The first WorldTour edition of the Amgen Tour of California is ready to roll out of Sacramento on Sunday, and we've put together a brief list of some of the more interesting riders to watch through to the finish in Pasadena on May 20.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)
The world champion is worth watching in every race he enters, and California is no different. Sagan scored his first stage win in the race in 2010 and has since added 14 more to hold the record of 15. His feats in the Golden State, including an overall win in 2015, have earned him the nickname 'King of California.' The Slovakian is certainly treated like royalty here by race organisers and by fans alike.
Sagan took his improbable overall victory in 2015 after winning a weather-shortened, flat and technical 10km time trial and then limiting his losses to Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) on the climb to Mt. Baldy, where Sagan lost just 47 seconds. He started the final day two seconds behind Alaphilippe and was able to take the lead with a time bonus in the final sprint.
Although the 2017 course is similar to 2015, it's hard to see Sagan winning the overall again. Look for Sagan and his flowing locks to be hunting stage wins in the flat days and especially on days where there could be a selection before the bunch kick.
Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing)
Despite finishing third last year behind Alaphilippe and teammate Rohan Dennis, and coming into the race off the back of solid results at the Tour of the Alps and Tour de Yorkshire, where he was second on the queen stage and fourth overall, respectively, Bookwalter is not BMC's declared leader in California. In the team's roster announcement, director Jackson Stewart laid BMC's GC hopes on 39-year-old Sammy Sanchez, the 2008 Olympic champion who was sixth last year.
Nevertheless, Bookwalter, 33, is riding well and will come into the race highly motivated for a possible stage win or high overall finish. Bookwalter, Miles Scotson and Sanchez are coming off an altitude training block at Big Bear Lake and should be well prepped when the race rolls out of Sacramento on Sunday.
Ian Boswell (Team Sky)
American Ian Boswell will take the reins of Team Sky leadership for the first time at this year's Tour of California, hoping a result here could propel him up the depth chart of the British super team. The 26-year-old has been steadily progressing since signing with Team Sky in 2013, and California is a big opportunity.
Boswell is coming off a hard crash at the Tour of the Alps, but his motivation could not be higher to perform well in what is essentially a home race for the Oregon native.
Boswell missed the race last year, competing in the Giro d'Italia instead, but he performed well the last time he was in California in 2015 while riding for teammate Sergio Henao. Boswell finished third on the Mt. Baldy stage that year, having to wait for Henao in the closing kilometres to help pull the Colombian back up to Alaphlippe, who was riding solo to the finish. This year he'll be riding for himself with the support of his team.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin)
The Norwegian sprinter took a stage win last year at the race during the sprint finish in Santa Rosa after a tough day of climbing toward the Pacific Coast and back.
There may be even more pressure on the rider this year, despite the fact that he has six of his team's seven wins so far in 2017. The 29-year-old revealed last week that Katusha-Alpecin believes he is too heavy, and the team wants him to drop "two or three" kilos. Kristoff responded that he weighs the same as in other years, and as the team's most successful rider he should not bear the brunt of the team's dissatisfaction.
After he admitted publicly that there is a "stressed mood" within the team this year, it will be interesting to see how Kristoff reacts to his team's criticism, which could be a motivator or a morale buster. In 2015, when Sagan was enduring heavy criticism from Oleg Tinkov about his lack of results in the early season, the Slovakian responded by winning the overall in California. Don't expect to see Kristoff in the race's final yellow jersey, but winning stage 1 and taking the first race lead might be a good way to calm the nerves within his team.
Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac)
The Tour of California has been a mixed bag for the Cannondale-Drapac rider. In his first attempt at the race in 2011 during his first year in the WorldTour with Garmin-Cervelo, the now-28-year-old was 17th. The next year, he was fifth in the time trial in Bakersfield but suffered in the Mt. Baldy stage and finished 107th, eventually taking 41st overall.
He didn't return to the race until 2015, and it turned out to be a rough decision after he was forced to abandon during stage 1 because of breathing issues.
Talansky turned all that around last year, however, while ostensibly working for teammate Lawson Craddock, who finished third in California in 2014. The California resident finished 10th on the Queen stage to Gibraltar Road outside of Santa Barbara, then sailed up the GC with second in the time trial behind Rohan Dennis.
Having gotten so near the final podium last year, the rider that team General Manager Jonathan Vaughters nicknamed "The Pitbull" will almost certainly want to take a bigger bite out of the race this year.
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He 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.
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