By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
While the general layout of the of the fourth edition of the Tour of California has been known for some time, the specific routes were announced early Thursday morning, with the most significant changes from the original announcement already reported confirmed by the organizers, AEG. Those changes include a prologue time trial in Sacramento on Saturday, February 14 and the reduction of the women's racing from a proposed three-day NRC stage race of three criteriums to a single criterium.
"We have a much more even race than in the past," the race technical director Chuck Hodge told Cyclingnews. "In other words, a lot of these days are all going to be decisive. Certainly the time trial is always going to be decisive. It's the same course as before. But the biggest change will not having a parade stage in the finale."
The finish is certainly not a parade like the first two years. Last year the stage also had a finale that featured a climb, but Hodge explained that this will be much more significant. "That climb into Pasadena isn't really that hard; it's a long gradual 20 mile climb. Palomar is a real climb. I'm not sure how we are going to rate it but it will be at least a category 1 or an HC! It's close to a Mt. Hamilton the descent is not as technical but it is long and fast, and there is still another climb after it before the finish.
While fans and racers have asked for a summit finish in recent year, finding one that works with all of the hundreds of other logistical and political considerations has been a challenge. Hodge said this stage should satisfy a lot of people's thirst for exciting racing. "It's hard to find a summit finish but we came up with this stage and it will be exciting while also getting down to San Diego."
The first three years of this race all began with a prologue, with the first two featuring a short but challenging climb up to Coit Tower in San Francisco. That will not be the case in Sacramento where the course profile for the 3.9 km prologue shows an elevation gain measured in feet.
The first stage is a new one, starting in the city of Davis for the first time and heading west towards Santa Rosa, which has hosted the first stage's finish every year. Whereas before the route began on the seaside in Sausalito and immediately turned upwards through Marin County, the first stage will have a more gradual start to the climbing with 35 km of flat to rolling roads before the first King of the Mountain (KOM) of the race up to the Monticello Dam. The stage finish in Santa Rosa is well-known, both because it is the hometown of two-time race winner Levi Leipheimer, and with the finish circuit as site of the 'Levi rule' controversy in 2007.