Amgen Tour of California announces routes for opening stages

The routes for the first three stages of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California were revealed today, with the sixth edition of the American stage race set to start off with a bang.

The eight-day event's opening stage, a 118.7-mile clockwise loop around Lake Tahoe, breaks new ground as it's the first time the Amgen Tour of California opens with a challenging road race as well as the first foray outside of California in race history.

Whereas the first four editions of the Amgen Tour of California opened with prologue time trials and last year's initial stage was a sprint-friendly route won by Mark Cavendish, this year's opening salvo starting in South Lake Tahoe takes place at altitude (the entire stage is above 6,200') and features three KOMs, the last of which to Brockway Summit is a 1,000' ascent to the stage's highest point of 7,200', prior to a quick descent to the finish at Northstar at Tahoe Resort in North Lake Tahoe.

Stage two, stretching 133.2 miles from Squaw Valley to the state capital of Sacramento, will provide the first opportunity for the sprinters to showcase their finishing speed. Well before the fast men make their expected kick to the finish line, the peloton will take in a bit of American history in the opening miles. The riders begin their day in Squaw Valley, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, and will proceed north to the town of Truckee and then west past the infamous Donner’s Pass, where pioneers met their doom in the winter months of 1846. At 7,100’, this will be the only KOM of stage 2.

From here it will be a more than 7,000’ of descending to the State's Capitol, which resides at a lowly 25' above sea level. The route will pass through Nevada City, California, the start city of last year's race, and after working its way west for several miles, the peloton will turn south and head to Sacramento, where the riders will conclude with two circuit laps capped off with a finish at the State Capitol building.

Last year's opening stage, 104.3 miles from Nevada City to Sacramento, was won by Mark Cavendish in a field sprint.

With no KOMs on tap for stage three, this, too, will likely be a day for the sprinters. The peloton begins its day in Auburn, California and will travel south 121.9 miles to its conclusion in Modesto.

After a neutral start section through Old Town Auburn, the race will begin in earnest and head south through downtown Folsom. The next 100 miles will showcase the roads of central California as the race passes through "Gold Country". The historic town of Ione (founded in 1849) will serve as the first sprint location of stage 3. Continuing south, the route will then pass by the shores of Lake Camanche. The second sprint of stage 3 will be in the cowboy town of Oakdale, and from there it will be a fast 17 miles to the start of two circuit laps in downtown Modesto.

The 2010 Amgen Tour of California finished in Modesto on stage four where Italian sprinter Francesco Chicchi bested the peloton's sprinters in a bunch gallop to the line.

Return to Cyclingnews tomorrow for additional Amgen Tour of California news when the routes for stages 4-6 will be announced.

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