Preview: World’s best women head to Tour of California

The Amgen Women's Tour of California will offer five days of racing. American Megan Guarnier aims to defend her 2016 title.

The Tour of California kicks off this week with four days of Women’s WorldTour racing. American Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) returns to defend her title. Tour of Flanders winner Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) eyes a win in her hometown race. The women’s event kicks off Thursday with the first two stages in South Lake Tahoe followed by two more in Sacramento.

The route

Stage 1

The race starts with a picturesque 117-kilometer loop around Lake Tahoe in a clockwise direction. The stage features two sprints, 5,300 feet of elevation gain, and two Queen of the Mountain (QOM) climbs. The final climb is a short but brutal 1.7-kilometer ascent (5.9% average) back to the finish at Heavenly Mountain Resort.

There’s potential for small time gaps to form on the short climb to the finish, but we’ll likely see the main contenders grouped closely together. Watch for strong winds off the lake to shake things up throughout the stage. A moment of inattention could spell disaster for GC riders.

Stage 2

Stage 2 is an exciting new course for the Tour of California with a 108-kilometer loop to the southwest of Lake Tahoe. Just 20 kilometers into the race, riders will contest the first of three QOMs on the day with the 6.6-kilometer (6% average) climb up Luther Pass. After cresting the 7,740-foot summit they’ll have a quick descent into the Carson River Basin.

Racers will tackle the Kingsbury Grade climb, which hasn’t been included in the Tour of California before, after approximately 50 kilometers of rolling terrain. The 12.6-kilometer “Grade” averages a 6.1% and gains 2,700 feet in elevation.

The final QOM of the stage will await the riders at the finish with the same 1.7-kilometer climb as the finish of stage 1. With three significant climbs on the day, stage 2 will be decisive. The first climb should pare down the field to a smaller group but the main action will happen on the long climb toward the finish.

Stage 3

After two stages in the mountains around Lake Tahoe, the women’s Tour of California drops down to the flatter, hotter roads of Sacramento. Stage 3 will be a very fast and flat race that should guarantee a day for the sprinters. They’ll cover 118 kilometers on a pancake-flat course and finish at the capital building in the center of Sacramento.

Stage 4

The women’s race concludes with speed and excitement on a 70-kilometer circuit race around Sacramento’s capital. Riders will cover 20 laps of the technical 3.5-kilometer course that includes six corners per lap. The women’s Capital Circuit Race starts shortly after the men depart to begin the first stage of their seven-day Tour of California race.

It’ll be another day for the sprinters and more specifically for the criterium specialists. The GC competition should be settled at this point so these riders will be focused and anxious to stay clear of crashes or splits in the field.

The contenders

Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans)
Guarnier returns to defend her 2016 Tour of California win with a strong Boels-Dolmans team behind her. She’s had a slow start to the year due to an early season crash and a resulting head injury. The 32-year-old is an excellent climber and will look to stage 2 for an opportunity to secure the GC.

Coryn Rivera (Team Suweb)
Rivera had a hugely successful spring campaign in Europe, winning two WWT events including the iconic Tour of Flanders. Her mix of sprinting and climbing capabilities put in her in contention for all four stages and a solid shot at the overall. The Southern Californian is excited and motivated to be back racing in her home state again.

Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans)
Guarnier’s teammate won all three Ardennes races several weeks ago and is on impressive form. She’s the Olympic gold medalist and will be hard to beat on the long Grade climb of stage 2. The only question is whether she’ll work for her American teammate at the only U.S. Women’s WorldTour race on the calendar.

Chloe Dygert (Sho-Air Twenty20)
This 20-year old phenom recently racked up more world championship medals at the UCI Track World Championships in Tokyo. She’s incredibly strong racer but fairly untested when it comes to road racing on the WWT level. This will be a chance to see what the young American is capable of in a major stage race.

Trixi Worrack (Canyon-SRAM)
The 2015 Tour of California winner is back after missing last year’s race due to an early season crash that sidelined the German rider. Worrack underwent emergency surgery and had her kidney removed after a serious crash at Trofeo Alfredo Binda last year. The experienced racer is back, though, and she has a strong Canyon-SRAM team supporting her in the tough California race.

Taylor Wiles (UnitedHealthcare)
Coming off an emphatic win at the Tour of the Gila several weeks ago, Wiles and her UHC team are eager to showcase their strength at the only WWT race in the U.S. this season. Wiles’s European and WWT racing experience will come in handy when facing off with the likes of van der Breggen and Worrack.

Kirsten Wild (Cylance)
Wild’s super-fast sprint finish will come in handy on the final two stages with their flat profiles. While she won’t be in the hunt for an overall GC victory due to the climbs on stage 2, Wild could score multiple stage wins.