2013 AToC: A Local’s Eye View

The 2013 Amgen Tour of California Host Cities Announced: A Local’s Eye View

By Jen See

“Well, if you were directly above him, lieutenant, how could you see him?”
“Because I was inverted.”
“You were in a 4G, inverted dive with a Mig-28?”
“Yes, m’am.” — Top Gun http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUZxSf_P2r0

Like Maverick, the Amgen Tour of California http://www.amgentourofcalifornia.com/ is flying inverted for 2013. In a break from tradition, the race will run from south to north with the city of Escondido hosting the race’s start on 12 May. The race finishes on 19 May in Santa Rosa.

With the exception of two brief forays into the desert, the course sticks mostly to the coast in this edition. The race skips the Central Valley which has dominated the past two editions. No Bakersfield for you! With the south to north direction, the theme of the 2013 Amgen Tour of California could be wind. That’ll make the bike racers smile.

Details are scarce on the course, but the start cities give us some space for speculation. And who doesn’t like speculation during the long months of winter? What? You don’t? Uh, well, go ahead and just hit close tab already then. Spoilsport.

Stage 1: Escondido-Escondido

The opening stage starts and finishes in Escondido, northeast of San Diego. The last time the race visited Escondido, the course included the climb up Mount Palomar.

There is nothing bad about climbing Palomar, except that it summits a long way from the finish in Escondido. If the race organizers do include the Palomar climb, it will be scenic, but not decisive. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Will the organizers really throw a climb at the riders on the very first stage? It would be unusual, but not totally beyond the realm of possibility. Expect a flat circuit finish, anyway. Fans like circuits. So do sprinters.

Stage 2: Murrieta-Palm Springs

For the second stage, the race caravan rolls a short distance north up the freeway to start in Murrieta. Let’s have a guess at the route, shall we? The most logical way to get from Murrieta to Palm Springs is through the San Jacinto mountains. Should they choose this route, there will be climbing, though it will not be anything crazy.

The highest peak in the San Jacinto range, which runs north-south, parallel to the California coast, and sits east of Los Angeles, hits 10,000 feet. Fear not! The bike race will not climb to that height. Instead, the course will likely follow the Pines to Palms Highway (that’s “the 74” in local speak) and give a pass to the high mountains. From the San Jacintos, the race can descend into the Coachella Valley to finish in Palm Springs.

Weather could be a factor in this stage. Snowstorms on “the 74” are not unheard of, even in the late spring. There are a bunch of windfarms in the passes, and where there are windfarms, there is almost certainly going to be wind.

Also, it’s a bike race finishing in a desert. And not you know, one of those fake deserts. This is a real one with cactus and sand and everything. It will be hot. Get a hotel room with a nice pool. Watch the bike race finish, jump in the pool, sip colorful drinks with paper umbrellas.

Stage 3: Palmdale-Santa Clarita

Palmdale is a fixture of the Amgen Tour of California, it seems. It has the aqueduct! And Joshua Trees! That’s all I got.

The draw of Palmdale is the proximity to the San Gabriel Mountains, one of California’s transverse mountain ranges that includes previous summit finish Mount Baldy. The San Gabriel range divides Los Angeles from the Mojave desert. Palmdale is your Mojave desert gateway drug. And it has the aqueduct! I know, I know, shut up about the aqueduct and get to the bike race.

The stage finishes in Santa Clarita, which sits only about 40 miles from Palmdale. What does that mean? This course is going to get a little loopy. And in this case, loopy means climbing. The course could head east from Palmdale and climb up into the Angeles Crest. That would likely mean and out-and-back shenanigan or a long, flat traverse of the valley to get to Santa Clarita. Or both!

The course could also head into the western San Gabriels toward the “grapevine,” local speak for the Tejon Pass, and hit the climbs around Castaic Lake. If I were a betting woman, I’d bet the course heads west. Because nobody really wants to have a bike race in Pecoima. Expect assorted but not especially decisive climbing.

Stage 4: Santa Clarita-Santa Barbara

Santa Clarita is a previous start town, and the course should roll west out toward Santa Paula on the 126. From there, it could go all the way to the coast and pay a visit to Ventura. From Ventura, it would head north to the finish in Santa Barbara. This would be the scenic option, but it would require a rolling closure on the Highway 101. That’s going to cost some cash, and pretty much totally not going to happen.

More likely, the course will head north through Santa Paula and into Ojai, which is a more hilly option and does not require closing a major freeway. From Ojai, it’s a left turn to head west.

As it rolls west, the course should pass by Casitas Lake, then hit the pair of pass climbs (not hard!) over to the coast. Once the race reaches the coast, it’s a mostly flat jaunt north to Santa Barbara. You can wave to me as you pass by, I’ll be surfing Rincon.

Expect a large group at the finish, which should be under the palm trees along the beach. Hey! It’s California! We can’t help it if we’re a cliché! Also, if it were up to me, we’d add some climbing to this thing, but it’s not up to me. Pity.

