Amgen Tour of California a grueling test for riders 

click to enlarge Much like in 2010, cyclists will zip through San Francisco and down Highway 1 as part of the Tour of California. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images file photo
  • Much like in 2010, cyclists will zip through San Francisco and down Highway 1 as part of the Tour of California.

What awaits the competitors of the Tour of California is 733.5 miles of paved riding hell.

Tejay van Garderen is one of those riders, and he’s looking forward to it.

“I want to try and get on the podium this year and I think that’s possible,” said van Garderen, a member of BMC Racing. “We’re bringing a strong team with us, especially with guys like George Hincapie and Brent Bookwalter, who know the race well.”

The eight-stage race will launch in Santa Rosa on Sunday and continue until May 20, when riders cross the final finish line in Los Angeles. And it’s a bit different of from the race that van Garderen impressively placed fifth in last year, earning him the Best Young Rider jersey and accolades.

Despite the 24-year-old’s individual cycling prowess, he credited his former HTC-Highroad racing team with last year’s strong showing. And now, van Garderen will be leaning on his BMC team for the ride through the Golden State.

“I think having my teammates believing in me and being able to ride for the goal of doing well on the general classification is going to be key,” van Garderen said. “They’ve already shown that they’re willing and able to do that many times this year.”

It was that team support that the Tacoma, Wash., native had racing the Paris-Nice, where he also nabbed fifth and yet another Young Riders white jersey, and at the Tour de Romandie. But his “bad-luck” brush with a falling tree branch 50 kilometers into the fourth stage cut his ride short. 

“If I have that same level of support at the Amgen Tour of California, things will go well,” he said.

In addition to van Garderen and BMC, 15 other teams and countless riders will be vying for the coveted peak of the podium. And previous winners such as team RadioShack-Nissan-Trek’s Chris Horner and Omega-Pharma-Quick-Step’s Levi Leipheimer look to be among the top contenders.

And for eight days, those contenders will cover much ground, such as the old gold rush town of Sonora and the scaling of the 4,000-foot summit that is Mount Baldy. And despite its finale in urban Los Angeles, for most the finish line will represent the continuance of the racing season.

“The Amgen Tour of California and the Tour de France are going to be big goals, as well as the race in Colorado,” van Garderen said. “Paris-Nice was an earlier goal for me and that went pretty well. I’d also like to do well at the world championships.”

After hiatus, S.F. a host once again

Last year, San Francisco missed the boat, or rather the bike, when the Tour of California failed to pass through The City and its iconic structures.

But this year, everything is back on track.

Stage 2 of the California equivalent of the Tour de France will commence Monday at the Marina Green at roughly 11:05 a.m. Some 117 miles later, the race is estimated to end by 3:53 p.m in Aptos in Santa Cruz County.

Hitting Highway 1 will mean ending the short city stint, and starting the inevitable move south to Daly City and Pacifica. After the wretched pass of Devil’s Slide, it’ll be on to Half Moon Bay where sprinters will battle for the green jersey. By mile 60, riders will have reached Santa Cruz County. 

At mile 68, it’s into the mountains and through the woods where redwoods and vineyards serve as landmarks, and riders will vie for the King of the Mountain jersey at Empire Grade and Summit roads. After the mountain scale, it’s back down the windy roads and to Cabrillo College, where a community festival will signify the end of the second stage.

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