Sources: Race website, sat24.com and Accuweather.com, others linked in text
Live tracking and what looks like video highlights on http://microsofttourtracker.amgentourofcalifornia.com/women/
Start times are 7pm UK/8pm CET/11am local on Thursday, 6.30pm UK/7.30pm CET/ 10.30am local on Friday, 5pm UK/ 6pm CET / 9AM local on Saturday and about 7.30pm UK/8.30pm CET / 11.30am local on Sunday.
Stage 1 Official map and profile, (not quite accurate) Cronoescalada version here
Stage 2 (Cronoescalada version here)
Stage 3 (Cronoescalada version here)
Stage 4 criterium map
The weather seems like it will be quite changeable. Stage 1 is forcast to be around 16 degrees C with a strong westerly wind up to 26km/h. Stage 2 will be around 17 to 20 degrees C, with a southerly wind of around 16km/h and a chance of rain. Stage 3 looks to be 15 to 17 degrees C, westerly winds of 23km/h and a chance of rain. And stage 2 will be the warmest at 24 degrees C, with a SSW wind of 11km/h.
The first stage is a fairly flat 116km course around Lake Tahoe, the longest stage with three climbs at 16km, 80km and the last 2km. Only the first and last are QOM climbs, with gradients of up to 8% (over 7 to 8km for the first two). Next comes the 20km TTT, which will be raced with road bikes. The first 7km are uphill with some steep sections, followed by a plateau as it swings around and retraces the course back to the start. Stage 3 is 103km and will be the best chance for breakaway wannabes. The course is extreme hilly from 12km in until the last 13km, with two very large QOM climbs at 20km and 59km in. The wide roads suddenly change into a narrow dirt path just before the second climb, so bad positioning will let loose the serious attacks if the GC contenders aren’t careful. The finish comprises 3 laps on a small circuit but I’m not sure the riders will be together by then. And the last stage is a 20 lap crit totaling 66km.
The start list is just packed full of riders who aren’t going to take any prisoners this week. Career swansongs, Rio 2016 places, new faces making a mark, whatever the reason we should have a very hard fought for race on our hands. The smaller teams may find themselves squeezed out of stage places as a result, although they will be more acclimatised and used to the roads to help compensate. Boels Dolmans go in as favourites with Evelyn Stevens. She has Chantal Blaak, Megan Guarnier, Nikki Harris, Karol Ann Canuel and Romy Kasper to keep her well protected, achieve a good TTT time and step in to take over if needed. Hitec bring Kirsten Wild and Lauren Kitchen, with a strong support team of Charlotte Becker, Tatiana Guderzo, Janicke Gunvaldsenand, Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen. Wild may find the high altitude difficult on the first stage but the flat finish to stage 3 suits her well. Wiggle H5 bring Tour of the Gila winner Mara Abbott, with Emma Johansson, Audrey Cordon, Mayuko Hagiwara, Dani King and Amy Pieters to assist and aim for their own results. RaboLiv’s Marianne Vos is backed by Lucinda Brand, Shara Gillow, Jeanne Korevaar, Anouska Koster and Moniek Tenniglo. UHC have a very strong contender in Katie Hall, with an on form team in Annie Ewart, Coryn Rivera, Iris Slappendel, Lauren Tamayo and Linda Villumsen. Canyon SRAM are bringing Alena Amialiusik, Lisa Brennauer, Hannah Barnes, Tiffany Cromwell, Barbara Guarischi and Alexis Ryan. Although Amialiusik did well here last year she had a disappointing Gracia Orlova, so the team may be concentrating more on the TTT as their main strength. Kristin Armstrong and Alison Jackson head the Twenty 16 team, with Holly Breck, Allie Dragoo, Chloe Dygert and Leah Thomas. Cylance will get behind Alison Tetrick, with Doris Schweizer, Sheyla Gutierrez, Kristabel Doebel-Hickok, Rossella Ratto and Valentina Scandolara bringing stamina and experience.
For the stages, Lex Albrecht heads up BePink, and with Amber Neben she may be looking more towards the other jerseys along with an improvement on her 9th place last year. Podium Ambition may possibly cause a few surprises with Sara Headley, Nicole Moerig, Claire Rose and Sarah Storey putting in solid performances at Gila. Team Colavita Bianchi have Kimberley Wells and Kathryn Donovan. Rally will no doubt be emulating their brothers with numerous breakaways, bringing Jasmin Glaesser, Kristi Lay and Heather Fischer. HB Supermint have a good chance with on form Scotti Lechuga and Eri Yonamine. Tibco-SVB bring Lauren Stephens, Emily Collins and Brianna Walle, and Visit Dallas DNA will get behind Anna Sanders. The start list is completed by Shimano Ladies Power, Drops and the USA national squad.
For the GC, my gut reaction was Evelyn Stevens vs Kirsten Wild, although taking into account the need to acclimatise it may be that Mara Abbott will get a big lead and keep it as with Gila. But I’ll go with my initial pick and say Evelyn Stevens.