With a few minor variations, the 2017 Amgen Tour of California route is a near carbon copy of the 2015 race Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) won by just one second over Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) when he cashed in on a time bonus in the final sprint.
Despite his success in 2015, however, Sagan said during Friday's press conference that he is not targeting the general classification. Or is he?
"Everything is possible," the affable world champion said when asked if he would be hunting stages or going for the overall. But when he was asked more directly several minutes later whether he would go for the final yellow jersey when the race ends in Pasadena, he was quite clear.
"No, no," he said. "Like I said before, I was lucky and I don't know, It was some special condition that I got [in 2015]. I don't know how. It was a special race also for me. A lot of times the start of this race is in Sacramento, and just one time I won and not all the other times, so I don't think that has anything to do with it."
The similarities between the 2015 and 2017 courses go beyond the start in Sacramento, however, with Mt. Baldy serving as the Queen stage and the Big Bear time trial coming the next day.
Big Bear was supposed to be part of the 2015 race as well, but a freak May snowstorm caused organisers to move the stage and shorten it to just over 10km. Sagan won the short, technical race against the clock and took the race lead from Toms Skujins, who had led for three days.
When the race hit the slopes of Mt. Baldy the next day, Sagan battled mightily to limit his losses. Riding for Tinkoff at the time, Sagan finished sixth on the stage, losing just 47 seconds to Alaphilippe. Although he lost the race lead that day, he was able to secure a three-second time bonus at the finish of the final stage to push him past Alaphilippe by one second.
But Sagan made it clear on Friday that he doesn't expect a repeat performance, choosing instead to add to his race record of 15 stage wins. To do that, he'll need to out gun top sprinters such as Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors), John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) and Elia Viviani (Team Sky).
It will be a good test for Sagan and his new team as they try to sharpen their efforts for the Tour de France, with Sagan saying he'll look to teammates Rafal Majka and Jay McCarthy to perform well in the overall.
Although he says he won't be targeting another overall win, Sagan spoke effusively about the race that he first attended in 2010 as a19-year-old neo-pro, winning his first stages that year in Bakersfield and Big Bear. The ‘King of California' has returned every year since.
"It's a very nice race and the organisation is very good," he said. "I can do my time for preparation. I can prepare myself very good in America. I stay here also after the Tour of California. That's why I just like to be here. Good atmosphere and good weather."
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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