The 10th annual Amgen Tour of California kicks off Sunday, May 10th, in the capital city of Sacramento. This year’s edition follows the Tour’s traditional north-to-south-route, with familiar stops in San Jose, Santa Barbara, Santa Clarita and Pasadena, among others. Stage 7 will be the queen stage with a summit finish at the ski resort atop the brutally steep Mount Baldy, and there will also be an individual time trial at altitude in the city of Big Bear. The 2015 Amgen Tour of California wraps up with a stage starting at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles and finishes in Pasadena. Here’s a look at our top ten riders to watch at this year’s Amgen Tour of California, which includes a few GC contenders, some top picks for the sprint stages, and some other noteworthy riders that are worth paying notice to as the pro peloton invades the Golden State. (Photos: Bettini)
ANDREW TALANSKY, CANNONDALE-GARMIN
With 2013 winner Tejay Van Garderen sitting out this year’s Tour of California, Cannondale-Garmin’s Andrew Talansky is the top American general classification hopeful. He’s had a pretty quiet 2015 season, but it’s all because he’s bidding for a solid results at the Tour de France in July, and California is a big phase of his training plans. The Cannondale-Garmin squad as a whole hasn’t achieved many victories this season, so Talansky will be hoping his teammates step up to help him get a result. Along with Talansky, Cannondale-Garmin is bringin Americans Ben King, Alex Howes, Joe Dombrowski and Ted King, who will be retiring at the end of this season.
ROBERT GESINK, LOTTO NL-JUMBO
Robert Gesink won the Amgen Tour of California back in 2012 after capturing victory on the queen stage and its infamous finish on the summit of Mount Baldy. The Dutchman hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success last season nor this year, but with Baldy on the parcours again this year, look for Gesink and his squad to make a run for the overall as the Tour nears its final few stages.
SERGIO HENAO, SKY
With last year’s Tour of California champion, Bradley Wiggins, no longer a part of Team Sky and not competing this year, the British outfit is hedging their bets on Colombian Sergio Henao to deliver a solid GC result. Henao secured second place overall at the Tour of the Basque Country earlier this year. He also had top ten results at both Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
MARK CAVENDISH, ETIXX-QUICK-STEP
Long hailed as the fastest sprinter in cycling, Mark Cavendish has a string of Tour of California stage wins to his credit, including two victories last year. The former Road Race World Champion is always a threat when it comes to sprint finishes, and the Manx Missile is coming off a hugely successful campaign at the Tour of Turkey, where he took three wins, so he’ll be on good form when he gets to California.
PETER SAGAN, TINKOFF-SAXO
Peter Sagan has been one of the most prolific riders in professional cycling over the past few seasons. But after switching to the Tinkoff-Saxo squad for 2015, the Slovakian has had, by his own high standards, a relatively lackluster season thus far. He’s had tremendous success in California before, including his 2012 campaign that saw him win an astonishing five of the eight stages, so he knows how to win in the Golden State.
ERIC MARCOTTE, SMARTSTOP
The reigning US National Champion in both the road race and criterium disciplines, Eric Marcotte will be on fine form heading into California. He’ll be eager to showcase his stars-and-stripes jersey in showdowns with some of the top European riders, so look for him and his SmartStop team, which includes four other Americans, to come out swinging. (Photo: Brian Hodes/VeloImages.)
BEN JACQUES-MAYNE, JAMIS-HAGENS BERMAN
This year marks the 10th edition of the Amgen Tour of California, and only one professional rider has contested all of them. That man is Ben Jacques-Mayne of the Jamis-Hagens Berman team. He’ll be retiring at the end of this season, so look for him to put in a strong showing in his final appearance at the Tour of California. His team’s bike sponsor, Jamis, is even giving him a custom Xenith SL race bike for the event. (Photo courtesy of Jamis.)
MICHAEL WOODS, OPTUM-KBS
Speaking of the Tour of the Gila, Michael Woods of Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies recently took victory on that tour’s final stage, the infamous “Gila Monster,” besting several of the sport’s top climbers, including Jamis’ Daniel Jaramillo. Woods’ stalwart Continental squad is bringing a mixed roster of American and Canadian riders to California, and they’ll be aiming for some stage wins with Woods a top contender for a climbing victory. (Photo courtesy of Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies.)
ROBIN CARPENTER, HINCAPIE RACING TEAM
The young American won a stage at last year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado by riding to the finish line solo. He’s an aggressive breakaway rider and should be noticeable on your television sets throughout the Tour of California as he’ll no doubt jump out of the peloton and into a breakaway scenario with an eye towards a stage win. (Photo courtesy of Felt Bicycles.)
JANEZ BRAJKOVIC, UNITED HEALTHCARE
Earlier in his career, the Slovenian rider won the Tour de Georgia, Tour of Slovenia and the Criterium du Dauphine, and has ridden for top WorldTour teams like Astana and RadioShack (now Trek Factory Racing). Brajkovic moved to the Pro Continental UHC squad for 2015 and will be the team’s GC leader, bringing over a decade of experience racing at the top level of the sport with him.