peak or canoe Echo Lakes and then hike to any number of other glacial bodies like Lake of the Woods or Lake Aloha. It may sound Hawaiian, but Stage 2 is California’s way of saying “Welcome” to wonderful and diverse California – take advantage.