President of the Amgen Tour of California, Kristin Klein, is taking steps to follow some of the progress to improve parity in professional cycling, particularly within her men's and women's WorldTour events. She announced the race would remove podium hostesses and enforce equal prize lists across the seven-day men's event and the Amgen Women's Race.
The women's event, however, was reduced to three days and is held from May 17-19.
"You probably heard that we made the decision to have equal prize money for the women and the men as well," Klein said. "I feel like AEG, with the Tour of California, we're always at the front end, trying to just do the right thing and make these decisions, and hopefully everyone will continue to follow and we'll continue to be a leader."
The decision to offer an equal prize list and to remove 'podium girls' from their post-race ceremonies will be considered a welcomed step forward at a time when women's professional cycling is pushing for progress in the sport.
Pressure has been building for event promoters to remove the dated tradition of using 'podium girls', particularly after the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) removed 'walk-on women' and Formula 1 announced that it would replace 'grid girls' with 'grid kids' earlier this year.
Tour de France organisers, ASO, are considering ending the use of 'podium girls', while UCI President David Lappartient has said the sport's governing body would introduce a more respectful protocol while retaining cycling's podium customs.
"It's just been something that people have been talking about, I feel like, for years now," Klein said. "You've been reading about it, and you've been hearing about it, and this year it was just the timing, it felt like it was the right time to actually make that decision."
The women who will be competing in the Amgen Women's Race will likely welcome those changes. However, competitors will also hope to see organisers lengthen the stage race in future editions, particularly after this year's race was reduced from four stages to three. There is also no live TV coverage of the event, though there are expected to be race highlight videos from the UCI at the end of each stage.
The Amgen Women's Race will kick off on May 17 with a flat 124km race that starts and finishes in Elk Grove and travels alongside the Sacramento River. The stage is held on the same day as stage 5 of the men's race, however, according to the event's website, the race will finish at roughly half a mile away from the men's finish line. The pan-flat parcours will cater to the sprinters in the field, and with the first leader's jersey up for grabs, the finish will be hotly contested.
The race then moves on to the 'queen stage' that starts and finishes in South Lake Tahoe on May 18. The 108km race includes three QOM ascents with challenging summits over Luther Pass and Kingsbury Grade, 12km with an average grade of 8 per cent. The riders then take on Daggett Summit, which is 10km from the uphill finish at Heavenly Mountain Resort.
The Amgen Women's Race will conclude on May 19 with a flat circuit race around Sacramento's Capitol. The women will tackle 20 laps of a six-corner, 3.5km loop, for a total of 70km.
Last year, Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) won the overall title by one second ahead of 'queen stage' winner Katie Hall (UnitedHealthcare) after she secured an intermediate sprint time bonus in the final stage in Sacramento. Arlenis Sierra (Astana Women's Team) finished 31 seconds down in third place.
The Amgen Women's Race marks the 11th round of the 2018 Women's WorldTour. Van der Breggen is currently leading the series after a stellar Classics campaign where she won Strade Bianche, Tour of Flanders, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The Dutchwoman is leading the series with 808 points while her teammate and world champion Chantal Blaak is in second with 538 and Mitchelton-Scott's Amanda Spratt is placed third with 520.
Van der Breggen and her Boels Dolmans team will not travel to the US to defend her title because the team has decided to instead compete at the Emakumeen Bira in Spain, a race that is also part of the Women's WorldTour, but it overlaps with the California race by one day.
The team cited not having enough riders or resources to compete in two stage races at the same time as the reason they cannot make the trip to California this year. Other teams that are in the top-15 world ranking that are not attending include Mitchelton-Scott, Cylance Pro Cycling, Ale Cipollini, Cervelo Bigla, Waowdeals Pro Cycling, FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, BTC Ljubljana, Hitec Products and Team Virtu.
The UCI told Cyclingnews that they will try to avoid events conflicts on the Women's WorldTour in future.
Four of the world's top-15 ranked elite women's teams that will be participating in California including Sunweb, Canyon-SRAM, Wiggle High5 and Astana Women.
Former winner Megan Guarnier, who races for Boels Dolmans during the season, will be on the start line with the USA Cycling Team. The team will also include Boels Dolman's Skylar Schneider along with her sister Samantha, Christina Birch, Jennifer Wheeler and cyclo-cross star Katie Compton.
Guarnier's recent victory at the Women's Tour de Yorkshire added to her confidence in winning a second overall title this year in California. "I've had a long spring Classics season racing the Women's WorldTour, and so I'm hoping this is adequate preparation to be a contender at the Tour of California," she said.
Canyon-SRAM will field rosters at the Spain and California races, while Pauline Ferrand-Prévot will compete at the mountain bike World Cup in Germany.
Their California team includes former winner Trixi Worrack and Trofeo Alfredo Binda winner Kasia Niewiadoma. The team will also include Tanja Erath, Christa Riffel, Alexis Ryan and Leah Thorvilson.
"We had to face a challenge providing teams and starters to two different disciplines on two different continents, in three different countries at the same time. For us, it was important to show presence in Amgen Tour of California Empowered with SRAM, since the tour is an important part of the UCI Women's WorldTour calendar, and an opportunity to bring our team to our many fans and supporters in the US," said Team Manager Ronny Lauke.
While Niewiadoma is a contender for the 'queen stage' in South Lake Tahoe and the overall classification, Ryan will aim to use her sprint to win one of the two flatter stages in Elk Grove and Sacramento.
"Personally, I'm hoping that I can have a shot at winning one of the flat stages in Elk Grove or Sacramento. I was working on my sprint this past winter. I've won a sprint already and been up there with the best sprinters in the world so I think I can nail one."
The 15 teams invited to compete at the Amgen Women's Race also include American squads Hagens Berman-Supermint, Rally Cycling, Team Illuminate, Tibco-SVB, Twenty20 p/b Sho-Air and UnitedHealthcare. Foreign teams include BePink (Italy), Mexican National Team, Swapit-Agolico (Mexico) and Trek-Drops (Great Britain).
Along with Guarnier and Niewiadoma, Katie Hall (UnitedHealthcare) will be one of the top riders to watch for a stage 2 win in South Lake Tahoe and the overall victory. Hall won the mountainous stage 2 last year and led the race through stage 3, but lost the race to Van der Breggen in the final stage 4.
The American climber recently won overall titles at the pair of UCI 2.2 races Tour of the Gila and Redlands Bicycle Classic, showing good form ahead of the California race.
Arlenis Sierra, third overall last year, returns with her Astana Women's Team. She is joined by Sofia Bertizzolo, who is currently leading the Women's WorldTour youth classification.
Sunweb have several riders to watch for with Ruth Winder and Coryn Rivera, who were fifth and sixth, respectively, last year. Rivera also won the third stage in Sacramento last year.
Tibco-SVB also field a team that includes Australia national champion Shannon Malseed, who will look to do well in the flat stage sprints. Tayler Wiles returns with Trek-Drops after placing 12th overall last year.
Twenty20 p/b Sho-Air bring track and time trial specialists Chloe Dygert, Jennifer Valente and Jasmin Duehring. The team also includes Allie Dragoo and Scotti Lechuga, who should do well on the climbing stage.
Wiggle High5 bring a fast team, well-suited to the two flat stages 1 and 3. The team includes Nettie Edmondson, Rachele Barbieri and Macey Stewart.
Rally Cycling bring overall contenders in Sara Poidevin and Sara Bergen, while also fielding US pro criterium champion Erica Allar.
Listen to what Dimension Data's sprinter Mark Cavendish has to say about women's professional cycling and equality in Voxwomen's latest video below.