Watching a professional cycling race in person isn’t as straightforward as most sports, where there’s a set court or field and a consistent scoring system. The Amgen Tour of California, North America's biggest cycling race, covers more than 800 miles during its May 12–18 run, starting in Sacramento and ending in Pasadena. Given the unique nature of a cycling race—which entails everything from team tactics to classification jerseys to changing race formats—an extra bit of know-how will help you enjoy the experience. We turned to seven professional riders (who are all racing this year) to help you navigate from the sidelines.
Amgen TOC highlight: "Definitely winning Stage 4 of the 2017 edition. I was second on a stage the previous year in a similar race situation, so to come back a year later and win was really satisfying."
Spectating tip(s): “I think trying to go to a stage start is the most fun because you can see a lot more of the riders, bikes, team cars, etc., as everyone's getting ready. The finish is more exciting, but usually all the riders and teams are in a hurry to leave and get to the next hotel. If you want to go out on course or to the finish, make sure you plan ahead and do your research so you don't get stuck behind road closures. And, of course, be safe and careful. We race a lot faster than most people realize so always pay attention, keep dogs on leashes, and hold onto your kids.”
Amgen TOC highlight: "My highlight is a tie between 2018 Stages 1 and 2 because my teammates Whitney Allison and Lily Williams (respectively) won the Most Courageous jerseys."
Spectating tip(s): “Make sure to check out the women's race! Since our routes are shorter and we have less stages than the men, the racing will be fast, aggressive, and animated! For the longer road stages, watching from a climb may be more entertaining than watching the finish because you will get to see riders and how hard the race is. Make sure to bring a chair and extra clothes, snacks, and sunscreen.”
Amgen TOC highlight: "Stage 2, 2016. It was the mountain-top finish on Gibraltar in Santa Barbara. I was coming back from a potentially career-ending injury the year before and a lot of people had written me off. I made a decisive attack on the climb and was on my way to winning, only to get caught by one rider in the last 400m of the race. While winning would have been a Cinderella story, coming second showed I was back and that everything would be alright. It was the second wind of my career.”
Spectating tip(s): “Learn the nuances from someone who knows. Brush up on the tactics if you can. To the untrained eye, it looks like we are just riding. But there are multiple competitions and tactics going on every minute. Pro cycling is like a chess match at high speed, with bluffs, human pawns, and even figurative back-stabbing.”
Amgen TOC highlight: “In 2016, we (Twenty16) won the team time trial (TTT) stage at Folsom Lake. Winning a TTT is the best feeling for the whole team—you all get to stand on the podium for the effort and are recognized for winning together. In a road race one person is recognized as the winner, but it takes a team to do it. With the TTT there is no doubt that cycling is all about the team.”
Spectating tip(s): “Get the ATOC app. It helps you check who the riders are, see the course profile and other race information, and you can watch the livestream of the race.”
Amgen TOC highlight: “Last year, my team received the blue most aggressive rider's jersey with two different riders on two different days, and then we animated the race on the final day's circuit in Sacramento. We had a 100% American team, and to be able to race on home soil against some of the best riders in the world, and be active in each of the stages, was a very proud moment for us.”
Spectating tip(s): “Definitely listen to the announcers. They will have great commentary that will explain a lot of what is going on, and they love to interact with the spectators. It might not seem like stuff is happening in a three-hour race, but there is always something happening among the racers. See if you can spot a rider eating, or talking to a teammate, or scooting back in the field so they can build momentum to launch an attack. It's very intricate and the more you know, the more exciting spectating can be.”
Amgen TOC highlight: “My best moment is somewhat two-fold: I was sitting third overall after Stage 2 in 2015 after collecting bonus seconds in the breakaway. However, on Stage 3 into San Jose I did not have a good day and finished many minutes behind the winner, who turned out to be my teammate Toms, who also took yellow that day. We went on to defend the jersey until Stage 7."
Spectating tip(s): “Try and figure out if there is a finish where the race uses a circuit. You get to see the racers more than just once and you can get a feel for the tactics and the speed. If not, a mountain top of KOM line is almost always a good party so while you may only see the riders once you will probably make some new friends after hanging out and waiting for us all day.”
Amgen TOC highlight: "My podium (third) place finish on Stage 2 in 2017. It was much like many of my top performances: a mixture of disappointment, shock, and pride.”
Spectating tip(s): “Recognize that this is a team sport. Know that many riders toeing the line have no intention of going for a personal result. If you come to the race and ask for a rider to sign something, don't forget to show the same respect to the riders who support them. Teammates and their value often go overlooked, and that's a real shame.”
Find out more about the route here. Can't make it this year? Take our advice on how to create your own California cycling adventure.