Although the Redlands Bicycle Classic no longer holds the opening position on USA Cycling's reconfigured and newly named Pro Road Tour, the five-day race with a pure-bred pedigree continues to draw all the top US and Canadian domestic teams for their first head-to-head test of the new season.
Twelve of North America's UCI Continental teams will be fighting it out in a 25-team field this week in Southern California. Holowesko-Citadel will lead the way after opening the Pro Road Tour last weekend with Travis McCabe's win in the Sunny King Criterium on Saturday, followed on Sunday by the team's sweep of the Fort McClellan Road Race, where Oscar Clark won ahead of Andrei Kasilnikau and Andsz Flaksis.
Team Jamis will come to the race with former Cannondale rider Janier Acevedo fresh off his overall win at last weekend's San Dimas Stage Race. Rally Cycling will make its official US debut after earning two wins already in Europe. Danny Pate, formerly of Team Sky, makes his return to the domestic circuit wearing bib number 1 with Rally in the absence of defending champion Phil Gaimon.
Chris Horner will test his lungs with his new Lupus Racing Team. The four-time champion has been suffering for more than a year from a bacterial lung infection but hopes to be back to winning form.
Hilton Clarke will test out his new sprint train with Cylance-Incycle after leaving UnitedHealthcare. Team Illuminate will be in town with Colombian national champion Edwin Avila and newly crowned track world champion Miles Scotson. Axeon Hagens Berman will field a young squad while its more experienced riders find success in Europe, and the Morton brothers will anchor Jelly Melly-Maxxis.
On the women's side, Mara Abbott returns to defend her title with the Amy D. Foundation composite team. Abbott rides in Europe with Wiggle High5 but will guest ride this week with the team that honours Amy Dombroski, who died in 2013 while training abroad in Belgium.
At the 2015 Redlands race, Abbott beat Amber Neben, who returns this year with the Dare To Be team, by 24 seconds. This year she'll also have to contend with Kristin Armstrong (Twenty16-Ridebiker), who won the individual time trial and overall in San Dimas last weekend.
The new UCI Women's WorldTour may have bitten into the field slightly, as three top US pro teams, including Cylance Pro Cycling, Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank and UnitedHealthcare, are deep into their European Spring Classics campaigns and will miss Redlands this year. That leaves Colavita-Bianchi, Hagens Berman-Supermint, Rally Cycling, Twenty16-Ridebiker and Visit Dallas-DNA Cycling to represent the UCI squads in the 19-team field.
The Highland Circuit Race returns as the opening stage in 2016. After starting at the San Manuel Village property of the race's title sponsor, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the pelotons will ease into a neutral roll out to the day's 4.5km circuit in the Highlands neighborhood. A long straight uphill drag along Base Line Road leads to what will be the eventual finish after 20 laps for the men and 14 for the women. The rest of the circuit involves a rapid descent through a residential neighborhood with streets named Jack Rabbit Lane and Fox Tail Way, all leading back to the bottom of Base Line.
Twenty16-ShoAir's Alison Jackson won the women's stage last year after overcoming a late-race crash. Jamis sprinter Sebastian Haedo won the men's race by several bike lengths over Travis McCabe and Dion Smith.
Oak Glen will be back in 2016 as both men's and women's pelotons will finish the stage 2 Yucaipa Road Race with the long climb there after racing on a rolling 22.7km circuit around Yucaipa. The men will do five circuits before taking on the final 8.6km uphill finishing leg to the Village of Oak Glen. The women will do four laps.
The stage proved crucial last year as both the eventual overall winners took their race leads on the Oak Glen climb.Abbott soloed away from the field to win by more than a minute, while Gaimon and Optum Pro Cycling teammate Mike Woods double-teamed the select lead group on the way up the Oak Glen climb to launch Gaimon to the stage win and race lead.
The 2016 route looks similar to recent years, although the race won't make the trek into the mountains for the Big Bear Lake time trial on the second day as it did in the past two editions. Instead the riders will have to wait until stage 3 for a new course, the 11.4km out-and-back Greenspot Time Trial. The course goes mostly uphill until the turnaround, gaining about 120 metres of elevation along the way. From there it will be a fast downhill run to the finish.
The nine-corner, super-technical 1.6km course for Saturday afternoon's stage 4 Downtown Redlands Criterium always crowns a deserving winner, and it also offers a preview of the finishing circuits the peloton will use the next day for the Sunset Road Race. Although the leaders' jerseys will likely be safe in the criterium, many a rider has won or lost the overall lead on these same circuits the next day.
In 2015, UnitedHealthcare super sprinter Coryn Rivera won the women's race in a bunch gallop while Brendan Rhim (Galifornia Giant-Specialized) won the men's race from a five-rider breakaway.
The Sunset Road Race on the final day is notoriously selective. The pelotons start in town and then ride uphill to the 10.4km Sunset circuit in the hills southwest of town. The up-and-down circuit weaves its way through a tony residential neighborhood, with significant climbing coming in the first four kilometres. After multiple trips around the the swooping circuit, the survivors will head back to town for five finishing laps on the criterium course from the day before.
Last year's race defied the norm, with both Gaimon and Abbott holding onto their leads to take the final overall victories. Haedo won the men's sprint from a final group of 15 that came in off the Sunset course. Rivera won the final women's stage from another group of 15.
2016 Redlands Bicycle Classic men's teams (25)
*UCI Continental Teams:
Astellas Cycling Team
Cylance - Incycle Pro Cycling p/b Cannondale
Elevate Pro Cycling p/b Bicycle World
Holowesko-Citadel p/b Hincapie Sportswear
H&R Block Pro Cycling Team
Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis
Lupus Racing Team
Silber Pro Cycling
Echelon-Storck Development Team
Gateway Harley Davidson-Trek U25 Cycling Team3600
Herbalife p/b Marc Pro-Nature's Bakery
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Team Arapahoe Resources
Team Mike's Bikes p/b Equator Coffee
Trek Red Truck p/b Mosaic Homes
2016 Redlands Bicycle Classic women's teams (19)
*UCI Pro Teams:
Visit Dallas-DNA Pro Cycling
Amy D. Foundation
Canadian National Team
Groove Subaru-Excel Sports
Happy Tooth Dental Professional Cycling
JETCycling p/b GQ-6
QCW Cycling pb JL Velo
SAS-Macopgep-Acquisio p\b Mazda
The Dare To Be Project
Trek Red Truck p/b Mosaic Homes