It's been an exponentially harder spring in Europe, I've been bashing my head against the wall in a personal race to get my old legs back (and thus salvage my career) after my crash and injuries last April. It's so nice to be at home, where I spent a week at my cabin, up at altitude in Lake Tahoe. Whenever I go there I seem to come good; altitude riding, quiet forest living, and awe-inspiring views. This time proved no exception.
I fell in love with the "mountains plus lake" life up at Lake Tahoe and eventually bought a cabin. Tahoe is one of the best altitude training places that I have ever been: At about 2,000 metres elevation, it's perfect for elevation training. The lake lap itself is demanding, plus I can rattle off ten different climbs that are between 10 to 45 minutes in length, so I can pick and choose, depending on what I need for the day - It's the perfect environment. But, the fact that I was able to spend time at home with my family, and sleep in my own bed was the perfect recipe for putting the finishing touches on my form ahead of the Amgen Tour of California.
This race is a big goal for both Kiel Reijnen and myself. We hatched a plan when we were suffering over in Europe. We were going to come back and do the best thing that was right for us: Do a cabin week, get our mojo back, get strong and work together. We pushed each other in training during our time up there, and we kept the fire stoked within each other when motivation occasionally did begin to smoulder. Hopefully, good things will come for us next week at the race.
As for the specific stages of the Tour of California route, I did preview a few stages this spring. I know the course pretty well. The stage 3 finish atop Gibraltar Road is the stage that all the GC riders will be watching and the day that is going to make the biggest difference to the overall classification. I agree with what some people are saying about Gibraltar being harder than Mt. Baldy. Baldy is a brute but Gibraltar is simply steeper for longer. Gaps are going to open earlier on the climb, and there is the potential for bigger time-gaps at the top. In past editions of the Tour of California, when they've had Mountain High or Mt. Diablo; those were drafting-type climbs with 20 guys coming into the final kilometre, they weren't hard enough to split up the contenders. Baldy was tough, but it very much depended on how Glendora Ridge before it was raced. Gibraltar is more of a climber's climb; it's pitchy, inconsistent, and always hard. I think it favours a pure climber. Plus, there is an epic backdrop of the ocean above Santa Barbara, I think it's worth tuning in on Tuesday.
Overall, this year's Tour of California is the hardest edition I've ever seen. It's a much more European-style stage race with more climbing and longer days. Regarding the GC, there's no letting up. We have stages 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, which are all important, and no one will be able to let their guard down. We will need to be switched on every day.
For example, after Gibraltar we have a 220km race over climbs along Highway 1 ending with a gnarly Laguna Seca finish; another 200km day of climbing to Lake Tahoe, just torquing your legs; the time trial; and the King Stage in Santa Rosa, where the profile is like a saw blade. It's a tough route. Heck, even stage 8 in Sacramento could have crosswinds!
As Trek-Segafredo's Americans, team brass put a gold star next to this race for Kiel and I last October. Privately, the ATOC is a major goal as well: stage 5 in Tahoe and stage 7 in my backyard of Santa Rosa make this edition a very personal affair. More importantly, it will signal the next step in my comeback from injury; to try for a result for myself. I wanted to make sure I crossed all my T's and dotted all my I's, so hopefully we can celebrate come Sunday night.
What are my biggest hopes for this year's Amgen Tour of California? To be competitive, one must aim high, and recalibrate as you go. I'm leading the Trek-Segafredo team here, and the goal is to get on the overall podium. Earlier this spring it felt more like blind faith rather than potential while I suffered just to be pack-filler in Europe, and questioned if I could ever catch back up. But in mid-April, a switch flipped, my legs had a new resilience, and desperate hope turned to invigorating optimism. I stayed with leaders into the finale of Fleche Wallone and Liege. Romandie was another step further. I'm hoping that with some rest and Tahoe mojo, I'll be able to get to the next level here in California.
It's still a bit of an unknown, but I'm hoping to play a role in this race. Maybe May isn't "too soon" after all.