Cavendish, Sagan to lead sprinter showdown at 2017 Tour of California

Continental squads Rally Cycling and Jelly Belly-Maxxis receive invites for event's first WorldTour edition

'King of California' Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) will once again headline a stacked sprinter showdown in the Amgen Tour of California's first WorldTour edition. 

A record 11 top-division teams will be on the start line when the race rolls out of Sacramento on May 14, including Katusha-Alpecin with Alexander Kristoff and Trek-Segafredo with John Degenkolb, setting up a preview of notable fast finishers who will be fighting for stage wins in July. French Pro Continental team Cofidis will bring Nacer Bouhanni to throw into the mix on the sprint days. Those teams will be joined on the start line by WorldTour teams Astana, BMC Racing, Cannondale-Drapac, Team Sunweb, LottoNL-Jumbo and Team Sky.

UnitedHealthcare and Novo Nordisk will join Cofidis from the Pro Continental ranks, while Continental teams Rally Cycling and Jelly Belly-Maxxis also made the selection, ending months of speculation over whether Continental teams would be eligible to participate in the first-year WorldTour race, and if so, which teams would make the cut.

Sagan, the two-time and reigning world champion, will be hoping to add to his record 15 stage wins in California dating back to 2010. 

"Racing in California is a challenge and a joy every time," Sagan said. "I hope to continue building on the success I've had at the Amgen Tour of California, and know all the riders will do our best to give the incredible fans another good show this year."

Sagan took overall victory in 2015 after winning the weather-shortended time trial and then limiting his losses to Alaphilippe on the climb to Mt. Baldy. A time bonus on the final day lifted him past the Frenchman by one second. Alaphilippe got his revenge last year, taking the lead on the climb up Gibraltar Road while Sagan suffered in the grupetto more than 20 minutes down. Sagan was obviously more interested in adding to his stage win tally, which he did on stages 1 and 4.

The race returns to Mt. Baldy this year, but Sagan will likely once again focus on the flatter finishes, where he'll have plenty of competition from Cavendish and the rest. The Manxman took his 10th career California stage win on the final day in Sacramento last year and spent an adventurous day in a breakaway along the Pacific Coast highway to Monterey during stage 4.

"It's become an important part of my preparation for the Tour de France because the race attracts the best and the competition is intense," Cavendish said. "It's always a battle, but I am hoping to add some more California victories this year."

Julian Alaphilippe, who won the Paris-Nice time trial on Wednesday and currently leads that race, took the lead in last year's Tour of California with a stage win at the top of Gibraltar Road. He held the yellow jersey through the next five stages, including the 20.3km Folsom time trial, where he finished eighth, 45 seconds behind winner Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing). Dennis and teammate Brent Bookwalter rounded out the general classification podium, with Dennis coming in second at 21 seconds and Bookwalter at 43 seconds back. 

Alaphilippe's California win was part of a breakout season in 2016, and 2017 will also see host of young up-and-coming riders, including Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez, the 23-year-old Tour de Suisse winner who will be making his Tour of California debut. Cannondale-Drapac will bring Lawson Craddock, third in 2014 and fifth last year, and Andrew Talansky, who was fourth last year and has already said the race is a top priority this year. US time trial champion Taylor Phinney is also scheduled to be on the Cannondale-Drapac roster in California. 

Race owners AEG also announced the 16 teams that will compete in the 2017 Amgen Women's Race.

2017 Amgen Tour of California Teams

UCI WorldTour:
Astana Pro Team 
BMC Racing Team 
Bora-Hansgrohe 
Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team 
Quick-Step Floors 
Team Dimension Data 
Team Sunweb 
Team Katusha-Alpecin
Team LottoNL-Jumbo
Team Sky
Trek-Segafredo

UCI Pro Continental:
Cofidis, Solutions Crédits 
Team Novo Nordisk 
UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team 

UCI Continental:
Jelly Belly-Maxxis
Rally Cycling 

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