Tejay van Garderen is motivated for the Tour of California and happy to be back racing in his home country. But the BMC Racing rider explained at the pre-race press conference that he is sharing the role of team leader with fellow American Brent Bookwalter.
"This race wasn't actually on my programme from the beginning of the year, while Brent's been focused on this race from the beginning," Van Garderen explained. "That being said, we're both super-motivated. We're both very capable of podium results, and even top-step podium results. I think it's only going to help us having two cards to play."
Van Garderen's year has been impacted by back-to-back crashes, and he's hoping that the Tour of California will help get his season back on track.
"I had a few crashes this year: in Paris-Nice, I hit the back of a car and missed that race, and then before Catalunya, I had a crash in training. I was able to race Catalunya, but then I had to skip Pays Basque because I was kind of racing through injuries and had to give myself time to recover. I was looking at the programmes thinking, 'How can I make up some races?' and they said, 'What about if you go back to California?' And at first, I was, like, 'Great!' But it's a lot of travel and stuff. But then when I started to think about it, I decided it was a good idea."
Van Garderen is a previous winner of the Tour of California, having taken the 2013 edition thanks in part to a strong time trial in San Jose that year. The course is somewhat similar this year, with summit finishes on stage 2 and in South Lake Tahoe on stage 6.
Managing dual leadership is always tricky, but Van Garderen says the strategy will be decided in the race. "That sounds like a cliched answer, but there's going to be a time where the race is happening and one of us is going to have better legs than the other and then the other one's going to. I will gladly sacrifice for Brent, and Brent in the past has gladly shown that he will sacrifice for me, so I think it only makes us stronger to have two of us out there."
Kittel not just in California for the tan
Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) was not shy about admitting that he opted to race the Tour of California for the weather. The German sprinter is back for the third year and aiming for the four expected sprint stages on this year's route.
"I would like to say the thing I enjoy most about coming here is the sun," he laughed before reflecting on his past experiences in the race, beginning when he was in his second-year in the WorldTour and suffered through an unusually hilly edition of the race before abandoning on stage 6.
"There were never as many sprint stages as there are this year," Kittel said. "Last year there were a couple of opportunities, but I think this year it's a really good race for the sprinters and we can test ourselves, of course."
Last year Kittel won the opening stage in Sacramento and held the leader's yellow jersey for just one stage before the race headed to its first summit finish. With the same scenario on tap this year, he's not putting too much pressure on himself to perform.
"I think everyone is building up now, back training after a little bit of a rest, and this is the first really important race on our way into the middle of the season so it's really nice to just start [this period] like this.
"I think it is a race to test things [like the sprint train]. It's very unfortunate that Marco Haller had a really bad accident and can't race for the next weeks and months. We have to change a little bit our train, and this is our first chance to see how that works. It's not that we're now taking completely different riders into the lead-out. It's something we've been doing since the beginning of the year. I'm confident in that, and I think we're coming into this race relaxed as a team. we have a lot of goals in the sprint, and we'd also like to play a role with Ian Boswell [in the GC], but I think we can also enjoy and live a little the California lifestyle here."
Ewan undercooked after post-Milan-San Remo break
After winning the sprint for second place in Milan-San Remo, Mitchelton-Scott's Caleb Ewan took a well-deserved extended break from competition and is heading into the Tour of California without much ambition, despite being up against a quality field of fast men who he will be battling at the Tour de France in July.
"It's my first race back after Milan-San Remo and so, yeah, it'll be good to get back into racing, and it'll be good to be sprinting against such a good field," Ewan said. "It's probably going to be the last chance for all the sprinters to test themselves against each other before the Tour de France.
"I knew coming here that there were going to be at least three sprints and a lumpier stage that there's a bit of a question mark over. The course looks pretty good, and I think the sprint stages are 'proper' sprint stages: no real climbs in them, so that will make it pretty straightforward. I think everyone will be testing their lead-out trains ahead of the Tour, and like I said before, this is maybe one of the last chance we all have to race each other, so I'm looking forward to that."
Despite it being a dress rehearsal for the thundering sprints of the Tour, Ewan advises against reading too much into the results. "I don't think I'll be sizing them up here," he says of his rivals. "I think most of us are kind of in the same boat, where we're probably not in peak form. I had almost three weeks off after San Remo, so coming back from that, I'm a little bit unfit.
"Always the first race back you kind of never know how you're going to be feeling. I think we're all in the same but so it should be a pretty even playing field, and it will be good to race these guys because I think this is going to be the last opportunity I get to race them before the Tour."
USA Cycling creates Jacquelyn Crowell Memorial Fund
USA Cycling announced on Friday the creation of a new fund aimed at supporting its women's road and track development programmes to honour the memory of Jacquelyn Crowell, who died last month after a five-year battle with cancer. The announcement was made at the pre-race press conference for the 2018 Tour of California in Long Beach.
Crowell, a promising professional cyclist, had her career cut short by a glioblastoma, but continued to be active in the sport as she underwent treatment, serving as an ambassador to the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer for two years.
"Jackie Crowell was a true champion in every aspect of her life, and USA Cycling is proud to honor her legacy through this memorial fund," said Steve McCauley, President USA Cycling Foundation. "Jackie will truly be remembered as a competitor who gave it her all whether training, competing or giving back to the sport she loved so much. She never shortchanged herself, her teammates or the fans who came to watch her compete."
Tour of California organisers announced that riders in both the men's and women's races would wear JC stickers on their helmets to remember Crowell.
"While I and the entire family are deeply saddened by Jackie's passing, it is both refreshing and heartwarming to see the Jackie Crowell memorial fund set up," Jackie's husband Daniel Holt said. "It brings us all joy to think that Jackie's spirit will live on through the next generation of female heroes in a sport we all love."
Donations to the fund can be made online or sent to the USA Cycling Foundation, located at 210 USA Cycling Point, Colorado Springs, CO 80919.