Tour of California Women's Race: Riders share their most memorable moments
Van der Breggen, Neben, Rivera look back at 12 years of American racing
The announcement from race organiser AEG that it will put its Amgen Tour of California men's and women's events on hiatus in 2020 came as a shock to the international cycling community.
The Tour of California held its inaugural edition of the men’s stage race in 2006 and the first edition of a women’s one-day event in 2008, and both events joined the top-tier UCI WorldTour calendars in 2016.
The women’s race launched as a one-day criterium that many of the top North American and international teams marked on their calendars as a must-race event, given its almost immediate prominence alongside the men's Tour of California.
Brooke Miller (Tibco) was the first-ever winner of the Tour of California Women's Race in Santa Rosa. She was succeeded by Emilia Fahlin (Highroad) in 2009, also in Santa Rosa, while Coryn Rivera (Peanut Butter & Co - Twenty12) won in 2010 in Sacramento.
Organisers then shifted the race to an invitational time trial won by three-time Olympic gold medallist and two-time world champion Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co - Twenty12 and Exergy-Twenty12) in 2011 in Solvang and in 2012 in Bakersfield. Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon) won the time trial in 2013 in San Jose. Alison Powers (UnitedHealthcare) won the time trial title in 2014 in Folsom.
The race then moved to a three-day format in 2015 held in host cities Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe, with Trixi Worrack (Velocio-SRAM) securing the overall title.
Organisers added a stage to make it a four-day race in 2016 hosted by Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Folsom and South Lake Tahoe, and won by Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans). Her teammate Anna van der Breggen won the title in 2017 edition, a four-day race hosted by Sacramento and again at South Lake Tahoe.
Organisers set the race back to a three-day event in 2018 held in Sacramento, South Lake Tahoe and Elk Grove, won by Katie Hall (UnitedHealthcare). Van der Breggen won the 12th edition of the Tour of California Women's Race this year. The race started in Ventura, took on a summit-finish at Mt. Baldy, and ended at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena.
Cyclingnews reached out to members of the women's professional peloton to share their most memorable moments during the 12-year history of the Tour of California Women's Race.
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Anna van der Breggen - Two-time overall winner (2017 and 2019)
"My first year at the Tour of California was so exciting because I won the overall title by one second. We fought so hard, with our whole team, for all those bonus-second sprints. I needed to be a sprinter at a climber's race. It came down to the sprints in the end. It was a very special race to win with the team because they led me out for all the bonus sprints.
"I won a car, twice, but it was quite difficult to accept a car when you live in Europe but the car is in America. I asked if we could take the funds from the car and split it with the team. We always won as a team effort.
"I saw a lot of California because of going to do that race. I would stay and do a training camp or visit places like Yosemite National Park. It really is like a postcard. This year we finished on Mt Baldy, and it was incredible to do something like that. It was a nice climb at altitude. This year we saw so many nice places because of that race and had good experiences.
"It's especially sad that next year's race is cancelled because that race was something special for us riders who come from Europe and the racing is different in America."
Amber Neben - Runner-up Invitational Time Trial (2011)
"Honestly, my most 'memorable' moment would have to be the life-career reset moment with my crash in May of 2013. I expected and set up for a straight road, but instead there was one more quick, hard right. Shmack! I rode myself right into the mountainside. I shattered some body parts, and mentally I was facing an incredibly difficult comeback.
"Six months later, I discerned it was not time to stop. I needed to go back out. It was not easy. But if I had not persevered through that 'moment', I would have missed out on the last three years, including one World Championship, four USPRO National titles, some very special relationships, and being in the mix for the 2020 Olympics.
"I think it paints a pretty cool picture of what can happen when we - any of us - persevere through what often look like the most impossible of circumstances. Beauty from ashes!
"My second favorite moment was probably riding through Mt. Baldy Village this year. I've quietly trained on Glendora Mountain Road and occasionally up through the Village on my way to Baldy over the years. Riding through it with the two walls of screaming fans was super fun. There was so much energy! Then, it was pretty cool to climb the switchbacks with all the people who had camped out and painted the roads. The SoCal cycling scene showed up!
"The original one-day ITTs were excellent one-day races for the women. Besides the World Championships, I think it was the only one-day time trial that drew the best in the world to the race. The women would race the same time trial as the men immediately before, so it was always an entertaining atmosphere and a difficult course. I think the first one I did was with HTC-Highroad in 2011 in Solvang. I still have my Highroad t-shirt from that race!"
