The Tour of California will serve as a true and important measure for Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan as he prepares and edges closer towards a long-awaited Tour de France debut.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
13 May 2018 - 8:45 AM  UPDATED 13 May 2018 - 11:01 AM

Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) will have a chance to pit himself against marquee rivals in Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) and Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe) at the seven-stage race.

The 23-year-old returns to competition here following a career-best performance at Milan-San Remo in which he finished second behind winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).

“It will be good to race these guys because it will be the last opportunity I get to race them before the Tour,” Ewan said. “It should be a pretty even playing field. Most of us are in the same boat, we’re not really in peak form. I’ve had almost three weeks off after San Remo, so coming back from that a little bit unfit. The first race back you never know how you are going to be feeling.”

Ewan turned professional with an incarnation of Mitchelton-Scott in 2015 and some pundits believe the team has waited too long to start the aerodynamic fast-man at the Tour de France. Team management maintains that has been a purposeful move designed to ensure the one-time Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España stage winner isn’t exhausted prematurely.

Here he will race alongside teammate and Tour de France title hopeful Adam Yates, who is one of three young climbers Mitchelton-Scott has changed and steered its general orientation around.

Sprinters haven’t been coy with each other in the lead-up to the Tour of California, all speaking plainly about their respective outlooks and aims.

Cavendish, who will continue his comeback from a so far crash-marred season, returns to the race following a year hiatus, unequivocal in his desire to win the final stage in Sacramento. The 32-year-old has triumphed there four times.

The Manxman’s posturing didn’t elicit a response from Kittel, who was sitting to his left in a pre-race press conference. The German won what was the opening stage in Sacramento last season, and appeared relaxed ahead of this year’s Long Beach opener with a new team.

“This year is a really good race for the sprinters,” Kittel said. “I wouldn’t go that far to really put pressure on us because the Tour is still quite far away. I think everyone is building up now, coming from a training period after a little bit of rest, and this is the first really important race on our way into the middle of the season, so it’s nice to start it like that.”

California offers potentially five stages for the sprinters to prevail, with stage two to Gibraltar as well as a 34.7km time trial on day four set to shape the general classification.

Equal prize money boost for Amgen Tour of California
AEG Sports has announced it will award equal prize money at the Tour of California this year as well as scrap podium girls and the “conventional winner’s kiss” from stage ceremonies.