How to top "toughest ever Tour"?
AEG and Medalist Sports, the organisers of the Amgen Tour of California, closed the book today on what they called the "toughest Tour to date", but what was also the most seemlessly run and successful race as well. Not a drop of rain fell on the peloton in the race, which last year saw stage 1 and 2 affected by a late-season snow, and in previous years had riders brutalized by the cold rain of winter storms when the race was held in February.
"We're excited we had beautiful weather, a beautiful backdrop for California," said AEG's Kristin Bachochin, the race organiser. "For being the toughest course to date and having a world class field, everybody rose to the occasion and it was a dramatic week - it was great preparation not only for Tour de France but for Olympics as well."
The only criticism of the race came because of the sheer dominance of Peter Sagan, a rider who not only managed to get over every hill with the front group except on Mt. Baldy, but was also able to out-kick everyone in the bunch in five of the six stages which came down to sprints. Had Sylvain Georges (AG2R-La Mondiale) not held off the peloton at Big Bear Lake after an heroic 40km solo attack, Sagan would have won six stages as he was first from the chasing bunch.
Does the race need to be harder to unhinge a rider like Sagan? Or was it so hard that the overall contenders were saving their energy and holding back on attacking the early hills?
"I've been riding around a lot in California and I think you can make the course even more difficult, but in the end it's the riders who make the race," said overall winner Robert Gesink. "We saw in the stage with Bonny Doon to Santa Cruz [county] - it could have been a stage where only 10-15 guys of the GC would have been in front. If they decide not to attack yet, then it will be a bunch sprint and Sagan will win again."
Gesink said that for riders tuning up for the Tour de France, the Amgen Tour of California was perfect preparation no matter how it was raced. "You have to do a good time trial, and be good uphill if you want to win, so it is perfect race for that."
For 2013, the organisation will be looking for new ideas to add more drama to the race. "We are constantly looking at new ingredients to continue to challenge these guys, and in an ideal world see a lead change regularly," said Medalist Sports' Jim Birrell. "That's the nice thing about the state of California, there's so much diversity in its topography that we can throw a really wonderful, competitive course together."
Bachochin agreed. "I think we accomplished our goal for this year to make this the most competitive course to date," she said. "You heard that from all the riders, this was the toughest course and the most competitive field, and they all rose to the occasion. It was a race right to the finish for every stage this year."
Orica GreenEdge's Robbie McEwen also seemed to agree that the Tour was a hard race. The Australian will hang up his racing bike after today's stage and move into a role as technical advisor for his team. McEwen said that the race was a good choice as a final blow-out, "because I suffered so badly this week I don't think I"m going to miss it for some time to come."