Linda Jackson - (Owner Tibco-SVB)
"There are so many great memories of the Amgen Tour of California that it's hard to pick just one.
"I remember the very first edition of the race that our sprinter Brooke Miller won back in 2008 - that was for sure a highlight. We were this little team out of Palo Alto and that win put both Brooke and the team on the map.
"Fast forward to a decade later and Kendall Ryan won the opening stage of the 2018 race. I think that has to be my all-time favourite. Kendall had been on the cusp of a major victory for a long time and that win showed that she indeed has one of the fastest sprints in the world.
"I am really hoping that the race will be back. We did every edition of the race over the 12 years that it ran. AEG did so much for women's cycling, we'll miss the race in 2020."
Leah Kirchmann - two-time stage winner, second overall (2015)
"I always loved racing in California and will definitely miss the event on the calendar.
"My most memorable moment is from the 2015 edition of the race when I won two stages and finished second overall.
"My victory on stage 2 at the top of Heavenly Mountain resort was a huge breakthrough moment for me as a rider. Before that win, I didn't quite believe that I could excel in those kinds of tough uphill finishes. I was so proud at the finish line, and felt completely exhausted after sprinting up that steep climb at altitude.
"The victory boosted my confidence for future tough races, and also attracted the attention of my current team."
Coryn Rivera - two-time stage winner (2010 and 2017)
"My stage win in 2017 was a memorable moment. I had come off of a stellar spring Classics campaign. The team and I survived the couple days at altitude in Tahoe and we were determined to get a stage win at sea level.
"We tried to surprise the field in some crosswinds, but it was evident that most teams wanted it to come down to a sprint in Sacramento. We had one of the most perfect lead-outs executed, and Leah [Kirchmann] was able to drop me off to the line with not much competition.
"It was a beautiful day of execution and victory on home soil. I could feel the love from the California crowds and we ended the stage race with a memorable win and an unforgettable team photo after the line.
"Being off the front on this year's Mt. Baldy stage 2 was also memorable. Heading up to Mt Baldy isn’t my most favored race finish, but it's on some of my hometown roads I have trained and raced on since I was 13 years old. Glendora Mountain Road [GMR] and East Fork is where I do my long mountain training and I can practically descend GMR with my eyes closed.
"Although climbing isn’t entirely my forté, I still enjoy training there. I wasn’t in my best form going into the race after taking a break from the spring Classics, but we still wanted to have a good race and I wanted to make an impact for the team.
"In the neutral zone I was lined up next to Anna van der Breggen [Boels Dolmans] and I told her all about the climb and how I had been training there since I was a kid. I was suffering on GMR while a team was setting a hard pace and she whispered to me that it was 'my climb'. I took a breath and refocused and survived the first big climb.
"Then on Glendora Ridge Road I knew where the descent was and where was a good place to get away. I was able to get a gap with 2 others and as we crested the ridge there was a huge crowd with a bunch of locals I knew out there cheering. I took a moment to enjoy the personalized cheers and power on to try and start Baldy with an advantage.
"In the end, I blew up and the altitude caught up with me. But I will always remember all the awesome cheers from my friends and family as I crawled my way to the top. And, lucky for me, my fiancé was waiting at the top with jackets for me and the rest of the team, so it was a nice way to end a grueling day."
Nicola Cramner - (Owner Twenty20-Sho-Air)
"My favourite moment in recent memory was when our team won the team time trial stage in the 2016 edition of the Tour of California Women's Race. We won after beating the best teams in the world and then Kristin Armstrong took second overall, Chloé Dygert was the best young rider, and we won the team GC.
"The team time trial, tough, was one of Kristin's favourite moments, too, and it was nice to see her acknowledge that in the press interviews after the race. We had riders like Chloe Dygert, Leah Thomas, Allie Dragoo, Alison Jackson... women that we had developed as part of our team, who all came together. To win that race against the best athletes in the world was huge for us.
"My next favourite moment was when Kristin won the time trial in the 2011 edition of the Tour of California when it was an invitational time trial in Solvang. Kristin came out of her first retirement to make a comeback for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The seed was planted and Kristin had a vision of holding her son, Lukas, on the podium in London. She couldn't shake that vision and so that Tour of California time trial was to see how on-track she was with her time trialling form, to see if her goals for London were even possible.
"All the best time triallists in the world were in Solvang and she won it. That was huge. It was an indication that she was back.
"It's hard to pick one or two moments that stand out. I mean, even my first team ProMan and then Peanut Butter & Co were on the podium in the first few editions.
"There are many, many, many favourite moments."
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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
By Josh Ross