Adopted Los Angeles resident Phil Gaimon (Cannondale Pro Cycling) is probably one of the top riders in the Tour of California peloton when it comes to local knowledge of the 2016 race's queen stage, which runs from Thousand Oaks to the climb up Gibraltar Road outside of Santa Barbara.
Although Gaimon agreed that the 2016 route is definitely harder than in years past, he said the summit finish this year on Gibraltar is very much like last year's queen-stage ride to the top of Mt. Baldy, where Julian Alaphilippe took the stage win and the race lead, but Peter Sagan finished close enough to keep his general classification hopes alive.
"I'd say they're pretty similar," Gaimon said of Baldy and Gibraltar. "The run-ins are tough for both of them, but Gibraltar will be nicer weather. I guess we'll know when we see what the time gaps are."
Gaimon said he expects a small group to approach the stage 3 finish together before one rider drops the rest and wins alone.
"I think it will be one guy in the picture [at the finish]," he said, adding that he expects that solo riders to be his teammate, Lawson Craddock.
"I like Lawson for that, the way he has been going uphill," Gaimon said, pointing to Craddock's ninth-place overall finish last month in Pais Vasco to back up his prediction. "I've been seeing all spring he's just getting better and better every race."
The stage 3 test coming on Tuesday begins climbing almost immediately, going up the category 3 ascent of Potrero Road and the category 2 climb of Westlake Boulevard before heading back down to the Pacific Coast via Mullholland Highway.
Gaimon said he expects the early breakaway to slip away here, but the general classification contenders will be saving their bullets for the finish.
"It's not super long, and I don't see anyone wanting to blow it up that early," he said. "It will be tempting, but we're all looking at Gibraltar not Westlake. Anyone you can get rid of on Westlake you can get rid of on Gibraltar by a lot more."
After a brief cruise up the coastline, the route turns inland toward Lake Casitas and the category 3 climb over Casitas Pass. An Intermediate sprint in Carpinteria leads to the foothills and eventually the day's main attraction, the 12.5km climb to the top of Gibraltar Road, which gains nearly 1,000 metres of elevation by the time riders reach a finish line that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
After Gibraltar, of course, riders will have plenty of places to gain or lose time over the five remaining stages, including the short, steep climbs in the closing kilometres of stage 4, the long grind up to Lake Tahoe during stage 5, the 20km time trial in Folsom during stage 6 and the jagged profile of the Santa Rosa circuit during stage 7.
Gaimon said the Santa Rosa stage could be deceptively difficult.
"The Santa Rosa stage has a lot of climbing," he said. "I think every stage is going to be selective. I think there will be selections every day, and there won't be much for the pure, pure sprinters. But Cavendish can get over plenty of stuff."
He also said there won't be a lot surprises for riders who aren't as familiar as he is with many of the roads that will be used this year.
"Racing in the US is pretty straightforward - nothing too crazy," he said. "The weather looks nice this week. Thankfully it's not going to roast us like it usually does. But as far as the courses go, I don't see anything sneaky."
Gaimon has had his own recent experience with course designing after putting together several routes for his inaugural Phil's Malibu Gran Cookie Dough, which is scheduled for November 6.
Although the gran fondo route doesn't use any of the same roads as the Tour of California's third stage, it climbs up and down the coast-hugging mountain range that the riders will climb over as they head out of Thousand Oaks. For Gaimon, the gran fondo provides a chance to show off the roads he trains on when he's at home in the States.
"I live just outside of Hollywood, and people always ask me how I train, because most people's experience with L.A. is being stuck in traffic," he said. "But the training here is literally the best in the world. I'm tired of getting that question, so this is a chance to share that by having a gran fondo here."
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