ToC 2007: The Route Up Close

The 2007 Tour of California will start off the American calendar for a second year in a row, and this year’s edition promises even better courses than last year. PEZ takes a closer look at what the riders can expect over a week of racing in California this February 18-25.

Goin’ To California
The surprise hit of 2006 had to be the brand new Tour of California. At a time when the biggest stage race in America was cutting stages and was still uncertain about title sponsorship, it seemed that launching another multi-day pro bike race was destined to take flight like a lead Zeppelin. But the reality was a huge surprise and a solid kick in the pants for State-side racing – huge crowds, a solid mix Pro Tour teams and the best American domestic squads meant all the top homies were on the start line – it was like an informal week long test to decide the best US stage racer… Not bad.

But ‘surprise’ is maybe too strong a word – after all, a week of high level training in sunny and laid back California had to seem like a dream option to most of the Euros who would normally travel to Asia for the winter races, so expectations for the 2007 race have been raised several bars. And the organizers have stepped up with some adjustments to the route that should make for an excellent season opener.

We asked our NorCal rsident Bob Cullinan for his take on the stages.

Seven stages: 1 Prologue, 1 TT, 4 road stages, and one sort of crit if you can call a stage of 80 miles crit-like.

Prologue – San Francisco – 1.9 miles
The first half of this TT is flat and fast, along SanFran’s Embarcadero. But then it kicks up, climbing Telegraph Hill all the way up to Coit Tower. Forget your aero bars on this one…bring your climbing cassette instead – equipment choice for the Prologue is indeed interesting.

The start of what could only be cliched as: a year of impossible highs and an even more extreme low for Floyd Landis…

Levi went with the full TT rig and won, whilst Hincapie used clip-ons. Time gaps will be tiny between the Top 10 riders.

Stage One – Sausalito to Santa Rosa – 99 miles

There’s a short neutral start, right along SF Bay, but things change pretty quickly as the route climbs over the western slope of Mt. Tamalpais. From there, it’s north along the coast, all the way to Bodega Bay.

Then it gets really hairy, climbing up Coleman Valley Road before descending down into Santa Rosa for three final circuits around the center of the city. Last year, more than 40,000 fanatics turned out to see the finish!

Mr. Hincapie will be rockin the Stars and Stripes for ToCa, and will be a top favorite.

Many riders will be chopped right out of GC contention on this stage, but it shouldn’t separate too much at the top, if at all. Look for a small-ish group sprint – maybe 20 at most?

Stage Two – Santa Rosa to Sacramento – 116 miles

This is a totally new route for ’07. The first test comes at about mile 12, with the climb up Trinity Grade – arguably the hardest climb of the entire race. After that it’s fairly smooth sailing to the finish with a completely board flat final 50 miles on the day.

There should definitely be a break that gets some good leeway early, but there could easily be a bunch sprint come the end of the day after the pack rolls through Napa Valley, and on to a flat finish at the State Capitol in Sacto. You can bet that the Govern-ator will be watching!

Stage Three – Stockton to San Jose – 94.5 miles

After a transfer to Stockton, the race will head toward the Livermore Valley via Patterson Pass. Here, the route rejoins the old Stage Two course from ’06, right before the toughest test of the week, up the Category One Sierra Road climb. From there, it’s a screamin’ downhill toward the finish in front of the SJ City Hall.

Jens Voigt will do his thing on a cruiser in 07 – hopefully make things a little more competitive for everyone else.

There’s only 10 miles to the finish upon completion of the descent from Sierra Road, so there won’t be too much regrouping, if at all. Look for some definite GC whittling – and maybe this year a small group or a lone rider can hold off the small group sure to be chasing hard.

Stage Four – Seaside to San Luis Obispo – 134 miles

They moved the start from Monterey to nearby Seaside for ’07, but the rest of the route remains the same. South to Carmel, then right along the Big Sur coast, turning inland at Morro Bay and finishing in the heart of San Luis. You want pretty pictures? Make your way to Bixby Bridge, just south of Carmel. That’s the “money shot” for the week. Expect a field sprint, or if the cards fall right perhaps a break could go the distance, but no GC changes.

Watch HealthNet for 2007 – they were shut out for stages in 06, but that won’t happen again.

Who can forget the first time they laid eyes on the oh-so-heavenly Specialized Angel at the ToC – who turned out out be our most submitted Reader Distraction in 2006 – narrowly beating the Toyota-United Girls.

Stage Five – Solvang TT – 14.5 miles

This is a totally new, mostly flat stage. The winner of the TofC will likely be decided here, and the Discovery boys could have a decided advantage…their winter training camp is just a few miles up the road. If you look back at 2006 – all of the GC players were close going into the TT, and the TT decided the result. This is the Day of Reckoning.

As a Norcal resident, Levi loves this race and will be looking to impress his new team.

Stage Six – Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita – 105 miles

The first half of this four-KOM day follows the route of the ’06 TofC, including the nasty Balcom Canyon climb. Last year, 10,000 cycle nuts made Balcom look a bit like l’Alpe d’Huez! In addition to the four big hills, there are two sprints, one at Ojai and the other at Santa Paula. Three circuits of downtown Santa Clarita will cap the day – look for another goodly sized group sprint.

Chris Horner can NEVER be discounted for a win, especially when it’s early season in California.

Stage Seven – Long Beach criterium – 78 miles, 10 laps

The finale moves down the coast from Redondo to Long Beach, home of Snoop and the Queen Mary. It’s flat and fast, and has bunch sprint written up and down, sideways, and all over it. Hope for a break though – there’s nothing more thrilling in bike racing than a break that makes it to the line on the final stage of a quality Tour.

Check out the Tour of California website for more info.

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