2017 Amgen Women's Race: 5 riders to watch and course preview

Chances aplenty for puncheurs and sprinters in California

The third edition of the Amgen Women's Race kicks off this Thursday in South Lake Tahoe. Officially the Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women's Race empowered with SRAM this season, it features four days of racing in Northern California and boasts an impressive start list looking to take on the challenge.

With no Philly Cycling Classic this year, the Amgen Women's Race is the lone American event on the WorldTour calendar. The official start list has yet to be released, but plenty of big names have already arrived to prep for the race. As might be expected, the event has drawn plenty of North American talents, but several top-tier international stars are set to make the start too, with a parcours that has plenty to offer for strong, punchy riders and sprinters alike. Organisers have planned a route that eschews racing against the clock. There are no high mountain finishes either, which should make for a closely contested GC battle across the four stages of mass-start racing.

The route

As in 2016, the race opens with a 117km stage around Lake Tahoe. The profile is mostly flat, but for a short uphill drag at the South Lake Tahoe finish, a third-category climb of 1.7km at 5.9 per cent. It's not Mont Ventoux, but in a four-stage race with two flat days, even a small finishing climb can have a big impact on the general classification.

Stage 2 is the queen stage of the race. It's a relatively short one at 108km. The so-called 'Highway 89 summit' will provide an early category 2 test on the day. After the descent from its summit, the pack will take on around 50 kilometres of flat roads, leading into the biggest climb of the Amgen Women's Race, the Daggett Summit, 12.6km at 6.1%. The racing doesn't stop there, however, with the finish line coming 10 kilometres later atop the same small climb that closed out stage 1.

The GC hopefuls will need to have played their cards by the second day of the race because stages 3 and 4 are both flat. Stage 3 runs 118km from Elk Grove to Sacramento, while the final day of racing will be a high-speed affair on a circuit in Sacramento, just 70km from start to finish.

Five to watch

Without no time trials or extreme summit finales, the general classification at this year's Amgen Women's Race is likely to come down to a few punchy riders battling it out in the last few kilometres of stages 1 and 2 and then holding on through the last two days of the race.

Megan Guarnier, the defending champion, should thrive on the parcours. She had a quieter spring than expected after a crash early on in the season, but Guarnier has already proven her ability to win atop a climb that features twice this year, taking the lead at South Lake Tahoe on stage 1 in 2016 and holding it through Sacramento.

As usual, Boels Dolmans have another card to play in Anna van der Breggen, who could be just as dangerous. Having claimed three WorldTour wins in one week with a stellar Ardennes campaign, Van der Breggen has 'punchy' down to a science, and she's been on blazing form so far this season.

Speaking of the WorldTour, Kirsten Wild (Cylance Pro Cycling) just claimed her first WorldTour victory of the season last week in the opening stage of the Tour of Chongming Island, ultimately finishing second overall there. She won the final stage last year in California and with proven form, she's a good bet for more success this year on both stages 3 and 4.

Of course, competition will be fierce in those fast finishes, especially considering how strong Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) has been these past few months. She narrowly missed out on a stage win last year in Santa Rosa, but she's taken a quantum leap forward against top-tier competition this year, winning the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Tour of Flanders. A sprint victory seems well within her grasp, and given how well she has climbed this season, who knows? Maybe the general classification is a possibility, too.

23-year-old Ruth Winder is another American having a breakout year. The UnitedHealthcare rider has been shining on the track for a few years but has enjoyed a brilliant road campaign thus far in 2017. With three stages and the overall at the Joe Martin Stage Race and the young rider's jersey and fourth overall at the Tour of the Gila, and more recently the overall Redlands Classic, she put her all-rounder skill set and her current form on display. Expect her to continue to open eyes in California.

Article corrected to reflect absence of Elisa Longo Borghini after official Wiggle High5 Amgen Women's Race roster announcement.

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