In 2015, cyclist Peter Sagan shocked the world when he won the Amgen Tour of California by finishing the contest less than a tire length ahead of his opponent at the finish line at the Rose Bowl.
Sagan — a native of Slovakia who’s also known as the King of California for his many Amgen stage victories — will be looking for more laurels in the world-class event, which begins in Sacramento on Sunday and ends on May 20 in Pasadena.
The race, now in it’s 12th year, covers 575 miles and will end at the Pasadena Convention Center, not the Rose Bowl, due to U2 concerts scheduled for the stadium that weekend.
“Racing in California is a challenge and a joy every time,” Sagan said in a statement. “I hope to continue building on the success I’ve had at the Amgen Tour of California and know all the riders will do our best to give the incredible fans another good show this year.”
The Amgen Tour is a Tour de France-style cycling road race featuring the world’s top cyclists, including Olympic medalists, Tour de France contenders and world champions, all competing on a grueling course covering hundreds of miles.
In fact, the Amgen Tour is considered a prep event for the 2,200-mile, 21-day Tour de France, providing spectators with a preview of some of the competition for that event.
The seven-day race starts in Sacramento on Sunday and enters Southern California on May 17 with a 100-mile leg from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita.
In the penultimate leg of the race on May 18, cyclists will pedal 77 miles from Ontario to Mt. Baldy. The race concludes with a 77-mile ride from Mountain High to Pasadena on May 20.
This year many onlookers consider the roster to be one of the strongest ever in a California cycling event.
“It is a tremendous privilege that Pasadena will get to play a part in such a storied sporting event,” said Pasadena Convention Center CEO Mike Ross. “We are very excited to be the community that will crown the winner of this year’s Amgen Tour of California.”
Sagan will get plenty of competition from Mark Cavendish, who won a silver medal in last year’s Olympics.
“I’ve been racing in the Amgen Tour of California for years now, and it’s an event I look forward to,” Cavendish said. “Not only are their courses challenging, they are incredibly scenic and attract one of the best groups of fans we see every year. From a team and riders’ perspective, it’s one of the best organized events anywhere and an event that always takes great care of the riders.”
Cavandish, who has won 30 separate stages in the Tour de France, said the Amgen Tour of California is an important part of his Tour de France training due to the intense competition that it attracts.
“It’s always a battle, but I am hoping to add some more California victories this year,” Cavendish said.
The event is also known as a showcase for young talent. Last year, France’s Julian Alaphilippe, 23, became the youngest rider in race history to win.
Twenty-five year old phenom Lawson Craddock is also scheduled to participate in this year’s race. Craddock finished third in 2015 and fifth in 2016. Craddock was just one of five US riders to start in the Tour de France last year.
This year’s event will also include the 2016 Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease women’s race, which features 16 teams.
“The Amgen Tour of California is America’s greatest race, and this year more than ever the world will be watching,” said Kristin Klein, race president and executive vice president of AEG Sports, producers of the event.
“As the sport of cycling continues to bloom in America, the Amgen Tour of California men’s and women’s events are both part of the UCI World Tour for the first time, a privilege and designation reserved for the world’s premier races,” said Klein. “This means the competition will reach an all-time high, with the best racers and best teams in the world lining up to take part.”
From Sacramento, the race heads to Modesto, then to Pismo Beach, eventually entering Southern California in Santa Barbara at Stage 4 of seven stages. Cyclists will circle Lake Casitas, ride up to Balcom Canyon and finish at the Valencia Town Center in Santa Clarita.
The hilly Southern California routes are sometimes grueling, forcing cyclists to endure mountainous terrain at high altitudes.
In Stage 5, the 77.9-mile leg will start at the Ontario Convention Center. From there, participants will travel down Glendora Ridge Road and San Gabriel Canyon Road into Azusa before eventually finishing at the ski lifts at Mt. Baldy, reaching an altitude over 6,000 feet.
In Stage 6, cyclists will compete in time trials in the mountainous terrain of Big Bear.
The final 77-mile stage will start at Mountain High in Wrightwood, in the Angeles National Forest. Riders will travel the San Gabriel Mountains and Angeles Forest Highway, eventually descending into La Cañada Flintridge for- a final sprint to the Pasadena Convention Center on East Green Street.
Ninety riders are expected to still be competitive when the cyclists start coming into Pasadena at some time close to 1:30 p.m. Between 8,000 and 10,000 spectators are expected to line Green Street, Colorado Boulevard and other parts of the route to witness the riders entering Pasadena.
This is the second time the race has finished in downtown Pasadena. In 2009, the race finished in front of City Hall. After this event, a lifestyle festival will be held on East Green Street, in front of the Convention Center.
“It is always our goal to have the last day of the tour,” Ross said. “We are very excited. We get to see the winner crowned, and we are excited to see it done here in Pasadena.”