Stage 5: Visalia - Bakersfield
The fifth stage will see the central valley town of Visalia play host to the start for the second year in a row, but the riders will travel to Bakersfield this year, covering 195.5km with a mid-stage trip into the Sierra Nevada mountain foothills. It's no mountain stage, but there are a few tough ascents which will play into the hands of those battling for the KOM prize.
The first mountain sprint features a punishing 14% grade before the riders get some relief on the long, gradual descent to the Kern River oil field.
As they exit the valley they'll take in a second KOM before heading into Bakersfield where the organisers have devised a crafty 3-lap finishing circuit which could ruin the plans for the sprinters.
Containing a short climb of 10% which riders will encounter three times, it will be a prime launching pad for attacks, but with 2km left to go to the finish, it will take great fortitude for any escapee to hold off the sprinters.
Stage 5 is an interesting addition to the race, in that it has a short, sharp hill up to the finish that is climbed 3 times as the race heads around the finishing circuits.
This won't be a finish for a pure sprinter, but someone like Oscar Friere or Thor Hushovd could be in the mix. It also will suit Fabian Cancellara, if he is at race weight and on form.
Can the GC change on this day? Maybe not much, but an uphill finish like this have a habit of catching one or two contenders out.
Typically there will be a 6-15 second gap between the first 10 or so riders and the rest of the peloton on this type of circuit, and positioning into the bottom of the climb will be crucial.
We'll need to be extra vigilant in keeping Dave Zabriskie out of trouble on this type of circuit, as it won't be his favorite part of the race.
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