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Amgen Tour of California — Stage 5

Bakersfield Individual Time Trial (18.4 miles/29.7 km)

Thursday, May 17

Start: 1:00 p.m. PST

Estimated Last Rider Finish: 3:49 p.m. PST

 The new Bakersfield time trial returns to the finishing circuit used for perhaps the most dramatic stage in the race’s history. It was stage 5 in the 2010 edition of the Amgen Tour that the Floyd Landis bomb dropped and Lance Armstrong crashed out of the race. Headed into the final lap of the China Grade climb, Ben Day was solo and the peloton scooped him up just miles before the finish.

The 18.4-mile out and back starts on a descent, so riders will hit 50-plus mph almost immediately. From the ramp, they’ll barrel onto the Alfred Harrel Highway and ride a straight — but not flat — line out to the turnaround point at Lake Ming. It should be hot and windy, which will only add to the fun that course’s myriad 100-foot rollers create.

This course puts a premium on strength, and riders better save some for the climb back to the start ramp: it’s up a 300-foot bluff, which they’ll be able to see the entire slog to the finish. The final climb, known as China Grade, offers up an eight-percent grade to the top, followed by a hard left before the last push, a slightly uphill half-mile run to the finish.

“I think it’s really hard to judge any stage before it’s been done,” Sutherland said. “This one? Is it challenging? Any time trial is going to be challenging. It’s one road, not many corners. You start with a steep, straight descent… You’re going to start the time trial at like 50 [mpg] an hour,” Sutherland said. “Every edition, the time trial has been very pivotal in the overall outcome.”

Will the TT decide the overall classification as it did in Solvang in 2009? No. But the individual test will soften the legs ahead of two tough days in the mountains.

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Horner defends gold in the 2011 Solvang time trial. Photo: Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com