Ben Jacques-Maynes is part of a very small group of riders who can say they've ridden each and every edition of the Amgen Tour of California. The 34-year-old rider from Corralitos, California, who moves from Bissell Cycling to Jamis-Sutter Home for 2013, hopes to line up at the start for the eighth time when the race rolls out of Escondido on May 12.
"I was talking with Jens Voigt and Levi [Leipheimer] last year, and we were trying to come up with somebody besides the three of us off the top of our heads who had ridden every edition," Jacques-Maynes said. "That's good company to keep, even if there's someone else on the list. It's been a good run, and I hope to continue with more."
If Jacques-Maynes and his team are selected for the race's upcoming edition, he'll join an event that will run from Southern California to Northern California for the first time, and Jacques-Maynes believes the new route should shake up the dynamics of the race.
"I think that the racing action should culminate in a hot bed of cycling," he said. "I like how NorCal gets to decide the winners, as opposed to letting people show off and then defend. The defense will have happened all week, and now it will be push come to shove on my home roads. I couldn't ask for anything more. It should be a spectacular show."
Unlike last year's largely ceremonial final stage from Beverly Hills to downtown Los Angeles, the final 2013 stage from San Francisco to Santa Rosa could be the last decisive battle for the overall, Jacques-Maynes said.
"It's honestly going to change the dynamics, because the terrain is quite difficult and we've always gone in there quite early," he said. "Now we'll go in with that same difficult terrain and a last-chance shootout for anyone who wants to ride hard for GC."
Depending on the route and the state of the overall standings, the final day could see a lot of fireworks.
"If the race goes up Coleman Valley and the GC is tight, that could absolutely blow apart and be some really good racing action on the roads through Occidental, Sebastopol and into Santa Rosa," Jacques-Maynes said. "Or even much earlier if we go up and over Mt. Tamalpais; that could be an all-out war up that mountain and the entire course."
The race start in Escondido and its trek through some of the desert areas of Southern California have led some to speculate that the first half of the 2013 race could bring a repeat of the 2012 event, when Slovakian sensation Peter Sagan won five of eight stages, including the first four consecutively. But Jacques-Maynes said results will depend on how the course is laid out.
"You certainly can have mountainous routes everywhere you go," he said. "Furthermore, Palmdale is not low in elevation by any stretch of the imagination. I'd say it's mid-elevation, and you can reach up into some pretty good mountains."
The 2013 route is almost the tale of two races, Jacques-Maynes said, with five stages in the south before a long transfer from Avila Beach to San Jose and the first of the final three stages in the north.
"With the drive from Avila Beach to San Jose, you are basically going clear across the state. That's more than a transfer, you could fly that. Highway 101 is beautiful, but they should have made it a nine- day race and put two more stages in that piece," he joked.
The final three stages should bring a fitting end to the race, starting with the individual time trial in San Jose. Jaques-Maynes said he hopes organizers bring back the TT course that was used for the 2006 tour.
"It's very decisive," he said. "It's a difficult course with a couple of rolling hills and some strong winds to have to ride through."
And the following day's romp up to "devil mountain" should provide more excitement than previous ascents up to Big Bear, Mt. Baldy or Sierra Road.
"I think it's much more decisive than racing into Big Bear or racing up Sierra Road finishes that we've had in the past," Jacques-Maynes said. "And it's much more of a dynamic race than climbing up Mt. Baldy, which was almost too steep for any kind of tactical games. It was kind of a shootout, and the skinniest guy wins.
"Mt. Diablo has its steep parts, and it gets steep up at the top," Jacques-Maynes continued. "We only rode over the shoulder [in 2012], and that's only half way up the mountain. There's a lot more if you continue all the way up to the observatory. I'll be really excited to see how that plays out. I won't be so excited about riding up it, being realistic about my own chances of winning a huge mountain top finish, but I've got a lot of history, and it would be a great opportunity to conquer that mountain."
Although Jaques-Maynes said he has his "fingers and toes crossed" for the opportunity to take on the race for an eighth time, he knows there are no guarantees with the Tour of California, a race with which he's had a love-hate relationship as of late. He crashed hard during the 2011 race and broke his collarbone, and an ensuing infection ended his season. But Jacques-Maynes returned strong this year, getting into the stage 1 breakaway and winning the day's most aggressive rider jersey for his efforts. He went on to place second at the Nature Valley Grand Prix later in the season, and he won the climber's jersey at the Tour of Utah.
"The Tour of California can bite you in the butt or it can make for a good year and good preparation, and I've had it both ways, for sure," he said. "And I've seen other people have it both ways – domestic riders who are flying and have a good spring, and international stars who have crashed and broken bones and had their springtime Classic schedule canceled."
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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.