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Tour of California: 5 riders to watch

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Egan Arley Bernal Gomez of Colombia and Team Sky

Egan Arley Bernal Gomez of Colombia and Team Sky (Image credit: Tim de Waele/
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Mark Cavendish takes his first win of 2018

Mark Cavendish takes his first win of 2018 (Image credit: Tim de Waele/
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Orica-Scott's Adam Yates and Esteban Chaves go all out

Orica-Scott's Adam Yates and Esteban Chaves go all out (Image credit: Tim de Waele/
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Neilson Powless (LottoNl-Jumbo)

Neilson Powless (LottoNl-Jumbo) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Tour of Utah winner Rob Britton (Rally Cycling)

Tour of Utah winner Rob Britton (Rally Cycling) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/

The Amgen Tour of California rolls out of Long Beach on Sunday for seven days of racing in its second year on the WorldTour. Thirteen WorldTour teams and four wild card Pro Continental outfits will battle for the overall crown, with a nod to the best young rider and supremacy in the sprints and mountains.

The 119 riders taking the start line on Sunday include world champions, Tour de France hopefuls and a plethora of top-notch domestiques. Cyclingnews has picked five riders to watch throughout the week. Some are on the rise, some are recovering from injury and one is in the middle of a career second wind. 

Egan Bernal (Team Sky)

One of the most exciting young riders in the pro peloton, Egan Bernal has already proven himself as a top contender in one-week races during his first season with Team Sky. The 21-year-old Colombian raced for Androni-Sidermec before signing a three-year deal with British superteam Sky this year, and it immediately started paying dividends. He has the rare combination of abilities that allows him to climb and time trial with the best.

Bernal started his season at the Tour Down Under, where he was fifth on the 'queen stage' to Willunga Hill and won the jersey for the best young rider. He then returned to Colombia and won the country's individual time trial championship, before lining up for the first edition of Colombia's new stage race, Oro y Paz. He went into the final stage fourth overall, but a daring attack on the final climb lifted him into the overall lead ahead of Movistar's Nairo Quintana.

Most recently, Bernal won the individual time trial stage at the Tour de Romandie on his way to finishing second overall to Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo).

In California, Bernal will be able to unleash his climbing skills on the second day's queen stage to Gibraltar Road. The 34.7km stage 4 time trial looks well suited to his skills, and the monster stage on day 6 to South Lake Tahoe includes six categorised climbs before the uphill finish. In all, the peloton will take on nearly 4,000 metres of climbing at altitude during the stage.

This year's route, combined with Bernal's considerable skills in the mountains and in the race against the clock, make him a favourite to win the overall.

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data)

The Tour of California will provide a good look at the progress Mark Cavendish has made in his comeback from a horrific-looking crash at Milan-San Remo that left the Dimension Data sprinter with a fractured rib and injured ankle.

The San Remo incident was just the latest spell of bad luck for Cavendish, who suffered concussion and whiplash in the Abu Dhabi Tour and then crashed in the team time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico. Cavendish returned to racing last week at the Tour de Yorkshire.

During Friday's pre-race press conference, Cavendish admitted he was not near his top form and was still building back up, but he also said he wasn't at the race to "just mill around". The Manxman said he'll "be involved" in the bunch finishes, especially on the final day in Sacramento, where he has won four stages previously.

Look for Cavendish to be mixing it up with the fast men on stages 1, 5 and 7. And there's a chance he'll be involved in the stage 3 finish as well. If he is there at the finish at Laguna Seca Raceway, consider his comeback well underway.

Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)

While his brother Simon has ridden into the maglia rosa at the Giro d'Italia, Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) has been biding his time, training at home and trying to recover from injuries suffered in a crash at the Volta a Catalunya.

Yates crashed heavily in the Spanish stage race and was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where he was diagnosed with a fractured pelvis. Although the fracture was later reported to be stable, he was forced off his bike for 10 days with no training.

Yates' main goal for the season is the Tour de France, where he finished fourth in 2016, and he hopes to get back on track with his preparation this week in California. From here, he'll go to the Critérium du Dauphiné before heading to the Tour in July.

California will provide a good glimpse of how well Yates' recovery has been going and where his form is some two months out from the Tour. Like Bernal, the 25-year-old Briton will look to shine on the climb up Gibraltar, the San Jose time trial and the long uphill slog to South Lake Tahoe on stage 6.

At his best, Yates would be an easy favourite for the overall race, but his form and recovery are unknowns. The next week of racing should reveal that quite clearly.

Neilson Powless (LottoNL-Jumbo)

The last time the Tour of California finished on Gibraltar Road, then-19-year-old Neilson Powless, riding for Axel Merckx's Axeon team, was the early animator after attacking on the lower slopes of the daunting climb outside of Santa Barbara. He ended up fifth on the stage won by eventual overall winner Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), and his 10th place in the Folsom time trial helped him secure ninth place overall. If not for being held up behind a crash on the final day, Powless might very well have finished fifth.

The reigning U23 US champion continued with Axeon last year while also riding for the USA Cycling U23 national team, taking wins at the Baby Giro and Le Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux, while also landing on the podium of the US pro championships road race and time trial. He went on in August to finish fourth at the Tour of Utah.

Now 21 and riding for WorldTour team LottoNL-Jumbo, Powless is ready for the leadership slot he's been given for the race. The former mountain biker has explosive power on the climbs, and with teammate Sepp Kuss could form a hard-to-beat duo one day. Powless also benefits from his California upbringing in Roseville – a small town near Folsom.

So far this season, Powless has shined in the Volta a Valencia, where he was fourth in the youth classification, and Coppi e Bartali, where he was sixth in the individual time trial. This week will give Powless, who didn't race California last year, a chance to shine much closer to home.

Rob Britton (Rally Cycling)

There was a time when 33-year-old Rob Britton's career appeared to be waning. Then he got a new coach and a new team, and the Canadian got a second wind that has seen him climb to the top of domestic American racing.

Riding with Rally Cycling since 2016, Britton claimed his biggest career win last year with an overall victory at the Tour of Utah. Last month in New Mexico he won the Tour of the Gila for the second time. Now he's targeted California, and he's had several months of solid training with that goal in mind.

Last year in California, Britton played a big part in the double stage wins by teammate Evan Huffman, infiltrating breakaways with Huffman on stages 4 and 7 and helping set up his teammate for the stage wins.

Britton originally went into the race hoping to ride for the overall standings, but when a GC raid on stage 2 left him and most of the rest of the peloton in the lurch, Britton and Rally shifted gears and started hunting stages, to great success.

Britton also went on the attack during the queen stage to Mount Baldy on the penultimate day, holding off the chase until the lower slopes of the final climb. He'd obviously like to take that type of attack one step further this year.

THE HOLY WEEK from Cyclingnews Films on Vimeo.

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Pat Malach

Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.