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Tour of California 2016: Longer, tougher

FOLSOM, California (VN) — Details of the longest and, on paper, the most difficult edition of the Amgen Tour of California were announced Thursday in an outdoor press conference at the chamber of commerce of the historic city.

The race’s 11th edition, scheduled May 15-22, was originally announced last October but without route distances or details of either the men’s or corresponding four-day women’s race. For only the second time, the men’s race will progress south to north, from San Diego to Sacramento, covering 782.7 miles, the longest trek since the event’s 2006 debut.

“We were challenged by our partner, ASO, to come up with something iconic, and we think we have,” said race technical director Eric Smith, who detailed each stage of the men’s and women’s race before a few host city officials and about 100 cyclists who participated in an earlier 25-mile ride with new race ambassador Fred Rodriguez, the four-time U.S. national champion.

The eight-day men’s race will include about 65,000 feet of climbing, the most the race has faced. After two stages that appear to be sprinters’ days, stage 3 will be the queen stage, a day race directors have planned for a decade. The stage will begin in Thousand Oaks and finish with a 10km climb of Gibraltar Road with an average eight percent gradient. The well-known Southern California ascent was recently repaved.

Stages 4 and 5 will combine for nearly 430km. Stage 4 will start in Morro Bay and end after a long haul along the Pacific Coast Highway to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. A 16 percent grade awaits in the final mile entering the racetrack. Stage 5 will take the peloton from Lodi to South Lake Tahoe. The stage will include more than 10,000 feet of climbing. The event has never had back-to-back stages of more than 200km.

The slightly amended — and likely decisive — stage 6 individual time trial in Folsom will be followed by the final two stages, which finish in Santa Rosa and Sacramento. The final day of racing in California’s capital features circuits around the state capital.

The four-stage women’s race will be included in the inaugural UCI Women’s WorldTour, one of two U.S. races on the new circuit. The women will ride four stages, beginning May 19 with a tour around Lake Tahoe. A rarely held women’s team time trial will coincide with the men’s ITT in Folsom. Women will be finish in Santa Rosa before the men’s stage 7 finish, and the women’s field will finish with a 20-lap criterium in Sacramento, the same day the men’s race wraps up.

“I love vacationing in Lake Tahoe, but it won’t be a vacation this time,” said Krista Doebel-Hickok (Cylance), who joined Rodriguez at the press conference and will compete in the event for the first time. “”The climbing looks great, but every day looks hard. A 90-minute criterium is hardly a day off on the bike.”

Tour of California officials previously announced that Bradley Wiggins, the 2014 Tour of California winner, will return. No additional teams or riders were announced Thursday, with officials saying they were in negotiations with Peter Sagan, the defending champ and reigning world road champion.

2016 men’s race route

Stage 1, May 15: San Diego, 170.5km, sprint finish.
Stage 2, May 16: South Pasadena to Santa Clarita, 148km, sprint finish.
Stage 3, May 17: Thousand Oaks to Santa Barbara County (Gibraltar Road), 167.5km, queen stage, summit finish.
Stage 4, May 18: Morro Bay to Monterey County at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway, 215km, reduced-bunch sprint finish.
Stage 5, May 19: Lodi to South Lake Tahoe, 213km, reduced-bunch sprint finish. Uphill finish.
Stage 6, May 20: Folsom time trial, 20.3km.
Stage 7, May 21: Santa Rosa 175.4km, reduced-bunch sprint finish.
Stage 8, May 22: Sacramento, 149.7km, sprint finish.

2016 women’s race route

Stage 1, May 19: South Lake Tahoe, 117km, reduced-bunch sprint finish.
Stage 2, May 20: Folsom team time trial, 20.3km.
Stage 3, May 21: Santa Rosa, 111km, reduced-bunch sprint finish.
Stage 4, May 22: Sacramento circuit race, 66km, sprint finish.