The Women's Amgen Tour of California has undergone a plethora of changes and upgrades since its inception in 2008. For what was once a single-day criterium held in Santa Rosa has now launched itself on the international platform of the new Women's WorldTour.
Despite existing in one form or another for nine seasons, 2016 marks a year of firsts for the American event. As with the other 16 events of the series, it is the first time Tour of California is taking part in the inaugural Women's WorldTour, which formally replaced the long-running Women's World Cup in January.
Held from May 19-22, the women's race will, for the first time, include four stages; a road race in South Lake Tahoe, a team time trial in Folsom, a road race in Santa Rosa; and a circuit race in Sacramento.
It is also the first time the event will include a team time trial, which will no doubt attract teams looking to exercise their strength in the event prior to the World Championships in Qatar this fall.
The key players
Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans), who will not be participating at the Women's Tour of California, is leading the series standings after the first seven rounds, of which she has won three: Strade Bianche, Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Cittiglio, and the Tour of Flanders. Her teammate Chantal Blaak won rounds two and four at Ronde van Drenthe and Gent-Wevelgem. Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv) won La Flèche Wallonne and Chloe Hosking (Wiggle High5) won the Tour of Chongming Island.
Armitstead currently has 368 points, ahead of Blaak with 343, while Megan Guarnier and Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5) each have 325 points.
On the start line will be Marianne Vos, who announced over Twitter that she was on her travels to this year's Tour of California, a first-time appearance for the multiple-time world champion in road and cyclo-cross. She will join her Rabo Liv team that includes Lucinda Brand, a two-time Giro Rosa stage winner.
Despite Armitstead's absence, Boels-Dolmans will still be the team-to-beat with runner-up in the series Chantal Blaak and US road champion Megan Guarnier, who is third in the series. In addition, the team will include UCI Hour Record holder Evelyn Stevens.
Defending overall champion Trixi Worrack will not be on the start line as is recovering from a crash at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Cittiglio that forced doctors to have to remove a kidney. Canyon-SRAM will field all-rounder Lisa Brennauer and sprinter Barbara Guarischi. Hitec Products lines up with powerhouse sprinter Kirsten Wild.
American teams have plenty of options on the start line beginning with Twenty16-Ridebiker with two-time world time trial champion Kristin Armstrong and double junior gold medallist at the world championships Chloe Dygert. UnitedHealthcare will field current time trial world champion Linda Villumsen along with Katie Hall for the climbs and Coryn Rivera for the sprints.
Jasmin Glaesser, who recently placed third overall at Tour of the Gila, will lead Rally Cycling. Amber Neben, an American racing for the BePink team will be on the start line, as will Lauren Stephens (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank), and Cylance Pro Cycling is without their American sprinter Shelley Olds but they have Italians Rosella Ratto and Valentina Scandolara.
There will also be a US national team participating in the race with Kelly Caitlin, Tayler Wiles and Jennifer Valente. Other teams include Hagens Berman-Supermint with their powerful rider Eri Yonamine, Weber Shimano, Colavita-Bianchi, Podium Ambition, Visit Dallas DNA and Drops Cycling.
A brief history
Organisers first announced a women's race at the Tour of California in 2008, which was held in conjunction with the men's stage ending on circuits in Santa Rosa. The single-day criterium was held for three years in a row, 2008-2010, although the 2010 race was in Sacramento. Brooke Miller and Emilia Fahlin won the Santa Rosa events, respectively, and Coryn Rivera won the race in Sacramento.
In 2011, organizers replaced the criterium with the first invitational individual time trial, held until 2015. Kristin Armstrong won the event twice and Evelyn Stevens won it twice, and Alison Powers won it once.
In 2014, they announced a two-day women's race beginning with a Sacramento circuit race won by Carmen Small and the time trial in Folsom won by Powers.
The race stepped up another notch last year with a three-day stage race, with two days held in South Lake Tahoe and one stage in Sacramento, where Trixi Worrack won the overall title.
Team time trial throws a new twist into 2016 route
The women's four-day Tour of California is held in conjunction with the men's eight-day race, whereby stage 1 will be held on the same day and location as the men's stage 5. The women's opener will offer a 117km road race, one loop around in South Lake Tahoe. The race will include the first queen of the mountain climb at Emerald Bay, and conclude with a short, steep climb up to the Heavenly Mountain Resort. The final ascent is 1.6km and averages 7 per cent gradient.
Last year, Katie Hall (UnitedHealthcare) won stage 1's 120km race around Lake Tahoe, while Leah Kirchmann (Liv-Plantur) won stage 2’s 80k circuit race held on the east side of the lake.
The women will transfer off the mountain and into Folsom, and for the first time ever, the race will host a team time trial for stage 2. The women will complete a 20.3km course, in an out-and-back effort through the historic downtown area. Rally Cycling recently won the US championship in the team time trial and will look to show their strengths, while Worlds silver medallists Boels-Dolmans and bronze medallists Rabo Liv will also be vying for the stage win.
Stage 3 will bring the women's peloton to a familiar location for the Santa Rosa road race, which is routed along one 111km loop that will include a queen of the mountain climb over Coleman Valley Road. The finishing circuits, of which the women will race three, was originally used twice as a downtown single-day criterium, and as closing circuits for several editions of the men's race.
The women's Tour of California will end with a 20-lap circuit race, totalling 66km in Sacramento, the same finale as last year's race won by Kirchmann and where Trixi Worrack sealed the overall title.