With the Amgen Tour of California set to announce its 2016 team line up on Tuesday, questions will soon be answered about how the switch in technical directors from US management company Medalist Sports to the ASO will affect the race start lists.
Rumours have abounded that bringing in the ASO, which owns the Tour de France and other top races around the world, could mean more spots for WorldTour teams and fewer for their American Pro Continental and Continental counterparts, but race organisers have been typically tight-lipped about who will be on the start line when the eight-day UCI 2.HC race departs from San Diego on May 15.
Although there won't be any official word on the teams until Tuesday's presentation, we can speculate, based on past invitations and a little internet research, which teams will likely be at the race this year.
The three US-registered WorldTour teams are sure bets. Slipstream's Cannondale, in all of its previous incarnations, is a regular feature in the race, and both BMC Racing and Trek-Segafredo already have the race listed on the calendars published on their respective websites.
Etixx-QuickStep has only missed the race once since the event moved from February to May in 2010, and the powerful Belgian team already has it listed on its website. Team Sky, which also has the race listed on its published calendar, was at the race in 2011, then missed the race for two years before storming back in 2014 to take the win with Bradley Wiggins. Sergio Henao was a major player in the general classification battle last year.
The Katusha Team of Alexander Kristoff has yet to compete in California, but the race is listed on the calendar published on the team's website.
If the race could attract Dimension Data and Tinkoff, it could have a fairly complete field of sprinters who will be contesting the bunch gallops at the Tour de France. Dimension Data raced in California last year as the Pro Continental team MTN-Qhubeka, and now has Mark Cavendish in its ranks. “King of California” Peter Sagan [the 2015 overall winner and record holder for number of stage wins] and Tinkoff raced California four of the past six years. The possibility of a race that included Sagan, Cavendish, Kristoff and Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) squaring off in the sprints would no doubt raise the race's profile internationally while providing more competition with the RCS Sport-owned Giro d'Italia.
Other WorldTour teams that would make sense for the race include Giant-Alpecin, which has raced California three of the past six years, including the past two consecutively, and LottoNL-Jumbo, which has only missed 2013 since the race moved to May and could bring 2012 overall winner Robert Gesink.
Orica-GreenEdge has a consistent history with the race, but it did not compete in California last year and appears to be keeping its focus on Europe in 2016. Whether ASO's involvement attracts any French WorldTour teams is not yet clear, but AG2R La Mondiale raced in California in 2012 and would be a good candidate.
Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick Step) on the cusp of stage victory 3 at the Tour of California in 2015. (TDWSport.com)
The US has just two Pro Continental teams, Novo Nordisk and UnitedHealthcare, so those teams also appear to be a lock. Australia's Drapac Pro Cycling raced in California last year, but like Orica appears to be focusing on a European campaign this year. With the tours of Iran, Picardie and Norway already on its schedule conflicting with California's dates, the team's participation in California looks doubtful this year. The Pro Continental level would also be a good spot to fit in some French teams, with Cofidis or Direct Energie being the most likely candidates.
It remains to be seen how many spots will go to the Continental teams, but Wiggins said previously that he looks forward “to returning to the Amgen Tour of California with Team Wiggins to once again take on the top competitors in the sport.”
Team Wiggins' inclusion would leave one fewer spot for US teams, which would likely include Tour of California regulars Rally Cycling [formerly Optum-Kelly benefit Strategies] and Axel Merckx's Axeon-Hagens Berman. Holowesko-Citadel, which competed last year as Hincapie Racing, likely earned a return trip to California this year after a 2015 performance that included a stage win by Toms Skujins and three days in yellow.
Jamis, which won a stage of the race in 2013 and led the overall for three days with Janier Acevedo, would be a likely pick. Acevedo returned to the team this year after spending two years on the WorldTour with Slipstream's Garmin and Cannondale teams.
Jelly Belly-Maxxis, which at 16 years has one of the longest running sponsors in the sport, always makes a big push to get into the race, especially with a California-based sponsor. The Tour of California's start also takes place in longtime manager Danny Van Haute's hometown of San Diego.
Lupus Racing has made it clear it wants to earn invitations to the big North American races this year, and the recent addition of 2011 Tour of California winner Chris Horner backs that up. But as Airgas-Safeway learned last year, having the 2013 Vuelta a Espana winner on the roster is not a guarantee a team will get into the race.
Women's Tour of California, May 19-22
As the eighth event in the inaugural women's UCI WorldTour, the 2016 Women's Tour of California promises to bring one of the strongest women's field ever to race on American soil.
WorldTour races are required to invited the top 15 ranked teams in the world, but those teams don't necessarily need to accept the invitations. That could be good news for the American UCI teams, only three of which make that cut, according to the standings posted on the UCI's website.
Currently ranked eighth, Cyclance Pro Cycling will no doubt be at the race, as will Tibco-SVB and the UnitedHealthcare team of time trial world champion Linda Villumsen. Other US UCI teams eligible for the WorldTour Women's Tour of California race are Colavita-Bianchi, Hagens Berman-Supermint, Rally Cycling, Twenty16-Ridebiker and Visit Dallas.
Because this is the first year the race is a WorldTour event, it's harder to gauge which of the international UCI teams will make the journey to the US for the race. But teams that would have received an automatic invitation include, in order of UCI rankings, Wiggle High5, Rabo Liv, Boels-Dolmans, Canyon-SRAM, Cervelo Bigla, Orica-AIS, Hitec Products, Team Liv-Plantur, Ale Cipollini. Bepink, Poitu-Charentes.Futuroscope.86, BTC City Ljubljana, Lotto Soudal, Astana, ParkHotel Valkenburg, Lensworld Zanata and Topsport Vlaanderen-Etixx.
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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