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Women’s Tour of California preview: Opportunity for Katie Hall

Second place in 2017, Katie Hall looks like an outright favorite at the Women's Tour of California, on a win streak so far in 2018.

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The defending champion is out, the race is one day shorter, but the 2018 Amgen Women’s Tour of California has all the elements in place for an exciting three days of racing, May 17-19.

Since Tour of California debuted a women’s race in 2008, the event has tried a multitude of formats before settling into a UCI-sanctioned multi-day stage race in 2015 before being added to the Women’s WorldTour the next year. For 2018, the race is one day shorter, compared to previous editions.

Last year’s winner Anna van der Breggen, along with her Boels-Dolmans team, will be missing from the starting line in Elk Grove. The team announced earlier last month it would not be able to make the trip due to staffing issues, choosing to remain in Europe instead. Van der Breggen earned the 2017 title by merely one second over UnitedHealthcare’s Katie Hall in the final stage.

Hall will be seeking her first overall win after a strong spring campaign, winning all three stage races thus far on the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour. She looks to be the top favorite going into North America’s only Women’s WorldTour event.

The 187-mile race for the overall should hinge on Friday’s South Lake Tahoe queen stage. Tackling Kingsbury Grade and the 7,740 summit of Luther Pass in stage 2, Hall will look to teammates Leah Thomas and Diana Peñuela to help her gain valuable seconds. Peñuela arrives in California after winning the infamous Gila Monster stage in the mountains of Silver City a few weeks ago.

“I feel good, I came off a really good off-season. I hit the gym really hard,” Hall said. “The second stage of this year’s race is where I took the yellow jersey last year. There are going to be a lot of teams competing that I haven’t seen yet this year so I don’t know how they’ll go, so that will be a whole new unknown. I hope I take home good memories and a yellow jersey.”

The USA National Team is one unknown that Hall will have to contend with. Since her Boels team is absent, 2016 California champion Megan Guarnier will race with the composite team, including Skylar Schneider, also a Boels rider, as well as 14-time national cyclocross champion Katie Compton.

Despite having three teams racing around the world, Canyon-SRAM brings a powerful squad to the Golden State. Trixi Worrack, the 2015 California champ, will lead the six-rider squad, including Alexis Ryan who will aim to upset Coryn Rivera (Sunweb) in the sprints. Climber Kasia Niewiadoma, winner of Trofeo Alfredo Binda this spring, could be another card to play on the mountainous stage 2.

“For us, it was important to show presence in Amgen Tour of California, since the tour is an important part of the UCI Women’s WorldTour calendar,” team manager Ronny Lauke said. “It was important in our season planning not only to go to California to participate but to have a competitive team that will prove inspiring racing and also aim to win.”

Rally Cycling will vie for the GC with 2017 Colorado Classic Champion, Sara Poidevin. After a breakthrough season last year, Poidevin is now a marked rider. The young Canadian has found difficulty matching the explosiveness of Hall’s attacks up the climbs in the early season but will be supported by a strong team including Kirsti Lay, Sara Bergen, and Emma White.

Other riders and teams to watch include Trek-Drops with Tayler Wiles racing her first season on the WorldTour. TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank features Emma Grant, Alice Cobb, and Ingrid Drexel, and Hagens Berman-Supermint brings Jessica Cerra and Starla Teddergreen after a successful week of racing in Southern California earlier this month.

As with the men’s race, this year’s edition for the women will be a showcase for the sprinters. Rivera earned one of her first professional victories in 2010 as a 17-year-old when she won the Sacramento crit for the first time. The 2017 Tour of Flanders champion, is hoping to repeat her 2017 stage win in Elk Grove on stage 1.

“I took a week off after the spring classics. My spring has not been ideal, dealing with a bit of sickness,” Rivera said. “I’m not feeling super well, not as good as last year of course. I want to kick off with a good start, get a sprint stage and then help the team with GC, maybe with Ruth [Winder].”

Rivera said the loss of an additional day of racing was unfortunate but that it didn’t keep Tour of California from being an important appointment on her calendar.

“Obviously, we prefer the four stages over three, but it still makes me proud to race at home,” Rivera said. “It’s like a local race for me, seeing familiar faces on familiar roads.”

Along with Rivera’s potential to win the final sprint stage, Team Sunweb will look to Ruth Winder for the overall, after a top-five GC finish in 2017 then racing with Hall on UHC.

Following the opening flat stage in Elk Grove, the race will head to the high mountains of South Lake Tahoe for the queen stage and battle for the GC. The 67.1-mile route mirrors that of 2017, including three QOMs and the Daggett summit category 1 climb, where Hall battled van der Breggen, riding away to the stage win and the yellow jersey.

After the GC battle in South Lake Tahoe, the women will head to Sacramento for the traditional final circuit race. Besides Ryan and Rivera, look for Lauretta Hanson (UnitedHealthcare), Emma White (Rally Cycling), and Chloe Dygart Owen (Twenty20) to battle for glory in the fast-finishing flats of the technical, 2.2-mile circuit. Depending on the time gaps on the general classification, the intermediate time bonuses may once again prove to be the deciding factor for the overall. The 90 minutes of racing will culminate another year of WorldTour professional women’s racing in California and crown the 2018 Amgen Tour of California winner.