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Tour of California offers usual extra helping of gruel for cycling’s elite

Slovakia’s Peter Sagan, wearing the best sprinter’s green jersey, celebrates as he crosses the finis
Peter Sagan celebrates after winning the fifth stage of last year’s Tour de France. Sagan will be competing in the Amgen Tour of California, which starts Sunday.
(Christophe Ena / Associated Press)

The 2019 Amgen Tour of California has something different in store for 19 teams of elite cyclists who line up at Sunday’s start in Sacramento.

Over seven days, they will face high-altitude racing in South Lake Tahoe, a climb up Mount Hamilton in the San Francisco Bay Area and a brutal ascent of Mt. Baldy that could decide the overall winner.

As New Zealand rider George Bennett put it: “I think it’s going to be a challenging week.”

This edition of the Amgen Tour will cover about 778 miles and includes 68,000 feet of elevation gain and 25 King of the Mountain climbs, all of which make for the longest and most-difficult course in the event’s 14-year history.

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The field will include several past winners, including Bennett, Tejay van Garderen and Peter Sagan, who also holds the tour career record with 16 stage wins.

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Mark Cavendish, a British sprinter and fan favorite who has struggled with Epstein-Barr virus for much of the past two years, will return.

“It’s one of the most important races on the calendar,” Cavendish said. “With that comes a bigger challenge to win.”

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The challenge begins with an 89-mile ride around the state capital on the sort of terrain that Sagan and Cavendish prefer.

“We can warm up on the flats because after that, it’s going to be hard,” Sagan said. “A lot of climbs.”

Stage 2 heads east into the Sierra Nevada, followed by Stage 3 and that mountain south of San Francisco. The ensuing, less-vertical days are noteworthy for what they don’t have.

The lack of a time trial hurts van Garderen, who specializes in that type of stage.

“Everyone would want to build a course that is suited to their strengths,” he said. “You can’t dwell on it. You just have to play the hand you’re dealt.”

After Stage 6 and the grueling Mt. Baldy climb, Saturday’s final stage traverses the San Gabriel Mountains before descending to the finish line outside the Rose Bowl.

“It’s all going to come down to Baldy,” Bennett said. “And staying out of trouble the rest of the days.”

The Amgen Tour also has a three-day, 178-mile women’s race beginning Thursday with 16 teams in contention. It, too, will feature a historically tough course.

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Olympic and world champion Anna Van der Breggen will highlight a field that includes last year’s winner, Katie Hall.

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Tour of California route overview

Men

Stage 1, Sunday: 88.9 miles, in and around Sacramento

Stage 2, Monday: 133.3 miles, Rancho Cordova to South Lake Tahoe

Stage 3, Tuesday: 129.2 miles, Stockton to Morgan Hill

Stage 4, Wednesday: 133.3 miles, Laguna Seca to Morro Bay

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Stage 5, Thursday: 136.4 miles, Pismo Beach to Ventura

Stage 6, Friday: 79.2 miles, Ontario to Mt.Baldy

Stage 7, Saturday: 78.3 miles, Santa Clarita to Pasadena (Rose Bowl)

Women

Stage 1, Thursday: 60 miles, in and out of Ventura Fairgrounds

Stage 2, Friday: 45 miles, Ontario to Mt. Baldy

Stage 3, Saturday: 78.3 miles, Santa Clarita to Pasadena (Rose Bowl)

david.wharton@latimes.com

Follow @LAtimesWharton on Twitter


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