• Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) won't find the Amgen Tour of California course as much to his liking in 2016 (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Gruelling is the word that immediately comes to mind when looking at the route for the Amgen Tour of California this year.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
14 May 2016 - 11:29 AM  UPDATED 14 May 2016 - 3:13 PM

The eight-day race had fallen into a familiar pattern over the past few years, with the sprinters getting plenty of opportunities to show off. The battle for the general classification came down to the combination of two mountain stages and a time trial, all of which were crucial to taking the overall victory.

Last year, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) threw a spanner in the works of the climbers by taking a mountain of bonus seconds, winning in the time trial before hanging in there on the major climb of Mt Baldy to be able to reclaim the leader’s jersey on the final stage to win by just three seconds over Julien Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep).

No longer a race for the sprinters who can handle a climb or two, in 2016 the race organisers look to have tipped the balance in favour of the attackers.

The course

It won’t be a race where Sagan can claim the overall again this season, with even the nominated ‘sprint’ stages looking like they may favour attackers more than the fast men. The medium mountains days have been replaced with race routes that are more reminiscent of an Ardennes classic than the stage of a one-week race.

The big summit finish is the climb up Gibraltar Road on Stage 3, a 12 kilometre ascent at a cruel average gradient of eight per cent. It will certainly sort out who are the best on the steep slopes and it will restrict the potential overall winners of the race to the top handful of climbers.

The beauty of the parcours is that there is plenty of opportunity for other stages to be decisive as well. This could happen over the long grind from sea level to 2,615 metres of altitude on the Lake Tahoe finish or the seven ascents of Stage 7 around Santa Rosa.

Almost every day of racing has the potential to break apart and it will be compulsive, edge-of-the-seat viewing.

The stage seekers

As per usual the race has attracted a star cast of sprinters, with Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) and of course Peter Sagan all present. The world champion has 13 stage wins over six years of appearing at the Amgen Tour of California and he’ll be returning from a long layoff after the classics.

John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) is making a return of a different kind after his long recovery from the head-on collision with a car at the team’s pre-season training camp. He’ll be building form, unfortunately he’s not expected to compete with the top fast men here.

Degenkolb to re-find race rhythm at Amgen Tour of California
The eight-day Amgen Tour of California starts on Sunday and will see John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) continue his return to form after he and his team-mates were hit by a car during a training ride earlier this year.

Stages 1 and 8 are the only ‘nailed on’ sprint stages and it might be a comparatively barren time for the sprinters.

For the general classification there are a wide variety of riders who will fancy their chances on this wide open course.

The GC hopefuls

Rohan Dennis (BMC) would be the favourite on his best form, as he is guaranteed to put significant time into almost everyone in the 20 kilometre time trial and climbs as well as anyone. Dennis has said that he is focusing almost exclusively on his time-trialing in preparation for the Olympics this year, so it is less likely that he’ll be at top form for attacking the general classification here.

Bradley Wiggins (Team Wiggins) will be leading his own squad into the Tour of California and he has had success here in the past, winning the 2014 edition. That was his last general classification win however and with his very specific preparation for the track programme at the Olympics, it will be a big surprise if he emerges as the best here.

Patrick Bevin (Cannondale) is a recent addition to the World Tour, stepping up from the Australian National Road Series which he won last year. He’s more of an all-rounder than a pure climber and there will be a lot of stages that will suit the New Zealander’s abilities. He has been training the house down according to his numbers, see the tweet below for proof.

Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis) is an Aussie who doesn’t get much air time at home, but he is a well-established rider on the American scene. He is fresh off an overall win at the Tour of Gila, and whilst it isn’t the same level of race as the Amgen Tour of California, his win came over some of the best climbers in the USA.

There are more contenders that are worthy of mention and names that will certainly be there or thereabouts in the fight for the leader’s jersey. Lawson Craddock (Cannondale), Robert Gesink (Lotto NL-Jumbo), Tiago Machado (Katusha), Tao Geoghan Hart (Axeon Hagens Berman), Laurens Ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin), Peter Kennaugh and Gianni Moscon (both Team Sky) are all riders that wouldn’t be overly surprising to see climb to the top step of the podium in Sacramento on the final day.

SBS will broadcast the every stage of Amgen Tour of California online and on SBS2. 

All times are AEST. Please check your local guides for SBS2 TV details.

Monday 16 May 2016
0700 - 0900 AEST

Tuesday 17 May 2016
0700 - 0900 AEST

Wednesday 18 May 2016
0700 - 0900 AEST

Thursday 19 May 2016
0700 - 0900 AEST

Friday 20 May 2016
0700 - 0900 AEST

Saturday 21 May 2016
0700 - 0900 AEST

Sunday 22 May 2016
0700 - 0900 AEST