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Opening stages unpredictable
With a US base in Northern California, the BMC Racing Team and its director Mike Sayers of Sacramento have a distinct advantage of having intimate first-hand knowledge of the Amgen Tour of California's opening stages. Giving his analysis of this year's course, Sayers said the results on the key stage to Mt. Baldy at the end of the race will be affected by the surprisingly difficult opening four days in addition to the time trial and Big Bear stage which precedes it.
"I think that every stage is hard except for the last stage," Sayers told Cyclingnews. "Every stage is going to have some part in the general classification, whether it's a stage that decides it or not, the long term effect is going to accumulate as the week goes."
Beginning in Santa Rosa with a loop out to the Pacific Ocean and back that includes a total of more than 6,000 feet of climbing, the race then heads down from San Francisco into the Santa Cruz mountains. Stage three features Mt. Diablo and Patterson Pass in the East Bay before the finish in Livermore, and the Sonora to Clovis stage undulates over the entire course. There isn't a single flat stage until the final day in Los Angeles.
"I'm lucky, I've been able to see every stage. Some of the parts I had forgotten about or roads I hadn't been on before, I was pretty surprised at how difficult the stages are, from the very start until the end of Saturday," Sayers said.
"I don't think there's enough sprinters or sprint teams that are strong enough to control the race. They don't want to use their GC guys to control the race, so I think it could be a little wild wild west here. There's not going to be a lot of control, and teams are going to have to be switched on.
"I don't know if the GC guys will actually lose time, but there's the potential for someone who's not on the radar to gain time. And that will change the dynamic. I don't know who those guys are. there are a lot of guys who can go up the road. The American teams are going to race aggressive, and you never know what's going to happen. The Colombians will attack, there's a lot of that here."
In addition to the climbing, Sayers said the descents could be important and riders will have to pay close attention to some of the more technical ones.
"There are a few roads where it's a technical descent, but in NorCal there's a lot of trees, and you can't see well, there's a potential for guys to make some serious mistakes on some of these descents. We're fortunate because I'm from this area, and I've been able to look at all the courses and I think I have a pretty good grasp on what's ahead of us.
"This year's race is giving a little bit of everything. There's some technical bits, a lot of climbing, a good time trial, a mountain top finish, one or two sprint finishes - I don't know how big those groups will be, probably 80, 50 guys. It's going to make for a really exciting week.
"Big Bear is one of those stages that's going to be hard, but where you're going to see the effect is the next day on Baldy. So the guys who go too hard on Big Bear or try to win there, they have to contend with Baldy which is a harder climb," he said, giving one final prediction: "The guy who has the lead after the TT is not necessarily going to be the winner of the race."