Back-to-back Tour of California Women's Race winners Anna van der Breggen and Katie Hall, who both race for Boels Dolmans, are the favourites to take repeat victories at the three-day race, set to begin on Thursday in Ventura.
Van der Breggen is confident that having two cards to play will increase Boels Dolmans' chances of winning the overall title in what is considered the toughest edition yet.
"We need to see how the race develops," Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews in an interview at the team presentation on Wednesday. "Katie won it last year, and this is her kind of racing. It's also her home race. It's fair racing, so you need to be good and have good legs to win it.
"But we have to see how we are in the race. Sometimes it's better not to gamble on one person, and try to play a bit. If we can gamble on Katie, it will be nice, but we'll see how it works out."
Van der Breggen won the Tour of California Women's Race in 2017, but skipped the race last year having opted to compete at Emakumeen Bira in Spain.
"There are no sprint stages here this year," Van der Breggen noted of the three stages, which all feature a significant amount of climbing. "You need to feel good and be good at this stage race. I think it's fair racing with a parcours like this, and so I like the route."
This year's route features a first-ever summit finish for the women's race on stage 2 on Mount Baldy. The 75km stage will begin in Ontario and race towards Glendora Mountain Road, where the climbing will officially start at 33km. The riders then climb for 13km and pass through the first category 1 summit of Glendora Mountain Road (45.5km). They turn onto Glendora Ridge Road for roughly 20km before reaching the bottom of Mount Baldy Road. The hors-categorie climb to the finish starts at 65.5km with 10km to the summit finish line.
"I don't know that climb," Van der Breggen said. "Katie has done the climb before, and so she was explaining how it looks, and so I think it will be hard."
In last year's edition, Hall won the overall title while racing for UHC Pro Cycling ahead of Tayler Wiles (now Trek-Segafredo) and Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM). She said the goal was to win the overall title but agreed with Van der Breggen that having two contenders was better than one.
"More firepower is good to have here," Hall told Cyclingnews. "We would like to win. I think there's a lot more competition here than there was last year, so it won't be an easy task, but the goal is to win."
Wiles and Niewiadoma have returned to the Tour of California, and the start list has more depth with the likes of Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv), Clara Koppenburg and Ane Santesteban Gonzalez (WNT Rotor), Brodie Chapman (Tibco-SVB), Tatiana Guderzo (BePink) and Krista Doebel-Hickok (Rally UHC) lining up in Ventura on Thursday.
The increased competition isn't the only change. Overall, the course is much more challenging than in previous years. In December, Hall applauded the inclusion of a summit finish to Mount Baldy. Having lived in the area, she knows the climb's 16 per cent pitches well.
"I went to college at the base of Mount Baldy, so it was one of the first big climbs that I ever did in my life. I've ridden it a good number of times. I couldn't get up it when I first started riding. I would stop at the side of the road and then catch my breath and go again."
Many of the European teams have just completed the Classics season where Van der Breggen won a fifth consecutive title at the Flèche Wallonne. After some rest and a long flight from the Netherlands to California, Van der Breggen said she's ready for another stage-race season.
"The travel here was good, and I was looking forward to coming to California," Van der Breggen told *Cyclingnews.
"I had a bit of rest, and of course it's nice to be here. It's a beautiful area. I don't often come to America, so I'm fighting with the jet-lag at the moment, but I like being here and having a different adventure."