Tour of California ready to roll: Stage 1 preview

After all the pre-race pomp and circumstance, the fifth edition of the Amgen Tour of California rolls out of gold-mining town Nevada City at 11:45 a.m. Sunday morning, finishing in Sacramento roughly four hours later. Here is a look at the course.

After all the pre-race pomp and circumstance, the fifth edition of the Amgen Tour of California rolls out of gold-mining town Nevada City at 11:45 a.m. Sunday morning, finishing in Sacramento roughly four hours later.

The profile of the first stage of the 2010 AToC favors the sprinters in the peloton.

For first time in the race’s history, there will be no prologue to determine the first wearer of the race’s golden jersey. Instead that honor will be decided on a stage designed for the sprinters.

Race fans will recognize the start city as the site of the Nevada City Bicycle Classic, a 50-year-old one-day race held in June. That race has seen several big names top its winner’s podium, including Greg LeMond, who won the race in 1979 at age 18 and followed up with two more consecutive wins. Most recently Lance Armstrong used the 1.1-mile, seven-turn criterium as his final Tour de France preparation, resulting in his only road victory of 2009 in front of an estimated 20,000 fans.
That many spectators or more are expected at the Amgen Tour’s kickoff Sunday morning before the peloton navigates a mostly downhill course, from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the pan-flat valley where the Golden State’s capitol resides.

Because of the course profile, as well as the freshness of the 16-team, 127-rider peloton, a field sprint is expected. And as is the case at any event he starts, all eyes will be on HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish to assert his dominance. Those intent on stopping “The Manxsta” include Quick Step’s Tom Boonen, Saxo Bank’s J.J. Haedo, Cervelo’s Theo Bos and Liquigas sprint specialist Francesco Chicchi.

Teams without a sprinter or overall GC ambitions — and nearly every domestic squad — will look to make the day’s breakaway, both to gain exposure and to endear themselves to race organizers.

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

Here’s what they had to say:

Levi Leipheimer (USA), RadioShack
The first stage of any race is nervous, and the Amgen Tour of California is no different. It’s the biggest race in America, and for all the domestic teams it’s the most important race of the year. It’s also very important for teams like us, with Radio Shack (as a sponsor.) We come with our best teams, and we come prepared to win. There’s that nervous, anxious feeling that you can feel in the race as soon as you start. Does that mean it will be crazy fast? Probably not. It will actually probably be pretty conservative, because everyone will want to hold their cards close to their chest. Considering the first stage is most likely going to be a field sprint, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go in the breakaway unless a domestic team wants to show its colors off the front. For a guy like myself and my team, we just have to get through it safely, and get it over with.

Dave Zabriskie (USA), Garmin-Transitions

A relaxed David Zabriskie does another round of interviews.
A relaxed David Zabriskie does another round of interviews.

It will probably be a sprint. I’m sure there will be a lot of breakaway attempts. Most likely a sprinter’s team will be taking charge of the race; that’s most likely how it will play out. It’s very important for the domestic teams to be in the breaks. Last year in Missouri it seemed like some of the domestic teams gave up attitude. They just figure that no matter what, even if we get into breakaway, they will just pull us back. That’s the name of the game, but you out there, you get exposure, and you never know, it can work. It’s worked for me a couple of times. I hope they are aggressive. I think they will be aggressive.

Rory Sutherland (Australia), UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis
We’re hitting a new city, but finishing in Sacramento as we have before. A lot of times it’s been wet in Sacramento for the finish, but it’s definitely one for the sprinters. It starts off a bit hilly to begin with, but flattens out for the finish. This time of year there could be a little bit of wind. It still could rain, but hopefully it won’t be as bad of temperatures as last year. It’s always difficult, the first stage, to really get the exposure that domestic teams are looking for. Generally as you keep going through the tour, more opportunities arise later on in the race. It looks like you could get a break up the road, and get a couple of the domestic guys in there and start the tour off right. That’s what our team will be trying to do, start the tour off on the right footing.

Mike Friedman (USA), Jelly Belly
Stage 1 is pretty straightforward, no TT this year so GC not set, it’s going to be a mad dash to the line. A breakaway may go, it may stick, but odds are it will be a sprint finish. It’s one of the few stages where I think it will be a sprint finish. It’s going to be fast and furious. Everyone is excited and fresh. I think it’s going to be an insane day. It’s going to be a mad dash for the intermediate sprint lines.

Ben Day (Australia), Fly V Australia
This is by far, on paper, the best day for the sprinters. With the start in Nevada City at 3000 feet and the finish in Sacramento near sea level, the 167km we cover could be raced at record speeds. The domestic guys are going to be super motivated, and the teams with the big sprinters will be wanting to get in an early win. I think it’s going to start off super aggressive, with high motivation amongst the riders, but I don’t expect a break to stay away to the finish. A stage win at the Tour of California is a prestigious victory, and stage 1 is going to be a hectic bunch sprint.