Amgen Tour of California: Up and down route for opening two stages

The final 2009 Tour of California podium is all smiles (l-r): Michael Rogers, 3rd; Levi Leipheimer, 1st; and David Zabriskie, 2nd.

The final 2009 Tour of California podium is all smiles (l-r): Michael Rogers, 3rd; Levi Leipheimer, 1st; and David Zabriskie, 2nd. (Image credit: Mitch Clinton)

Tour of California organisers (AEG) have released specific details for the first two stages of the 2010 race with the remainder of the stages set to be unveiled in the coming days.

The eight-day race starts with a 167.8 kilometre road stage from Nevada City to Sacramento. It marks the race's first visit to the town, and unlike the first four editions of the race, this year will begin without a typical prologue. That should suit the sprinters down to the ground but before they get to the finish in Sacramento they'll have to negotiate undulating terrain as the route weaves through the Alta Sierra, Meadow Vista and El Dorado County. The final thirty kilometres are almost pancake flat.

The second stage of 176.2km from Davis to Santa Rosa is similar to the first road stage in 2009 and just like last year will provide plenty of scenic settings for both the cyclists and the spectators. Beginning in the city of Davis, the route includes evenly spaced climbs throughout the stage and spectacular views. After 20 miles of flat roads, the riders will meet their first climb up a short, but steep section leading up to the Monticello Dam.

Another long, flat section along Lake Berryessa will take the riders to their second climb up Howell Mountain Rd., followed by a fast descent into Napa Valley. New for 2010 is the Trinity Road climb, which as been used in past editions from the opposite direction. The climb is longer than those used in the approach to Santa Rosa last year, and even with the fast descent down to the finish the difficulty of the climb should rule out a bunch sprint.

Last year it was the horrific weather which helped Spaniard Francesco Mancebo to stun the race by breaking away with Tim Johnson (OUCH-Maxxis) and David Kemp (Fly V-Australia) before leaving the pair behind to win the stage to Santa Rosa and take the lead in the overall.

Other teams complained that poor radio communications in the bad weather caused confusion as to the extent of the leaders' gap. The heavy winter storms caused havoc with the race radio and compounded the riders' misery, but with a new time slot in May, race organiser Andrew Messick will be hoping for better conditions for the riders and spectators alike.

"The May timing of the 2010 edition of the Amgen Tour of California is going to allow us to visit some challenging new areas of California that previously were not possible due to the weather," said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, presenter of the race."

Riders and Teams

A complete roster of riders and teams is still someway off but Messick confirmed that Lance Armstrong, three-time winner Levi Leiphiemer, Dave Zabriskie, George Hincapie, Andy Schleck, Vincenzo Nibali, Heinrich Haussler and Thor Hushovd are all expected to start the race. Roughly half of the teams will come from the ProTour and Professional Continental ranks and the other half will be domestic Continental outfits.

"We'll have a very strong flavour of guys who have demonstrated their strengths in the Tour, the Classics and in our race before," Messick said.

As for Mark Cavendish's possible participation, Messick was unsure the sprinter would be available, with the Manxman already muttering his desire to compete in the Giro d'Italia instead. However Messick remained hopeful. "He has not made a final decision yet is what I've been told, but who wouldn't want Mark Cavendish in their race?" If Cavendish does ride the Giro, HTC-Columbia would likely deploy André Greipel to California.

Despite the exact details of stages three to eight still to be announced, the 2010 edition has been widely tipped as the hardest on record by both riders and directors. For Messick the desire was come up with a route that challenges the best riders in the world from start to finish. Even Dave Zabriskie recently told Cyclingnews that the finishing circuit in Agoura Hills was one of the most difficult he'd seen.

"There's no one place where the race could be decided," Messick said. "There are many opportunities for possible time separations, on perhaps five of the stages. On stage two there's a summit about twelve miles from the finish so there's a descent and then a somewhat downhill finish into Santa Rosa. That could be crucial."

"I think the Bakersfield stage has real possibilities largely because there's a 2.5 mile finishing circuit that they'll do three times and it concludes with a 250ft 10 per cent climb. It's conceivable that someone can get ten or fifteen seconds on it."

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews in the coming day as stage-by-stage will be released on the following days:

Tuesday, Feb. 9 – Stage 1 (Nevada City to Sacramento) and Stage 2 (Davis to Santa Rosa)
Wednesday, Feb. 10 – Stage 3 (San Francisco to Santa Cruz) and Stage 4 (San Jose to Modesto)
Thursday, Feb. 11 – Stage 5 (Visalia to Bakersfield) and Stage 6 (Pasadena to Big Bear Lake)
Friday, Feb. 12 – Stage 7 (Los Angeles individual time trial) and Stage 8 (Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village/Agoura Hills)

Vaughters' Views

Stage 1 - Nevada City to Sacramento

On paper this looks like a pretty straight forward sprinters' stage with a pan-flat run in for the last 50 kilometres. However, for the first time the Tour of California doesn't have any sort of prologue, so the race will not have any sort of order or leader on day one.

This could lead to some very aggressive racing, especially by smaller teams that don't have a GC contender or a real sprinter.

If HTC-Columbia bring Cavendish, then I would think they would put the effort into bringing the breaks back, as he'd be my favorite on a day like this, but if they don't, this could be one confusing day of racing with multiple attacks, and maybe even a large breakaway with twenty-plus riders, and all the major teams represented, going away.

On a day like this, it isn't so much a question of how fast the breakaway is, but more a question of: Who will chase it down, and why? Maybe no one...

Stage 2 - Davis to Santa Rosa

The race already gets hard and hilly before the European teams have totally gotten over jet lag, as this day heads up the backside of Trinity Grade just 30 kilometres from the finish line. In past years, this is the type of stage where Levi Leipheimer would put his stamp of authority on the event and leave the rest of us racing for second place.

I imagine this year Levi has a similar plan in mind, as a win in his hometown of Santa Rosa would be a dream come true for him. With strong climbers like Vincenzo Nibali coming to the race this year, and the event being at a later date where more riders are approaching 100 per cent of their fitness, things won't be as simple for Leipheimer as in the past.

I'd look more for a group of 5 to 15 elite climbers and GC contenders sprinting out the finish in Santa Rosa. Someone who can climb and sprint a bit would be my pick. Maybe George Hincapie if he's not too tired from the Classics? Or a guy that can sprint better than most little climbers: Lance Armstrong.

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