South-to-North switch livens Tour of California

The Tour of California is a wrap for 2013, and race organisers are patting themselves on the back for crafting a south-to-north course that challenged riders on each of the eight days of racing.

Medalist Sports managing partner Jim Birrell told Cyclingnews that his group had responded to previous feedback from the riders and team directors when creating the route, which featured two mountainous opening stages, three windswept transitional stages, an unusually long and difficult time trial followed by the first Northern California summit finish on Mt. Diablo and a fast finish into Santa Rosa.

"The fact that we had a new stage winner every day until this last day speaks loudly to how the competition and the courses were on a daily basis," Birrell said.

Stage winners included Vacansoleil's Lieuwe Westra from a narrow breakaway, Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) on the Palm Springs Tramway climb, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) in the sprint stages, Jens Voigt (RadioShack) in the stage into Avila Beach that was split by crosswinds, overall winner Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Leopold König (NetApp-Endura) on Diablo.

One thing that stood out this past week was the performance of the Continental teams, one of which, for the first time in Tour of California history, was able to earn a spot on the final overall podium - Jamis-Hagens Berman with Acevedo.

Domestic Continental teams also claimed three stage podium finishes: 5-hour Energy p/b Kenda's Francisco Mancebo was second on stage 1 and his teammate James Stemper was awarded the most courageous rider jersey. Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies' sprinter Ken Hanson was second on stage 4, and Acevedo, in addition to his stage win and third place overall, was second on the Diablo stage. Bontrager claimed the best young rider jersey overall with Lawson Craddock, and Bissell led the mountains classification from start to finish with Carter Jones, and Jason McCartney was most courageous on the final stage.

These performances are important for securing invitations to Medalist's other major races: the Tour of Utah, USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado, and Tour of Alberta, and Birrell noticed.

"Every one of the Continental teams came prepared and animated the field on a daily basis. The performance of the Continental teams and our development squad (Bontrager) were impressive all week long."

For Jamis Hagens-Berman director Sebastian Alexandre, the results of the week were a morale boost for him and his team, which failed to earn invitations to any of the top races in 2012.

"I am thrilled with how all the guys came together and performed in the big show this week," Alexandre said. "Janier was superb. He is an exceptional talent. The rest of the guys stepped their game up a level, gave their all in service of the team, and really showed the world what Team Jamis-Hagens Berman can do."

As much as Medalist influenced the difficulty of the 2013 parcours, the weather turned out to be one of the key factors as searing heat scorched riders on the first two stages, in particular the climb in Palm Springs which resulted in several riders being treated for heat stroke. The south-north direction also put the racers battling the prevailing breeze for much of the route, although the strong coastal winds only influenced the outcome of the race on stage 5 to Avila Beach, when the WorldTour teams shattered the peloton into six separate echelons.

Aside from the heat in Palm Springs, the only stage that seemed to border on extreme was the 31.9km time trial that included a steep 3km climb at the finish - all after five hard days of racing.

"It was hard, and everybody knew it was going to be hard," Cannondale's Ted King said. "If you want to make a good, memorable race like Amgen does, by all means make it hard."

Craddock agreed that the San Jose course was difficult the entire time, "But hard in cycling isn't really hard in everything else. That's what makes this sport so beautiful, I think one of the hardest sports in the world. During an incredibly difficult stage race like this, to throw in a time trial like this, it's still a bike race."

Birrell said his team would re-assemble in the coming months and begin drafting a plan for the 2014 edition of the race, "and see how we can match or beat this year".

"The nice thing about California is it's so large, and there are plenty of places to go to test these riders."

(Pat Malach contributed to this report)

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