Tour of California: Analysing the GC contenders

With four of eight stages completed, including the queen stage on day 3 and a difficult run up the California coastline during stage 4, the Tour of California general classification contenders have established themselves and the pecking order is set heading into the final four days. Cyclingnews takes a look at how the GC men have fared so far.

Rider: Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep)
GC Position: Leader

Maybe losing his lead last year on the final day of the Tour of California still stings for the 23-year-old Frenchman, because Alaphilippe showed on Wednesday that he is going to grab every possible second over his rivals on the way to the finish in Sacramento. Last year, he led the race by two seconds over Peter Sagan heading into stage 8 in Pasadena, but the time bonus Sagan got for his third-place finish that day lifted him past Alaphilippe by just two seconds.

On Wednesday, Alaphilippe won the first intermediate sprint – and a three-second time bonus – ahead of BMC's Jempy Drucker and Sagan. Then he finished on the same time with the leaders to keep his lead intact.

Bidon half full or half empty? With double-digit lead and a strong team supporting him, right now Alaphilippe has two full bidons.

Rider: Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo)
GC Position: 2nd at 22 seconds

The 28-year-old American's second-place finish on Gibraltar Road at the end of stage 3 not only lifted him into second overall, it confirmed his return to the top level after a horrible accident in Pais Vasco left him with severe leg injuries and a lengthy recovery process. The Colorado native now calls California home, so his motivation is high, and his finish with the lead group on Wednesday – in 11th place – further confirmed that his Gibraltar ride wasn't a one-off and his form is indeed on fire. The only question mark with Stetina now is how well he can do in Friday's Folsom time trial. In three time trials this year Romandie, Pais Vasco and Andalucia, he finished 71st, 64th and 77th, respectively.

Bidon half full or half empty? Stetina's bidon is definitely half full right now. His motivation his high, his form is good and the race is getting closer to his home base in Santa Rosa.

Rider: George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo)
GC Position: 3rd at 37 seconds

Bennett is coming off a tough run at Pais Vasco, where he crashed out during stage 4, but the 26-year-old rider from New Zealand has bounced back well at the Tour of California. He went into Tuesday's queen stage sitting 35th overall but jumped up to third with an impressive ride up Gibraltar. He's well-suited for the remaining GC stages in the 2016 Tour of California, but like the other climbers, his overall GC position could come down to how he fares relative to the other contenders. Bennett said the podium in the race is his goal, so he'll need to be aggressive and gain back time at every opportunity.

Bidon half full or half emtpty? With Julian Alaphilippe taking a three-second time bonus and Bennett getting split off in the finale by three seconds, he's six seconds further behind Alaphilippe, but his chances for a podium spot look good and he's definitely on the half-full side.

Rider: Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing)
GC Position: 4th at 40 seconds

Bookwalter is a rider with immense talent, but on a powerhouse team like BMC Racing, he is often overshadowed by better-known riders. But so far at the Tour of California, Bookwalter has put in top performances for his team, finishing fourth on the queen stage to Gibraltar and fourth again on Wednesday at Laguna Seca. He's obviously on form and in position to win the race, or at least take the lead with a good time trial on Friday. But in Folsom he'll have to equal or even out-perform teammate Rohan Dennis, one of the world's best at the race against the clock, if he wants to claim the Tour of California's overall prize. Bookwalter led the USA Pro Challenge last year until the time trial in Breckenridge, where Dennis took the jersey from him and then went on to win the overall.

Bidon half full or half empty? Bookwalter is currently 21 seconds ahead of Dennis, so we'll have to wait and see how he fares in Folsom before determining his bidon status.

Rider: Neilson Powless (Axeon Hagens Berman)
GC Position: 5th at 43 seconds

Powless has been the revelation of the US racing scene this year. The 19-year-old with a world-class junior mountain biking pedigree is spending his first full season on the road, and he's already winning big races and beating some of the best domestic – and now international – riders. He recently won the Joe Martin Stage Race and finished fifth in the California queen stage after fearlessly attacking the select group of climbers on Gibraltar before ultimately fading.

Bidon half full of half empty? Powless' bidon is overflowing. No matter what happens in the rest of the race, he has exceeded expectations and earned the attention of WorldTour teams. Powless won the time trial stage earlier this year at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, so his current fifth place could improve in Folsom on Friday.

Rider: Laurens ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin)
GC Position: 6th at 49 seconds

Ten Dam moved from LottoNL-Jumbo to Giant-Alpecin in the off-season in part to race more in the States, where he has moved his family. The Dutchman lives in Santa Cruz, and so he, too, considers California his adopted home race. He was 44th going into the Gibraltar stage, but his sixth-place finish there moved him into his current GC spot.

