Amgen Tour of California

MAY

Amgen Tour of California

The eight-stage Amgen Tour of California is the largest cycling event in North America and every year the course brings new challenges—grueling mountain passes, epic coastline views, and dramatic sprint finishes—as well as new opportunities for spectators to explore each host city throughout the week. This year’s event, running May 15–22, promises its own new twists. “We want to make the course unique and continue to freshen things up,” says Amgen Tour of California President Kristin Klein. “We look at Tour of California as an international postcard from the state of California.”

The comprehensive Amgen Tour of California website has every resource you need to learn more about the race (such as detailed stage info, live updates, and daily race results), as well as exclusive opportunities to go behind the scenes with a ride in a peloton car or a front-row VIP spot at the finish line.

Ready to get in on the race excitement? Whether you’re a seasoned cycling fan or simply curious about this world-class sporting event, here’s a guide to getting the most out of your Tour of California experience.

—Jené Shaw

Stage One: San Diego
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Stage One: San Diego

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Stage One: San Diego
Sunday, May 15

The beginning of this year’s race displays the best of first-time host city San Diego. Starting at the spectator-friendly aquatic playground of Mission Bay—weaving through the museums of Balboa Park and past the nightlife hub of the Gaslamp District before heading to the hills of East County—cyclists will get a true taste of the picturesque city. Want to sneak in a tourism break? SeaWorld is within walking distance of both the start and finish.

Stage details: 

11:30 a.m.; 106 mi/170.5 km 

Where to watch: 

Catch the cyclists’ all-out efforts one hour into the race during the Visit California Sprint in Imperial Beach, a 20-minute drive from downtown, or at this stage’s first (and only) Lexus King of the Mountain (KOM) climb on Honey Springs Road, halfway through the 106-mile day. “Whether it’s a sprint or a KOM, that’s where riders are most focused. It’s definitely a battle and a race within a race,” Klein says.

Each stage will feature sprint and climbing sections where riders will have the opportunity to claim points toward the coveted green Visit California Sprint Jersey or the Lexus King of the Mountain/Queen of the Mountain Jersey. Daily and overall jerseys will also be given to other high performers, like the SRAM Best Young Rider, awarded to the rising star with the fastest finish time.

Local stop: 

The active way of life in San Diego means there are benefits to riding your bike around town. Little Italy roaster James Coffee offers a 10 percent discount to cyclists; so does Blind Lady Ale House, a craft beer and Neapolitan-style pizza spot seven miles from downtown in Normal Heights.

Stage Two: South Pasadena to Santa Clarita

Stage Two: South Pasadena to Santa Clarita

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Stage Two: South Pasadena to Santa Clarita
Monday, May 16

The historic architecture, rose gardens, and abundance of parks in South Pasadena add to the charm of this quaint town situated close to the historic Rose Bowl Stadium, a running and cycling training hub. The peloton will face multiple big climbs before arriving at the flat finish in Santa Clarita near Old Town Newhall, an area that has been transformed over the past decade to showcase its Wild West historical landmarks, boutiques, and popular restaurants.

Stage details: 

12:05 p.m.; 92 mi/148 km

Where to watch: 

Bring your cowbell and drive less than an hour from Pasadena to cheer anywhere along the climb in Angeles National Forest—there are four total KOMs during the stage—and at the finish. Because Santa Clarita has played host many times before, Klein says the enthusiastic fans continue to exceed expectations.

Local stop: 

Cyclists in South Pasadena love the healthy “breakfast by the bowl” and pastries at Urth Caffé (three miles from Rose Bowl Stadium). Once you’re parked in Santa Clarita, refuel with brisket-topped Refiners Fries and one of nearly two dozen craft beers on tap at Newhall Refinery on Main Street.

Stage Three: Thousand Oaks to Santa Barbara County
Jan Butchofsky/Getty Images

Stage Three: Thousand Oaks to Santa Barbara County

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Stage Three: Thousand Oaks to Santa Barbara County
Tuesday, May 17

Home to the race’s main title sponsor, biotechnology company Amgen, Thousand Oaks is a popular area for cycling and hiking due to its proximity to the Santa Monica Mountains. Riders start out with two KOM climbs en route to the Pacific Coast Highway, where they continue north until they reach a tough final stretch: a new six-mile climb (with a grueling eight percent average grade) up Santa Barbara’s Gibraltar Road. “It’s the first time in history to finish on top of Gibraltar,” Klein says. “This has been something we’ve been eyeing for years.”

Stage details: 

11:10 a.m.; 104.1 mi/167.5 km

Where to watch: 

For a leisurely start to your spectating, Klein suggests watching the race roll by while eating lunch at Neptune’s Net on Highway 1 in Malibu. Afterward, the Gibraltar Road climb will be the prime location (riders are expected to finish around 3:45 p.m.).

Local stop: 

For an afternoon caffeine fix, go to cycling-centric Handlebar Coffee Roasters in downtown Santa Barbara. Owned by former professional cyclists who discovered the area while competing in the Amgen Tour of California, the roasters call their signature blend the Gibraltar. 

Stage Four: Morro Bay to Monterey County
Elojo Torpe/Getty Images

Stage Four: Morro Bay to Monterey County

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Stage Four: Morro Bay to Monterey County
Wednesday, May 18

Stage Four gets underway near Morro Rock, in the seaside fishing village of Morro Bay. Cyclists will depart the first-time host city to pedal along the stunning stretch of coastline up to Monterey County, where—also for the first time—the race will finish inside the world-famous Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. Tourism bonus: Hearst Castle and the Monterey Bay Aquarium are both near the route, as are the thousands of elephant seals lounging near the Piedras Blancas lighthouse in San Simeon.

