After two days of heat and climbing, the sprinters at the Amgen Tour of California are hoping for a respite from both the elements and from gravity during Tuesday's stage 3 route from Palmdale to Santa Clarita.
The 177.7 km stage with 2,700 meters of climbing could be considered a mountain stage, but the climbing is broken up and includes only one long, sustained grade. The last KOM on Bouquet Canyon Road comes 30 kilometers from the finish and should allow the peloton to regroup before the finale. A field sprint looks likely, even after Monday's slog through 110 degree heat. Forecasts for the 11:20 am start in Palmdale call for temperatures in the mid-80s, which are also predicted for the afternoon finish in Santa Clarita.
"Tomorrow is certainly not an easy day, but I still think it will be a sprint," Garmin Sharp fastman Tyler Farrar told Cyclingnews after the brutal stage 2 finish on the Tramway climb outside of Palm Springs. "It might be a tough day still, but it will be a sprint, and it's on the coast, so I think we're all hoping that it cools off a little bit."
The opening stage almost went to the sprinters after a tough day of chasing down a four-rider breakaway that was caught by a select bunch just five kilometers from the finish, but Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Francisco Mancebo (5-hour Energy/Kenda) escaped in the last few kilometers to take the top two spots. Farrar finished 67th on that stage, more than 10 minutes behind the winner, but his teammate Jacob Rathe finished sixth. Farrar expects another large group - but not the entire field - to come to the line again Tuesday.
"I think it will still be a little selective," he said. "It's not flat. It's not going over 15-kilometer climbs like we have the last two days, but it's still not easy. So we'll see."
Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies sprinter Ken Hanson was able to haul his "big carcass" up the final Tramway climb on Monday and lived to fight another day, but he was a little more ambiguous than Farrar about how things might play out Tuesday.
"Certainly the temperature should be a little more reasonable and not in the triple digits," Hanson said. "That will be a lot nicer. I think everyone will like that. Tomorrow is tricky. It could be a sprint or it could be a really hard day. It could be that a big breakaway stays away."
Hanson, whose teammate Alex Candelario finished seventh in the sprint at the end of stage 1, said he was looking forward to stages four and five more so than Tuesday's route.
"Stages four and five look like on paper that they should be kind of the classic sprint stages, so I'm looking forward to that," he said. "So I made it through today in one piece and I'm happy about that. I survived and I'm looking forward to those upcoming stages for sure."
UnitedHealthcare sprinter Jake Keough agreed with Farrar that stage 3 could come down to a selective sprint, but he's set his sights further down the road.
"I think the next two days are kind of maybe a selective sprint stage," said Keough, who added that the team worked well to lift Phil Deignan into third overall, and he expects that same team ethic to carry over to the sprints. "We're going to kind of gear up for maybe stages 5 and 8, which will be full on. I'm trying to conserve a bit. It's hard with the heat, but everyone's riding good and we're working as a team. For sure we'll be in with a chance."
Bontrager big man Jasper Stuyven, who finished fourth on stage 1 behind WorldTour sprinters Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step), said he had worked most of Monday for teammate Lawson Craddock, but he kept something in the tank for the upcoming sprint stages.
"Lawson was feeling really good, so I stayed with him all day and kept him in front," Styuven said. "I brought him to the front at the bottom of the climb and then just pulled off and rode in. But you couldn't really ride easy. It was brutally hot. But it was a good day, and I'm looking forward to the flatter stages in the coming days."
Of course, any sprinter hoping for a stage win will have to deal with the considerable skills of Sagan, who won the field sprint Monday despite having to fight back on after the climbs and then suffering cramps in the finale. But Sagan finished Monday's stage in 102nd place, more than nearly 20 minutes off the lead pace. Meersman finished Monday's stage in 81st, 15:28 down.
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