Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.
Cheering for the domestic U.S. teams at the Amgen Tour of California is kind of like rooting for the Denver Broncos in those Super Bowls from the 1980s. You know that the WorldTour squads from Europe will probably crush the locals. So instead of praying for an outright victory, you hope for stage wins, an impressive attack, or maybe just a top-10 finish in the final GC.
Perhaps this strategy is not as fun as rooting for the overall. But hey, it’s more fun that cheering for John Elway to throw one touchdown against the 1989 Redskins.
Plus, the domestic riders regularly score impressive results. In 2013 Janier Acevedo won a stage and finished third while riding for Jamis – Hagens Berman. In 2014 Will Routley won a stage for Optum – Kelly Benefits. And who can forget Toms Skujins’s solo stage win over Mt. Hamilton last year?
So what are the high points this year? I’ve ranked my top-five favorite moments below.
5. Lachlan Morton’s attack on Gibraltar Road
I wasn’t surprised to see Jelly Belly’s Lachlan Morton momentarily ride away from the group of favorites on Gibraltar Road during stage 3. Morton is probably the best climber in the U.S. peloton, and he showed his impressive form by winning the Tour of the Gila the other week.
Morton didn’t win, but his move had me shouting at my computer.
I was hopeful that a stage win could boost Morton’s topsy-turvy career path. It wasn’t that long ago that Morton was Garmin’s wunderkind. Many of us predicted he would one drop the world’s best up the Galibier or Stelvio. So far, that hasn’t happened. For those unfamiliar with Morton’s career path, I suggest reading Chris Case’s excellent feature on Morton’s return to racing.
It’s too bad that an untimely crash at the base of Wednesday’s final climb torpedoed Morton’s GC hopes and knocked him out of the race. Hopefully he’ll be back in the peloton soon.
4. Evan Huffman’s KOM jersey
Historically, the king of the mountains prize at the Amgen Tour of California and USA Pro Cycling Challenge has been an attractive (and realistic) prize for domestic riders. So it wasn’t surprising to see Evan Huffman pursue and then win the KOM jersey. His prize earned Rally Cycling some bragging rights, and gave the domestic peloton a spot in the final jersey presentation.
Huffman had to work for it, of course. He rode in the breakaway during stages 2, 3, and 7. During his first breakaway, he attacked and beat Ben King to the KOM points on three separate occasions. His Rally Cycling teammates also took turns riding in breakaways, defending his lead.
Huffman’s KOM win also gives domestic squads a historical advantage at the Tour of California. Domestic teams have now won the KOM prize six out of 11 times.
3. Neilson Powless
Five years from now, we will probably look back on the 2016 Amgen Tour of California as Neilson Powless’s coming out party. Today, we can only hypothesize what the future holds for the youngster, once he hits his prime. He’s only 19, so the future seems quite bright. Will he win a grand tour stage, or become a perennial challenger for the Tour of California overall? Will he be capable of growing facial hair? Only time will tell.
What we do know is that Powless can already ride with some of the world’s top cyclists whenever the road goes uphill. He’s also a capable stage racer. Usually, the honor of top domestic GC finisher in California goes to a cagy veteran, not an upstart. Powless took top honors this year, finishing ninth, 1:30 behind Julian Alaphilippe.
2. Twenty16 – Ridebiker’s upset TTT win
It’s no secret that team Boels – Dolmans is the most dominant squad in women’s cycling at the moment, thanks to the efforts of Brit Lizzie Armistead. So when the Dutch team lined up for the team time trial at the women’s Tour of California, all signs pointed toward a Boels win. Armistead was not there, however the team had current hour record holder Evelyn Stevens and fast finisher Megan Guarnier on the squad.
But Kristin Armstrong’s Twenty16 – Ridebiker upset Boels – Dolmans, winning by six seconds. The result shows that Armstrong, 42, is on track for her attempt to win a third-consecutive Olympic gold medal in the individual time trial.
1. Axeon Hagens Berman
Every few years, an entire cohort of young riders seem to make a giant leap forward in performance. I remember attending the 2009 Redlands Bicycle Classic and watching then U23 riders Peter Stetina, Alex Howes, and Danny Summerhill carve up the peloton on the Felt – Holowesko Partners development team. You knew that these guys were on their way to the big time.
There’s a similar buzz around Axeon Hagens Berman this year. The team left California with Neilson Powless’s best young rider victory, as well as the second spot on team GC.
Those results aside, I was impressed by how often Axeon riders were constantly on the attack. From the moment William Barta made the breakaway on stage 2, Axeon riders were always in the camera. Powless was fifth on Gibraltar Road after his teammate Gregory Daniel rode in the break. Daniel was a breakaway hero the following day, and after he was brought back, teammate Ruben Guerreiro went up the road. Logan Owen and Krists Neilands then jumped into breakaways on subsequent days.
The Axeon boys certainly earned their post-race victory beers. I’m sure they’ll enjoy those beverages someday, when they’re old enough to drink.