Stage details: 

10:10 a.m.; 133.6 mi/215 km

Where to watch: 

Any of the three KOMs on Highway 1 will offer jaw-dropping views, and Bixby Bridge in Big Sur provides the perfect setting for an epic photo op.

Local stop: 

Don’t miss the famous Big Sur Bakery, where you can enjoy a signature pastry or a wood-fired pizza on their rustic patio amid the trees.

Stage Five: Lodi to South Lake Tahoe
Harry How/Getty Images

Stage Five: Lodi to South Lake Tahoe

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Stage Five: Lodi to South Lake Tahoe
Thursday, May 19

The stage that boasts the most cumulative climbing—13,300 feet total—will go from the wine-growing gem of Lodi before ascending to the highest race point at Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort. The women’s race—which is four stages this year, up from last year’s three—will circle around Lake Tahoe before concluding with the same mountaintop finish.

Stage details: 

10 a.m. (men) and 10:50 a.m. (women’s Stage One, in South Lake Tahoe); 132.4 mi/213 km (men), 72.7 mi/117 km (women)

Where to watch: 

Catch the Kirkwood or Carson Pass KOMs on Highway 88 (about 30 miles from the finish), then take in the amazing lake views and heated competition up the steep Ski Run Boulevard in South Lake Tahoe, where the women will finish close to 2 p.m., with the men to follow around 3:45 p.m.

Local stop: 

Go for the deep-fried calamari or fish and chips at lakeside Beacon Bar and Grill near both courses, or try one of the microbrews at Sidellis Lake Tahoe Brewery and Restaurant, which opened in 2015.

Stage Six: Folsom Individual Time Trial (men) and Team Time Trial (women)
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Stage Six: Folsom Individual Time Trial (men) and Team Time Trial (women)

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Stage Six: Folsom Individual Time Trial (men) and Team Time Trial (women)
Friday, May 20

The best part about the Folsom time trial stage is that you can stand literally anywhere along the course for a front-row view of riders flying by. With 38 miles of paved trails and multiple lakes and rivers in the area, Folsom is a cycling and water sports hub, which will undoubtedly make for a passionate crowd of spectators along the 12.6-mile round-trip course.

Stage details: 

10:45 a.m. (women’s Stage Two) and 1:04 p.m. (men); 12.6 mi/20.3 km

Where to watch: 

Before the race, sneak a glimpse of the riders—and their sleek, aerodynamic time-trial bikes—warming up on stationary trainers near their team buses. Then go anywhere on the course to spot each rider passing twice. The close proximity of the start and finish will make it easy to see who finishes with the fastest time.

Local stop

Head to cyclist favorite Karen’s Bakery for a slice of blueberry coffee cake or a cinnamon roll, or sip on a macchiato at Italian coffee specialist Folsom Ground.

Stage Seven: Santa Rosa
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Stage Seven: Santa Rosa

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Stage Seven: Santa Rosa
Saturday, May 21

The stage in and around Santa Rosa encompasses quintessential California attributes—ocean, forests, vineyards, mountains—on a course that utilizes some of the same roads as three-time-champion Levi Leiphemer’s popular GranFondo. The finish line will be bustling with festivities and a parade throughout the day, and racers will conclude the stage with a thrilling three-lap circuit around downtown.

Stage details: 

9 a.m. (women’s Stage Three) and 11:55 a.m. (men); 64 mi/111 km (women), 109 mi/175.5 km (men)

Where to watch:

Klein suggests this spectating plan before the finish: “Watch the women’s start, then go over to Occidental to shop. Watch the women go by, eat lunch, then watch the men go by before heading out to the coast for a beautiful drive.”

Local stop:

If you can fit in your own bike ride, head north towards Geyserville and take a mid-ride fuel stop at the popular country-store deli Jimtown, known for its bike friendliness (there’s a refill spot for water bottles and alfresco seating next to bike racks). Or stay by the course and sample an individual chicken pot pie or “The Bomb” Cajun meatloaf sandwich at Forestville’s Twist Eatery.

Stage Eight: Sacramento Overall Finish
Harry How/Getty Images

Stage Eight: Sacramento Overall Finish

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Stage Eight: Sacramento Overall Finish
Sunday, May 22

It all boils down to a fight for the finish in California’s capital. Between watching the women’s race—they will make 20 laps around the downtown circuit—enjoy farm-to-table fare at one of the area’s many acclaimed restaurants, or wander around the art museums and galleries. But be sure not to miss the men’s exciting three-lap circuit finish that will end with naming an overall champion.

Stage details: 

11:45 a.m. (women’s Stage Four) and 11:55 a.m. (men); 41 mi/66 km (women), 84.8 mi/136.5 km (men)

Where to watch:

Stick near the Capitol for both races; Klein also suggests being near the Golden Tower Bridge during the men’s race. “Not only do you get to see the start and finish, but you also get to see all the other activities downtown during the Lifestyle Festival,” she says.

Local stop:

Hot Italian, a wood-fired pizza restaurant owned by cycling enthusiasts, was the first restaurant in California to earn the “Bicycle Friendly Business” award from the League of American Bicyclists. It offers more than 30 bike parking spots, sponsors a bike club and team, and hosts a race series and bicycle-themed fashion show. On the west side of the city, Bike Dog Brewing also caters to the cycling community, with indoor parking and walls adorned with vintage Schwinn cruisers.