By Dirk Friel
It is often said that races are won – and lost – in the off season.
One thing is certain: The rider who steps to the top of the podium on the last day of 2008 Tour of California has surely been training with rock-solid focus over these past few months, and those who haven’t will soon pay the price. The Tour of California is back with a vengeance.
There is no dancing around the fact that this year’s Tour of California simply has bigger mountains to overcome, which will allow more of the climbers to take center stage as compared to last year’s race. Indeed, there is only one stage that could be classified as less demanding than the 2007 edition. After last year’s nearly vertical prologue in San Francisco, the 2.1-mile opener has been moved to a flat course in Palo Alto.
Virtually every other stage has either remained the same or has been significantly altered to include more climbing. Once stage 3 begins will be little opportunity to simply sit in and cruise with the peloton. From that point on, riders will duke it out right up to the finish line on the final day, February 24th, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Stage 3 between Modesto and San Jose now includes an additional 40-mile stretch that rises from barely above sea level to an altitude of 4360 feet atop Mt. Hamilton. If the hors categorie climb up Mt. Hamilton doesn’t split the field, the final Category 1 up Sierra Road will for sure.
Even the final stage between Santa Clarita and Pasadena offers race fans an opportunity to possibly see a change in the GC podium positions as riders tackle the highest climb of the week up to the Millcreek Summit at 4906 feet above sea level.
The hardest day
In reviewing the 2007 race data from Mario Aerts of Predictor-Lotto, we can see that stage 4 between Seaside and San Luis Obispo was the hardest stage in terms of total time related to intensity. Aerts accumulated 332 Training Stress Score (TSS) points and burned over 4000kJ’s on this monstrous five-and-a-half hour stage. This stage remains exactly as it was in 2007 and will most likely finish in a field sprint. You might recall that Paolo Bettini won that charge to the line last year. In contrast, this year’s stage 3 will probably be the most demanding due, with the two climbs mentioned above, as well as four other Cat. 4 ascents.
The easiest day
Stage 7 in Long Beach was last year’s least demanding stage for Mario with only 124 TSS points and just under 2000KJ’s. Long Beach was more or less a victory parade, with little relevance other than to see who still had a good sprint after seven days of racing. The Long Beach circuit has been removed for 2008, leaving stage 2 to Sacramento as the stage likely to demand the least from riders in this year’s Tour. Still, that stage is not to be taken lightly. In terms of energy utilization it may be the least demanding but fast flat finishes can also be exposed to crosswinds and dangerous situations. The top contenders will need to place themselves near the front as they enter Sacramento in an attempt to stay ahead of likely crashes and splits in the field.
The toughest six minutes
In reviewing last year’s data, it was interesting to find that for Aerts the most difficult six-minute effort during the entire week came in the slopes of the category 3 climb of Coleman Valley as the peloton rode to Santa Rosa on stage 1. Aerts averaged 442 watts for six minutes on this climb. That stage remains the same this year and spectators will get the chance to see the riders on the first demanding climb of the week.
The 2007 Tour of California saw the abandonment of Dave Zabriskie after he crashed descending the Coleman Valley Rd, and we almost Levi Leipheimer’s chances at an overall win almost go up in smoke as he and others got tangled up in a finishing circuit crash. If it hadn’t been for a ruling by officials, the crash would have put the eventual Tour winner more than one minute behind the leaders.
The toughest 20 minutes
For Aerts, the toughest 20-minute segment last year was a sustained 385-watt effort on the demanding Cat. 1 climb up Sierra Road during stage 3 to San Jose. This stage will once again prove to be a determining factor in who wins the final overall classification. Race fans last year were able see Leipheimer and Chris Horner separate themselves from the peloton on this brutal climb and bridge up to an early break. This year expect the race to be completely splintered by this point as the course will have already traversed Mt. Hamilton and climbed more than 4000 vertical feet before the Sierra climb even starts.
The Race of Truth
The time trial is a tough and lonely effort and there’s no where to hide when you’re out there racing against the clock. The stage 5 Solvang time trial is nearly identical to last year’s, meaning there will be plenty of hills and a strong likelihood of wind as well. Given the diversity of the course, it’s difficult for riders to establish any sort of rhythm as they tackle this 15 mile course. There is barely a straight and flat piece of real estate anywhere around Solvang, which creates an undulating and blustery course. The highlight of the circuit is a short half mile climb at mile nine.
Time for Business
Training is over and it is time to buckle down and see who has been focused over the winter months. Stay tuned to VeloNews.com for Tour of California race analysis, and for all 2007 Tour of California race files visit www.trainingpeaks.com.
Dirk Friel raced professionally on the roads of Europe, Asia and the Americas. He is a co-founder of TrainingPeaks.com and co-authored “Workouts in a Binder for Indoor Cycling.” He may
be reached by e-mail at Dirk@Peaksware.com.