Stage 5: Santa Barbara-Avila Beach

The course sticks fairly close to the coast for this next stage from Santa Barbara to Avila Beach. There’s really only one way the race is getting out of Santa Barbara, and it’s uphill. I’d expect the race to climb San Marcos Pass and descend into Santa Ynez Valley. Feel free to stop for a glass of wine. Or several!

After the initial burst of climbing, the most direct route to Avila Beach covers mostly flat terrain. The course turns west and passes through Solvang and Buellton. Then, it’s a mostly straight shot north to Vandenberg AFB, Guadalupe, Pismo Beach, and the finish town, Avila Beach.

There’s not much to stop the wind, a few scattered sand dunes, maybe. If the weather does its usual thing, the riders will race straight into a northwest headwind. It could be a bit of a slog, really.

If it were up to me, I’d detour this stage over Figueroa Mountain, never mind that the road has more craters than the face of the moon. It’s some seriously good climbing and right in the neighborhood for this stage. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend it, though I suspect the Amgen Tour of California will pass it by.

Stage 6: San Jose-San Jose Time Trial day!

There’s a solid transfer ahead of this stage. It’s about three to four hours from Avila Beach to San Jose, depending on traffic. Where’s that goodluckwiththat hashtag when I need it? Because the bike race is going to need it. California has mountains and deserts and freeways, but in some parts of California, the freeways are not what they could be. The area around San Jose can be one of those areas at times. #goodluckwiththat

Based on past editions of the race, I’d expect a flat time trial in a central location. But really, I have no idea. So I’ll just move along to the next stage now. Time trial! San Jose! Next!

Wait! Before we move on! There will also be a women’s time trial in San Jose. See what I did there? The women, an afterthought. I know I’m supposed to be grateful that the women are included in the race at all, but really, it’s hard to get excited about a time trial. A circuit race, a short road stage, you know, mix it up a little! Really, I’d just like to reach a point where women’s cycling no longer has to be grateful for small favors, that’s all.

Stage 7: Livermore-Mount Diablo

Mountaintop finish! Diablo is the new Baldy. This should be the climbing queen stage of the race, and it begins in Livermore, a frequent host city for the Amgen Tour of California.

The organizers have not yet told us how the course will get from Livermore to Mount Diablo, but this finishing climb is plenty difficult. Mount Diablo is a Bay Area favorite and should make for a hard finale. For the pros, the climb should take around 35-40 minutes to finish and the steepest gradients come near the summit. Expect a small group finish.

California is a geologist’s worst nightmare when it comes right down to it. There are mountain ranges and fault lines running in every direction. Mount Diablo sits 30 miles east of San Francisco and summits at 3800 feet.

Diablo is what you call an anomaly. It’s a mountain sitting there all by itself, pushed up by the shifting faultlines created by the mighty San Andreas and the constant movement of the planet’s plates. Take an espresso cup. Now, drop it. The cracks running through it pretty much look exactly like the faultlines of California. Also, clean up the espresso you just spilled all over the floor, you slob.

Mount Diablo fun fact! The mountain is still growing. Diablo rises between three and five millimeters every year. That will so totally mess with the Strava records over the next thousand years or so.

Stage 8: San Francisco-Santa Rosa

A short transfer delivers the race caravan to San Francisco. The course is expected to include a crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge. All the photographers in the room have now begun making ritual sacrifices to ensure good weather for this stage. Really, nobody wants a fog-covered bike race on an iconic and picturesque bridge.

From the Golden Gate, the race organizers have plenty of choices. They can stick to the coast and pass through Marin and northward toward Santa Rosa. These are familiar roads for the Amgen Tour of California, and the views along this northern coastline are pretty stellar.

Alternatively, the race organizers could choose to mix it up and swing east into Napa Valley. That would mean more wine. And, more climbing. But I bet they stick to the familiar coastal routes.

Either way, it would be a surprise if this stage turned out to be decisive. It will certainly be scenic and it should finish with a crowd-pleasing downtown circuit. I’ll bet on a big group to contest the finish.

Parting Shots

Without seeing the exact course information, it’s impossible to assess just how hard this edition of the Amgen Tour of California will turn out to be. The south to north course direction will shake up the race’s pattern and is a nice change from the past editions.

The potential for successive big-group finishes is always there with a short stage race like this one, but the terrain here offers some intriguing possibilities. There are plenty of potential climbs in the early stages of this race, should the race organizers choose to include them.

The potential for headwinds throughout due to prevailing northwest winds and the trips into the desertous areas of Palmdale and Palm Springs could make weather the wildcard for this edition. But more likely, the time trial in San Jose and the ascent up Mount Diablo will decide the outcome.

Cycling Illustrated’s Jen See




  1. Jimbo says

    Only one way to Santa Rosa from SF, and that’s over the GG Bridge, up Hwy one, and over Coleman Valley road. All other routes are inferior and expensive. You rock, Gav.


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