Bidon half full or half empty? Ten Dam finished outside the lead group in 20th place on Wednesday, so his form may not be on the same level with some of the other top GC contenders. Plus, his time trial may also be lacking relative to his fellow GC riders.

Rider: Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team)
GC Position: 7th at 1:01

Dennis finished second to Bradley Wiggins in this race in 2014, and he'd obviously like to go one better. His minute deficit seems like a lot to make up in the final stages, however, without some kind of dramatic reversal of fortunes. With Wiggins focusing on the track and saying his time trial bike has been hanging in the garage for 14 months, Dennis is the favourite for the Friday time trial, but with just four stages remaining, he's got along way to go if he wants to win the GC, and a short amount of time to get there.

Bidon half full or half empty? Dennis appears to be enjoying this race, and he's got a couple of well-placed teammates to play off of in Bookwalter and Samuel Sanchez. This is a 50-50 call.

Rider: Samuel Sanchez (BMC Racing Team)
GC Position: 8th at 1:01

After four stages, Sanchez is currently tied on time with his teammate, Dennis, giving BMC the strongest hand in the deck when it comes to GC options. The 2008 Olympic Road Race champion will need to limit his losses in the time trial and gain time in the hillier, harder stages to come on Thursday and Saturday. He's in a relatively good position and has arguably the strongest team at the race, so underestimating his chances could be dangerous.

Bidon half full or half empty? Sanchez, 38, just signed an extension with BMC for next year, so no matter what happens this week, he's a half full guy.

Rider: Rob Britton (Rally Cycling)
GC Position: 9th at 1:12

The 31-year-old Canadian was third overall at the USA Pro Challenge last year based on consistent riding and a second-place finish in the Breckenridge time trial, where Dennis took the overall lead. He's on a similar path this year in California and could do some damage on Friday. But his gap to Alaphilippe is large and he's running out of time to climb up the GC ladder

Bidon half full or half empty? Britton definitely has an uphill climb to get near the podium this week, but for a rider who seems to have benefited from a second wind late in his career, he's riding a wave of results that he may not have imagined possible just a few years ago.

Rider: Haimar Zubeldia (Trek-Segafredo)
GC Position: 10th at 1:15

This seemingly ageless rider has been in the professional peloton for 19 years, and he keeps chugging along and riding with the best this week in California. He finished 12th on Gibraltar, but was 19th on Wednesday at Leguna Seca. He could bleed some more time on Friday, but a top 10 overall finish could be possible if he can sneak away near the end of one of the deceptively tough stages on Thursday or Saturday.

Bidon half full or half empty? He's racing at a world-class level at 39 years old. That's definitely an optimistic guy.

Rider: Andrew Talansky (Cannondale Pro Cycling)
GC Position: 11th at 1:15

Talansky was not supposed to be Cannondale's GC rider this week. That designation went to Lawson Craddock. But after four stages, Talansky leads his teammate by three seconds and is primed for the Folsom time trial. Talansky will be wearing the red-white-and-blue kit of the US champion and is another rider who considers California his adopted home. He lives in the north end of the state where the race will finish, so his motivation to do well, especially after abandoning on stage 1 last year, is high.

Bidon half full or half empty? Talansky has had some rough patches since finishing 10th overall at the Tour de France in 2013, but his 11th place finish there in 2015 shows that he shouldn't be counted out in top-level stages races. Coming back from a 1:15 deficit could be a tall order, so his best chance for a top result may be an upset stage win in the time trial – if he can somehow outgun Dennis.

Rider: Lawson Craddock (Cannondale Pro Cycling)
GC Postion: 12th at 1:18

Craddock is in his first year with Cannondale after riding two years with Giant-Alpecin. He finished third overall at this race in 2014, the year Wiggins won and Dennis was second. He came into this week with the full support of his new team after twice finishing in the top 10 at Pais Vasco and earning ninth overall. Unfortunately, he failed to deliver on the Gibraltar climb, losing more than a minute to Alaphilippe. He's got a tough row to hoe now if he'd like to finish on the podium again, but he's young and bounces back well. He's also got Talansky to play off of over the next three road stages.

Bidon half full or half empty? Craddock's ascent into the upper echelons of the sport last month in Spain bode well for his future, even if he's disappointed by his performance so far this week in California. 

General classification after stage 4

Swipe to scroll horizontally
#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx - Quick-Step18:06:17
2Peter Stetina (USA) Trek-Segafredo0:00:22
3George Bennett (NZl) Team LottoNl-Jumbo0:00:37
4Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing Team0:00:40
5Neilson Powless (USA) Axeon Hagens Berman0:00:43
6Laurens ten Dam (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin0:00:49
7Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing Team0:01:01
8Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC Racing TeamRow 7 - Cell 2
9Rob Britton (Can) Rally Cycling0:01:12
10Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Trek-Segafredo0:01:15

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