CYCLING Preview: No clear favorite as former champs Sagan, Van Garderen and Bennett return for Amgen Tour of California

No one has won more stages in the Amgen Tour of California than Slovakia's Peter Sagan! (Photo: Amgen Tour of California)

The 19th Amgen Tour of California kicks off on Sunday, just a day after the start of the Giro d’Italia. Does this make any sense at all?

Maybe only in the cycling world, where the Amgen Tour has become an important prep race for the Tour de France. The 2019 course runs, as usual, from northern California south and has four mountainous stages out of seven. The schedule:

● 12 May: Stage 1 (143.0 km): Sacramento to Sacramento (flat)
● 13 May: Stage 2 (194.5 km): Rancho Cordova to South Lake Tahoe (hilly)
● 14 May: Stage 3 (207.0 km): Stockton to Morgan Hill (mountains)
● 15 May: Stage 4 (212.5 km): Raceway Laguna Seca to Morro Bay (hilly)
● 16 May: Stage 5 (218.5 km): Pismo Beach to Ventura (mountains)
● 17 May: Stage 6 (127.5 km): Ontario to Mount Baldy (mountain finish)
● 18 May: Stage 7 (141.0 km): Santa Clarita to Pasadena (mountains)

In terms of the field, there are five prior medal winners participating this year:

● Peter Sagan (SVK) ~ Winner in 2015
Tejay van Garderen (USA) ~ Winner in 2013; second in 2018
● George Bennett (NZL) ~ Winner in 2017
● Rohan Dennis (AUS) ~ Second in 2016
Lawson Craddock (USA) ~ Third in 2014

In addition, Sagan leads the field with 16 prior stage wins , with Mark Cavendish (GBR) second with 10 and Toms Skujins (LAT) with three.

There’s no clear favorite, and there are lots of starters who will be looking to find their form ahead of Le Tour, including David de la Cruz (ESP), Danny van Poppel (NED), Maximilian Schachmann (GER), John Degenkolb (GER), Richie Porte (AUS), Fabio Jakobsen (NED), Rigoberto Uran (COL) and Nacer Bouhanni (FRA).

NBCSN will have coverage of the Amgen Tour, beginning at 3:00 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday, for Stage 1. The complete broadcast schedule is here. Look for results here.