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Amgen Tour talent — Wiggins, Sagan, Kristoff confirmed

SANTA ROSA, California (VN) — Defending champ Peter Sagan, former race winner Bradley Wiggins, as well as premier sprinters Mark Cavendish and Alexander Kristoff, were among the star cyclists named Tuesday to compete in the Amgen Tour of California.

During a late-morning outdoor press conference, following a 30-mile group ride with about 100 locals and a dozen men and women pros, 18 men’s teams, including an event record 10 WorldTour squads, were named for the May 15-22 event. Eighteen teams were also announced to compete in the women’s stage race, May 19-22, in the inaugural year of the UCI Women’s WorldTour.

The 11th annual men’s stage race will begin in San Diego and advance south to north for only the second time. The men’s and women’s races will end in Sacramento.

The composition of the race field isn’t usually announced until just prior to the event. But the participation of many notable riders was confirmed when organizers unveiled the participating teams.

Cannondale, Trek – Segafredo, and BMC, the three U.S.-licensed WorldTour teams, are entered. They will be joined by two American Pro Continental teams and four U.S. Continental squads. Last year, in total, eight WorldTour, four Pro Continental and six Continental teams competed. The technical direction of the event will be organized by ASO, the Tour de France owner, for the first time, which may have contributed to the stacked field.

“It looks like it will be one of the hardest editions ever,” said Tyler Williams of Santa Rosa, a young Axeon Hagens Berman rider hopeful to compete in the event for the first time. “It’s exciting for our team because we are a young team, and it gives a chance to show what we are capable of.”

“Last season was an incredible one for me,” Sagan said via a press release. “The Amgen Tour of California is one of my favorite races of the season. I’ve done well and had the honor of wearing yellow, and it’s important to me to build upon where I left off last year.” Tinkoff’s world champion, who has a record 13 career TOC stage wins, will be in the mix of a formidable lineup.

Etixx – Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe, runner-up to Sagan last year, will also compete, as will Rohan Dennis (BMC), the 2015 USA Pro Challenge winner who claimed the 2015 Tour de France’s first yellow jersey when he pedaled to the fastest time trial in the event’s history.

Cavendish (Dimension Data), who won four California stages last year and has nine in his career, will be matched against Kristoff, Katusha’s leader. The Russian squad, ranked second in the world, will compete in the event for the first time. Kristoff had 20 wins last season and has five to date this season.

“I hope in May I will still manage to beat Mark Cavendish in the sprints at the Amgen Tour of California, as I was able to do in the first race we did together this year, the Tour of Qatar,” said Kristoff, also via a statement. “I’m well aware that Cav won some stages in California last year and that Peter Sagan won the overall. In bringing Team Katusha to California for the first time, I’ll do my best to arrive in good shape and fight for victories.”

Neilson Powless who rode with his Axeon Hagens Berman teammate in the morning group ride, reiterated the strength of the pending race’s lineup. “Being in an event like this with the best riders in the world will really bring out the best in us; We can rise to the occasion,” said Powless. “It’s just a great opportunity for the guys who are aspiring to do this for a living.”

Wiggins, who won the tour two years ago after a dominating opening individual time trial in Folsom, will return with his eponymous squad as he prepares for Summer Olympics.

“The last edition I raced, I ended the week atop the podium,” said Wiggins, also via a statement. “This time, I’m bringing my own team as part of our prep for the Rio Games. It’s one of the best races in the world, we have some great young talent in the team, and so I’m excited to see what we can do.”

Megan Guarnier, the current U.S. road champion, as well as two-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, and Evelyn Stevens, who recently set the UCI women’s hour record, were confirmed for the women’s field.

For the second straight year, the team employing Chris Horner won’t compete. The 2011 Amgen Tour winner and 2012 Vuelta a Espana champ signed in February with Lupus after a season with Safeway-Airgas. It had hoped to compete in California via Horner’s credentials but was also snubbed.

“We considered them and had conversations, yes, of course,” said Kristin Klein, the race’s executive director. “I have nothing but respect for what they’re doing with the program, but we just didn’t have enough spots.” Klein said teams for the event were picked before Horner was signed by Lupus.