When Amgen Tour of California organizers designed this year’s route, they specifically wanted a final stage difficult enough to upend the general classification. AEG Sports president Andrew Messick had a hand in utilizing his local ride just north of Los Angeles, the Rock Store Loop, while also incorporating the corporate headquarters of title sponsor Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks.

The result is an 84-mile stage — four 21-mile circuits that travel through Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village and Agoura Hills. What starts as a beautiful rolling stage gets a bit challenging at Mulholland Highway. Long regarded as one of the most scenic climbs in southern California and a favorite haunt of motorcyclists, Mulholland Highway features steep climbs and numerous switchbacks. Locals refer to the climb by the Rock Store, a biker bar situated at the base of the climb.

This is the final chance for Zabriskie, Leipheimer and others to overtake Rogers.
This is the final chance for Zabriskie, Leipheimer and others to overtake Rogers.

As the riders pass the Malibu Family Winery, they will begin a dangerous and technical descent on Westlake Boulevard. In under an hour, riders will be back at the finish line and bracing themselves for three more laps.

Prior to this year’s Amgen Tour of California, VeloNews sat down with five riders for a stage-by-stage breakdown. Those riders — Levi Leipheimer, Dave Zabriskie, Ben Day, Mike Friedman and Rory Sutherland — have formed an expert panel VeloNews.com referred to all week for insider analysis.

Zabriskie currently sits second overall, nine seconds behind Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia). Leipheimer sits third overall, 25 seconds down, and Sutherland sits fifth overall, 1:26 down. Day was forced to abandon after a concussion on stage 6. Friedman finished stage 6 within the time cut but was not listed on the stage 7 results.

Here’s what they had to say prior to the race:

Levi Leipheimer (USA), RadioShack:
It’s not an easy stage, certainly not if you have leader’s jersey and your team is trying to control the race. Then again, if you’re in the lead and you’ve gotten to that point, you’re strong, and your team is strong, so you should be up for it if you don’t make any mistakes. I’ve heard conflicting reports on the circuit. I’ve heard that it’s hard, and I’ve heard it’s not that hard. The elevation gain is not huge. I know the downhill is really fast, but we do it four times, so we’ll have a chance to see it. Anything is possible. You never know. That’s the day when someone is close, and they’re angry, they’re going to throw everything into it.

Dave Zabriskie (USA), Garmin-Transitions:
That’s one of my standard training rides. I do that Rock Store climb probably every day. It’s not easy. Especially after Big Bear and the TT, it’s going to be very hard. I don’t think it’s going to be an easy day. It depends how aggressive people will be able to be at that point, if they have any energy left, and if they are aggressive, and big groups go, how aggressive the chase is, how much can people tolerate, how much they can survive. And having circuits like that is sort of like the last day at Paris-Nice — “ah, well, there’s the car, there’s the hotel, why not (drop out)? I’m already out of it.” We could see a small amount of finishers, but I think people will try to finish. Nobody likes to drop out.

Rory Sutherland (Australia), UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis:
The first few years of the Amgen Tour of California the last stage wasn’t so hard, when it finished in Long Beach. This year they’ve made it a tough last stage. That makes it exciting to the last day, which, as a rider, you look forward to, cruising on that final stage and seeing fans and family and relaxing a bit. At the same time, it’s another opportunity to win a bike race. I’m pretty excited about the circuit they’ve chosen. It suits a breakaway, especially that far into the race, after the mountains and the time trial, there will be a lot of gaps on GC. I think everyone will be pretty cooked on the eighth day of racing. It’s a great stage for the opportunistic rider to get away and descend down to the finish. Even though it’s a hard circuit, it’s dependent on how it’s raced. It will be an exciting finish.

Mike Friedman (USA), Jelly Belly:
Mulholland Highway is not a small climb. It’s a hard day, and if the GC is close it’ll make the race fast and furious, with a lot of attacks. It could be one of the most epic days, the day. Things could really change a lot, and a lot of teams will know that.

Ben Day (Australia), Fly V Australia:
We had a training camp this year in Agoura Hills. It’s a very tough circuit. We rode quite a few laps. The climb is quite significant. It’s going to be a very aggressive stage. For a team to control this stage they’re going to have to ride very, very hard. It’s about a 10-minute climb at 400 watts. The team leading the tour is going to have to ride a very solid tempo. Over the top of each of the climbs it’s a little bit undulating, and I believe that’s where we’re going to see attacks and a lot of pressure, and the bunch completely strung out. I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of people come to the finish line. This is no Champs-Élysées. It’s going to be very difficult. I think we’re going to see a group of 20 or 30 come into the finish. I think the team that is leading the tour has already shown they’re very strong enough to come to the finish and protect their leader, and I think it’s out of that group that we’re going to see a sprint finish contested by those guys who are very good all-arounders. There will be no piano riding, no easy riding, very little chance for recovery. It’s also a tricky descent on this course, and I hope everyone is going to get down it safely. It’s very tight, very technical, and very close to the finish as well.