Preview: Golden State of mind

Palm trees. Rigo returns. Our home turf.

“Cycling is a young and exciting sport in the USA. It’s not about tradition. It’s about having a good time.”

-Lachlan Morton

We’re in a Golden State of mind.

It’s time to race on home roads with a strong squad in one of the iconic states of the Union. Palm trees, the return of Rigo, and Sergio Higuita’s debut with us — what could be better?

The Amgen Tour of California begins on Sunday with the first of seven stages, gradually making its way from the start in Sacramento to the finish in Pasadena. A world-class field will take to the California roads, treating spectators to a show usually only seen on the old roads of Europe.

The Amgen Tour of California marks Urán’s return to racing, following his recovery from a fractured collarbone sustained at Paris-Nice in March. Urán’s return also coincides with Higuita’s first race in argyle. The newest Colombian on the WorldTour block officially joined the EF Education First roster earlier this week.

The differences between European racing and racing in the United States are plentiful. Perhaps most obvious is the contrast in the roads themselves. In Europe, the peloton races along narrow, twisting thoroughfares. Positioning is a well-honed art form, sometimes the difference between 30th and third. The Tour of California features wide open roads, leaving many stages wide-open drag races.

“For the majority of the time there is a lot less stress for the guys in the bunch because of the wider roads in the US,” sport director Tom Southam said. “This also means that a lot of riders can get much further into the race and there can be unfamiliar names or guys who can’t get the best out of their ability in European racing.”

The enthusiasm for the race runs deep, as it comes but once a season in the U.S, and for good reason: It’s the single WorldTour event on the calendar in the States.

“The crowds are always amazing. Better than the majority of races we do in Europe,” says Lachlan Morton. The Australian has ridden for several North American teams and has spent a fair number of race days in the United States.

“Cycling is a young and exciting sport in the USA,” he notes. “It’s not about tradition. It’s about having a good time.”

The 14th edition of the Amgen Tour of California is the longest yet. The race will cover 777.6 miles as it winds its way down from north to south. This year, the race lacks a time trial. The race against the clock is often one of the race’s decisive elements.

“We go to the race with a team that should be competitive for the overall win.”

-Tom Southam

“We go to the race with a team that should be competitive for the overall race win,” said Southam. “Without a TT this year, the race will most likely come down to the Mt. Baldy stage. However, there is a lot of racing to be done before then and the guys need to be awake from the first day. We have some great climbers in our team, and they are supported by the guys we consider best through the rest of the stages.”

Morton is ready to do whatever is needed.

“With the caliber of the team we’re bringing to California, I’ll be working for the big boys,” said Morton. “I’ve never raced with Rigo, and I’m excited to work for a champion of his caliber.”

2103 Amgen Tour of California overall winner Tejay van Garderen will share a leadership role with Urán. The pair are expected to make a formidable pairing.

“Mt. Baldy will provide the most fireworks,” van Garderen said. “The day before we race Baldy, stage five going into Ventura passes right by my second home in Los Olivos, and it’s always exciting to be on home roads. It too bad on that stage that we aren’t making a left turn up Mt. Figueroa as well.”

Higuita, a newcomer to the top tier of cycling, has shown immense promise in the early season. While he starts The Amgen Tour of California shouldering minimal expectations, he has his own hopes — to help the riders he’s long looked up to.

“I look forward to working for guys like Rigo and Tejay. I looked up to them when I was younger.”

-Sergio Higuita

“I’m so excited to debut at the Tour of California. I look forward to working for guys like Rigo and Tejay,” he said. “I looked up to them when I was younger, so to be able to ride alongside them is a big motivation for me to give my best.”

As for the team’s expectations for the young rider?

“Higuita has had some excellent results through the spring, and now he steps up into his first race with the team,” Southam said. “It’s his first WorldTour race, so it will be a steep learning curve for him, and we’re keeping the pressure off him. It will be interesting to see how he can adapt to this level of racing.”

Helping him adapt to the team and to the best of US racing will be his new American teammates. Van Garderen is one of our Americans on the roster alongside Lawson Craddock, Alex Howes, and Taylor Phinney. With EF Education First Pro Cycling one of only three US-registered WorldTour teams, fans eagerly embrace the squad as their own.

“It’s not often you get such a competitive field of world-class cyclists without having to travel overseas,” van Garderen said. “When you have this kind of competition so close to home, you won’t want to miss out. The best part of racing ATOC is the home-court advantage. The crowds are so supportive of the American riders and teams.”  

Van Garderen’s biggest fans are a part of those crowds — and a part of his Amgen Tour of California best memories.

“Six weeks after my daughter was born, I was able to hoist her onto the podium at the Morgan Hill TT in 2013,” van Garderen. “Five years later, I got to bring her and her sister up after another time trial victory. It’s always a special feeling to have family be a big part of the race.”

Our Team

Lawson Craddock
Sergio Higuita
Alex Howes
Lachlan Morton
Taylor Phinney
Rigoberto Urán
Tejay van Garderen