The Amgen Women's Race marks the 11th round of the 2018 Women's WorldTour (May 17-19) that is set to kick off on Thursday in Elk Grove. Defending champion Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) is currently leading the series but will not be competing in the three-day race, instead opting to race at the Emakumeen Bira in Spain.
Cyclingnews has picked five riders to watch during the Amgen Women's Race, which includes a flat, fast stage in and out of Elk Grove on May 17, the 'queen stage' in South Lake Tahoe on May 18, and a circuit around the State Capitol in Sacramento on May 19.
Katie Hall (UnitedHealthcare)
California native Katie Hall seems almost destined to win the Amgen Women's Race, but it just hasn't happened yet. A build-up that includes overall title victories at the Joe Martin Stage Race, Tour of the Gila and Redlands Bicycle Classic means that there is no question that Hall is on a seemingly unstoppable winning streak.
The Amgen Women's Race, however, is in a league of its own when it comes to women's stage racing in the US as the only Women's WorldTour event held in North America. As such, it brings in the best teams and riders in the world.
Hall has shown her class at the marquee event, winning the mountain stage into South Lake Tahoe twice. Last year, she won the stage and wore the leader's jersey for two days. She was up against the likes of Van der Breggen, who captured an intermediate time bonus on the final stage in Sacramento and won the overall title by a mere one second, leaving Hall to have to settle for second place.
Van der Breggen is currently leading the Women's WorldTour after winning Strade Bianche, the Tour of Flanders, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Her Boels Dolmans team told Cyclingnews in April that they would not return to defend her title because they have chosen to instead compete at the conflicting Emakumeen Bira in Spain.
With Van der Breggen absent on the start line, this might be Hall's year to shine in yellow on the final podium in Sacramento.
Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans)
Just because Boels Dolmans decided not to make the trip overseas to race at the Amgen Women's Race, it doesn't mean they will be entirely unrepresented. USA Cycling has picked up Megan Guarnier and Skylar Schneider to compete in the three-day race with the national team.
Guarnier won the overall title in 2016 and that year went on to win the Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria, the Philadelphia Cycling Classic and the Giro Rosa, making it the best season of her career.
Injuries marred Guarnier's 2017 season with a concussion in February, and then a broken jaw sustained in a crash at the World Championships in September.
There were highlights, however, and one of them was winning stage 1 at the Amgen Women's Race and wearing the first leader's jersey. Although she lost the jersey during stage 2 to Hall, the yellow jersey eventually landed back on her teammate Van der Breggen's back as the overall winner upon the event's conclusion in Sacramento.
Guarnier has had a steady build-up this season with 10th place at the Tour of Flanders, third place at Flèche Wallonne and eighth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
She turned her Classics form into victory at the Tour de Yorkshire, winning the second and final stage on a summit finish to Ilkley, and the overall classification.
The win shows that she is back at the top of her game and that she will be a solid contender in California.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
Niewiadoma has had a strong season, and was one of the climbers capable of rivalling Van der Breggen during the spring Classics. She was second at Strade Bianche, and won the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, but since then she wasn't able to put together the performances she would have liked to at the cobbled Classics or the Ardennes Classics, which she was targeting this year.
After some much-needed rest, Niewiadoma returns to her stage-racing roots at the Amgen Women's Race, where the brutally hilly stage 2 will play into her favour. She can't be discounted to do well on the flat stages, either, with technical skills, a fast sprint and the gumption to force a breakaway.
Her next primary target is the Giro Rosa in July, so the Amgen Women's Race will be an essential build-up to that goal.
Ruth Winder (Sunweb)
Winder was Hall's co-pilot at UnitedHealthcare last season, and the pair formed a two-pronged attack on the climbs in almost every stage race. While helping Hall to a second place on the final overall podium at the Amgen Women's Race, Winder finished fifth.
Last year, Winder had some success of her own, too, winning the overall title at the Joe Martin Stage Race and taking third at the Tour of the Gila, while overseas she won two stages and the overall title at the Tour de Feminin, and took 10th at the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour and second at the Lotto Belgium Tour.
It was time to branch out, though, and Winder signed with Sunweb for the 2018 season, and she is aiming to bag her first big with the Dutch team. She has, so far, competed in 10 of the spring Classics, but no stage races, making her a bit of a wildcard coming into the Amgen Women's Race.
Coryn Rivera, who was sixth overall last year, joins Sunweb in California, and will no doubt want to show her strengths on the climbs, while also aiming for sprint victories in stages 1 and 3.
The team also includes Juliette Labous, who will be remembered for her long, solo breakaway during stage 2 last year. Look for her to animate the race again.
Arlenis Sierra (Astana)
Fast in the sprints but also a capable climber, Cuba's Arlenis Sierra is one to watch for the overall classification. The Astana rider placed third overall last year, behind Van der Breggen and Hall, and will no doubt want to improve her performance to bring home the overall title this time around.
She's had a strong season winning the road race title at the Pan American Championships in Argentina. She also had respectable performances in the Classics: fifth at the Drentse 8, seventh at the Ronde van Drenthe, 12th at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, fourth at Gent Wevelgem and 11th at the Amstel Gold Race. In previous years, Sierra has placed second at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and won the overall title at the Tour de Bretagne Feminin.
Sierra will be joined by Sofia Bertizzolo, who is currently leading the Women's WorldTour youth classification.