Sagan to defend Tour of California title with Tinkoff

18 teams invited for 2016 race include WIGGINS, Direct Energie

World champion Peter Sagan will return to defend his title in the Amgen Tour of California with his Tinkoff team, race organisers AEG announced today. Tinkoff will be one of 10 WorldTour squads to compete in the 2016 edition of the race. Other top teams include BMC, Cannondale, Etixx-Quickstep, Dimension Data, Giant-Alpecin, LottoNl-Jumbo, Team Sky, Trek-Segafredo and newcomers Katusha.

Other teams invited include Direct Energie, UnitedHealthcare and Team Novo Nordisk from the Pro Continental ranks, and Continental teams Axeon-Hagens Berman, Holowesko-Citadel, Jelly Belly-Maxxis, Rally Cycling and as previously announced, Team WIGGINS.

Sagan won the 2015 race thanks to a commanding time trial victory in Santa Clarita followed by an inspired ride on Mt. Baldy to keep the yellow jersey by a mere three seconds, the closest margin of victory in the 11-year history of the race.

"Last season was an incredible one for me," Sagan said. "The Amgen Tour of California is one of my favourite races of the season; I've done well and had the honor of wearing yellow, and it's important to me to build upon where I left off last year."

2015 runner-up Julian Alaphilippe will have a chance at revenge as he returns with the Etixx-Quickstep team. Mark Cavendish will try to build on last year's four stage wins with his new Dimension Data team, while BMC Racing will bring time trial specialist Rohan Dennis, who will be a sure favourite for the Folsom time trial stage. Dennis will have to face off against 2014 overall winner Bradley Wiggins, who will compete with his eponymous Team WIGGINS.

"It will be a special return to the Amgen Tour of California… the last edition I raced, I ended the week atop the podium. This time, I'm bringing my own team as part of our prep for the Rio Games," Wiggins said. "It's one of the best races in the world, we have some great young talent in the team, and so I'm excited to see what we can do."

New to the race this year is Team Katusha, who will bring its dominant rider Alexander Kristoff, setting up a fierce battle for the Tour of California bunch sprints. Kristoff, the 2015 Tour of Flanders winner, got the better of Cavendish on several occasions already this year and hopes to continue the rivalry in May.

"I'm well aware that Cav' won some stages in California last year and that Peter Sagan won the overall," Kristoff said. "In bringing Team Katusha to California for the first time, I'll do my best to arrive in good shape and fight for victories."

Trek-Segafredo will bring sentimental favourite Peter Stetina, who is re-finding his form after a serious crash in last year's Vuelta a Pais Vasco. "The 2016 Amgen Tour of California is a very personal affair for me," Stetina said. "Stage 7 is entirely in my hometown of Santa Rosa, where all my friends live and I know every inch of the route. Stage 5 to South Lake Tahoe is special because I also live on the west shore of the lake part time – an ideal cycling location and one of the most picturesque places on Earth. I'm excited to show both these places off to my friends in the peloton."

Teams for the 2016 Tour of California: BMC Racing, Cannondale Pro Cycling, Etixx-Quick-Step, Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka , Team Giant-Alpecin, Team Katusha, Team LottoNl-Jumbo, Team Sky, Tinkoff Team, Trek-Segafredo, Direct Énergie, Team Novo Nordisk, UnitedHealthcare, Axeon Hagens Berman, Holowesko-Citadel, Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis, Rally Cycling, Team WIGGINS

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