The Amgen Tour of California Women's Race empowered with SRAM starts in South Lake Tahoe Thursday filled with World Champions, Olympic medalists, and Olympic hopefuls. The field includes three time World Road Race champion Marianne Vos (Rabobank-Liv Woman Cycling Team) whose last victory in the US was at the 2013 World Cyclocross Championships.
Despite an early season crash Vos said she felt recovered and ready to race this week. Vos' team arrived on Monday, earlier than they would for a European race, in order to adjust to altitude and the stress of intercontinental travel. American riders, like Evelyn Stevens who races frequently in Europe, shook their heads ruefully as Vos discussed the impact travel might play.
"We arrived one day earlier than we would usually do for a European race so that makes two days," Vos said. "That's probably not enough to get rid of the jet lag and get used to the altitude, but that counts for most of the girls here. I think it will be the same for everybody and we will be suffering tomorrow especially up the final hill but we'll make it."
At Wednesday's press conference at Harvey's Lake Tahoe Casino in South Lake Tahoe, CA, Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5) speculated her status at the top of the UCI rankings could help draw attention away from teammates like Mara Abbott who excel in the mountains.
"That can open up doors for teammates who aren't watched," Johansson said of being a marked rider. "Maybe that opens up for a teammate to escape and make a nice result."
The Tour of California has kept its toe in the water with women's racing for several years putting on different variations of time trials and criteriums since 2008. Last year's stage race was a big leap forward and its place in the Women's WorldTour has further cemented its importance within the peloton.
Kristin Armstrong (Twenty16-Ridebiker) reflected on her early racing career which began at the HP Women's Challenge in Idaho. Armstrong took vacation time to ride on a composite team against an international field and by the end of the 10 day race had received several contract offers. Armstrong went on to appear in three Olympics and win two Olympic gold medals.
"What makes me so excited about these international races coming over to America is that there may not be a chance for young riders in America to ever have the opportunity unless they are able to race a field such as the one we have this week," Armstrong said.
We have a mix of development riders, but yet very strong riders, this week. I've been with them racing all year since the opening, which is Redlands here in America, so the cohesion and the unity has really grown tremendously. I'm really excited to see how we can work together as a unit this week."
While it is a home race of sorts for all the North American riders in attendance both Evelyn Stevens (Boels-Dolmans) and Alison Tetrick (Cylance) reside in California throughout the year. Stevens was excited to finally have a home field advantage against rivals like Vos and Johansson
"I live in San Francisco so this is basically like having a home race," Stevens said. "As an American I usually have to travel to Europe and do all the racing there. It's thrilling to see my European competitors flying over for this race."
Tetrick, who lives north of San Francisco in Sonoma County, trains frequently on roads near the third stage in Santa Rosa. Tetrick thought the variability of the terrain and closing downtown circuits made picking a favourite difficult.
"I like to call them my roads," Tetrick said."I do know the course really well and I think that's going to be a fun stage that could go several different ways. I think Coleman Valley is a very decisive climb but we were discussing and it is quite a bit from the finish and with circuits in the finish as well."
With the peloton expecting altitude and jet lag to impact riders form on the first stage none of the riders on the dais were willing to make a predictions. According to Johansson the team would take it day by day and focus on what is immediately in front of them.
"For me it is a bit difficult to know, it is the first time I'm racing here," Johansson said. "Tomorrow is at altitude and I haven't really done altitude before. It's all these little things that you need to feel out before you can start thinking about anything else."