The 2011 Amgen Tour of California promises to be the most difficult and most exciting edition yet, and Cyclingnews asked peloton insiders Chris Horner (RadioShack) and Mike Tamayo (director of United Healthcare) to pick apart the course and offer up their predictions.
While both agree the Solvang time trial on stage six and the climb to Mount Baldy the following day will be critical, there could be a few surprises along the way.
Starting with a few high altitude climbs around Lake Tahoe on stage 1, Horner thinks a small group with a rider such as Liquigas-Cannondale's Peter Sagan could contest the win, while Tamayo thinks the altitude could keep the top overall contenders in check.
A largely flat downhill to Sacramento on stage 2 is undoubtedly one for the sprinters, but stage 3 could prove more exciting than it looks on paper.
""At a first glance to the profile, you might think; 121 miles flat boring stage. But, racing through the central valley of California equals open agricultural fields and possible high winds," said Tamayo. "With the course heading predominantly south, the west wind could cause some major splits in the field. It is not a GC deciding day, but it won’t be a rest day either."
A new summit finish on stage 4 at Sierra Road will be the first time the general classification contenders get to really come out and play.
"An 81-mile stage may not seem very long, but I think the first battle amongst the GC riders will happen here. A great opportunity for the climbers to size one another up," predicts Tamayo.
You can read all of the predictions and comments here.
Stage 1: South Lake Tahoe to North Lake Tahoe Resort, 191 km
Stage 2: North Lake Tahoe-Squaw Valley to Sacramento, 214 km
Stage 3: Auburn to Modesto, 196.2 km
Stage 4: Livermore to San Jose, 131 km
Stage 5: Seaside to Paso Robles, 223.6 km
Stage 6: Solvang Time Trial, 24 km
Stage 7: Claremont to Mt. Baldy, 121.9 km
Stage 8: Santa Clarita to Thousand Oaks, 129.1 km