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Bradley Wiggins says he’s ready to take on Amgen Tour of California

The former Tour de France champ is the biggest name on the marquee, but Stetina hopes to give him a run for his money

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SACRAMENTO (VN) — Bradley Wiggins said he is prepared and ready to take on the Amgen Tour of California’s 20km time trial and two summit finishes.

The Sky rider was one of a dozen riders to attend a pre-race press conference Friday afternoon in Sacramento; others included Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing).

Wiggins is the marquee name of GC favorites among a field free of former winners.

Last year’s winner, Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) chose not to defend his title. 2012 champion Robert Gesink (Belkin) is recovering from a recent heart operation; 2011 winner Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) is recovering from a hit-and-run incident with a vehicle while training. The Saxo-Tinkoff team of 2010 champion Michael Rogers is not in California, while Levi Leipheimer, the winner of the race in 2007-09, retired at the end of the 2012 season.

That leaves Wiggins, the 2012 Tour champion, as the biggest name in attendance, and the biggest favorite for overall victory.

The eight-stage starts Sunday in Sacramento, and finishes a week later in Thousand Oaks, home to Amgen, the title sponsor for all nine editions of the California stage race.

This year’s course delivers more than 50,000 feet of climbing, and two summit finishes — atop Mount Diablo on Tuesday’s third stage, and atop Mountain High, on stage 6.

Asked about his climbing preparation, during a season that has seen him regain the muscle mass that drove him to Olympic medals on the velodrome, Wiggins said: “I’m ready for this race. I’m at the same weight I was when I won the Tour, and it is pretty much all down to power-to-weight.

“I’m where I need to be for this race. I wasn’t far off that at Paris-Roubaix, and it hasn’t changed to drastically since then. At the end of the day, it’s about producing power. We’ll find out on Tuesday.”

Wiggins stressed the importance of the race to his Sky squad, adding that team sponsor James Murdoch, son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, named the Amgen Tour as the “second-biggest race to do well in, after the Tour de France.” The Sky team is sponsored by California-based 21st Century Fox, which is owned and managed by the Murdoch family.

“I think that shows the importance of the race, and why we’re here,” Wiggins said. “The way course is designed, after three days we’ll see how the GC should potentially look when we get to L.A. There’s a lot that is going to happen [over the first three stages], we should see the strongest guys come to the front straight away, which should maybe settle the race down for a few days.”

Asked about potential GC challengers, Wiggins didn’t name anyone specifically.

“I never really do look at start lists. It’s always best to try to focus on yourself, you never know where everyone is at,” Wiggins said. “It is what it is, we’ll see in the first few days, who’s got it, and who doesn’t.”

Wiggins may likely see his greatest competition in the form of 26-year-old American Peter Stetina, who will be racing as a protected GC leader for the first time in his career. A talented climber, Stetina will struggle against Wiggins in the time trial, but may be able to distance him on Diablo and Mountain High.

“Our team has checked all boxes,” Stetina said. “We have Taylor Phinney for the time trial, and Thor Hushovd and Greg Van Avermaet for the flat stages, and I’m honored that, as a new rider, the team has put its faith in me for the GC, especially as we are defending Tejay van Garderen’s title from last year.

“I took this seriously and made sure I did my homework. I’ve checked out a lot of the route, and other parts of the route I’ve done in gran fondos, or winter training. It’s a really balanced route, and it should be a lot of fun.”

A pair of concurrent women’s races will be held on Sunday and Monday — a circuit race, in Sacramento, and Monday’s 20km time trial. Twenty women will compete in the time trial; 17 have been selected by race organizers, with the remaining three to be nominated by the teams of the top-three finishers in the circuit race. The two races stand alone as events; there will be no time differences carried over between the two.

“I’m excited that AEG stepped up and added a women’s race,” said UnitedHealthcare rider Alison Powers, the U.S. national criterium champion. “It’s great that we get to race alongside the UnitedHealthcare men’s team. We have a little rivalry with the team, who will do better? We hope to show up the boys.”

Race notes

The Amgen Tour of California is owned by AEG, based in Los Angeles, and operated by Medalist Sports, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Daily television coverage is produced in partnership with Tour de France owners Amaury Sports Organisation and NBC Sports Group.

Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, and recently retired Garmin-Sharp rider Christian Vande Velde will provide commentary for each day of NBC Sports Group’s coverage, along with reporters Steve Schlanger and Steve Porino.