EF Education First-Drapac will bring an American-heavy roster to the Amgen Tour of California, the only men's WorldTour race in the US. Lawson Craddock, Alex Howes, Logan Owen and Taylor Phinney head up the seven-rider roster that also includes Australian road captain Simon Clarke, British sprinter Dan McLay and Colombian climber Dani Martinez.
California has been good to the team over the past couple of years. Andrew Talansky broke the team's WorldTour dry spell with a stage win and podium finish last year, and Ben King and Tom Skujins won stages for the team in 2016.
“California is a race we’ve had success in the last couple years," team director Tom Southam said in a statement released with the roster announcement. "It’s got a nice feeling about it for this team. It’s a home race for an American team. The riders themselves are always a little more motivated for it. When you’re working with a group that wants to go the extra bit, it makes it more interesting.”
Craddock, who finished third overall in the race in 2014 while riding for Giant-Shimano and was fifth in 2016, said he's looking forward to returning to California after a rough 2017 season that saw him finish far down California's general classification.
“Racing back in the States is always something I’m highly motivated for," Craddock said. "I’m also excited to redeem myself after last year’s poor showing. After such a difficult 2017, I’m having more fun now than I ever have. I’m really looking forward to taking advantages of the opportunities that present themselves over the course of the week. This year’s route will reward aggressive racing, and I’m looking forward to contributing to that.”
The team has a bevy of riders to animate the breakaways, while McLay will focus on the fast finishes. GC aspirations will fall to Craddock and Martinez.
“We’ve got a well-balanced team for this year’s race," Craddock said. "Dan will have a lot of support in the sprints and can be a deciding factor in the fastest finishes. We’ve also got a great crew to race aggressively and look for opportunities to animate the race. As far as the GC is concerned, a guy like Dani Martinez has shown that he is one of the top climbers in the peloton. I’m looking forward to ripping up Gibraltar with him and then giving it a good go in the TT.”
McLay raced last at Pays de la Loire in early April and is looking forward to jumping back into the action against a top sprint field that includes Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) and Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott).
“It’s been a bit of a gap since my last race, and I’ve been training away so I’m ready to get racing,” McLay said. “I’m especially excited for California, as it will be my first race in the States and there will be plenty of racing opportunities for me and also plenty of opportunities to experience California and the US. It’s a competitive field — I think more or less every sprinter who isn’t at the Giro. It obviously won’t be easy but it’s always better to win against the big boys.”
Phinney won a stage of the Tour of California in 2014 with a solo breakaway into Santa Barbara, and his recent display of form with eighth at Paris-Roubaix could bode well for his opportunities next week, while both Howes and Owen are strong rouleurs with quick finishes from a reduced bunch. This year's race will be Owen's first time in California with a WorldTour team.
“It’s going to be great racing in front of the fans on home soil,” Owen said. “We don’t get the opportunity to race in front of our biggest fans in America often, so it’s really special when the opportunity presents itself.”
Southam warned that there will be a lot of ambitious riders and teams at the race, so success won't come easily.
“People want to win here,” Southam said. “There’s a lot of US sponsors in this sport, and there’s a lot of people with a lot of reasons to win here — no one is going to make it easy.”
The Tour of California starts Sunday with a 134.5km circuit race in Long Beach. The race concludes Saturday, May 19, with a 146km road race that starts and finishes in Sacramento.
EF Education First-Drapac for Tour of California: Simon Clarke, Lawson Craddock, Alex Howes, Dani Martinez, Dan McLay, Logan Owen, Taylor Phinney