Preview of Amgen Tour of California, and a Focus on TREK-Segafredo

Peter Stetina of TREK-Segafredo is back to set the record straight after losing the 2016 ATOC to Julian Alaphillipe.

With special reporting by Jim Freibert. 

From far left to near right at the autograph table are TREK-Segafredo Team members Nicola Conci, Ruben Guerreiro, Gregory Rast, Jasper Stuyven, and their Director Sportif, Dirk Demol (not seated).

California is the epicenter for bike racing in America through Sunday, and we’re hoping the only earth shaking reports you hear from us, will all be above ground.

The Hawaiians, and Italians can keep their volcanic news, now that the Giro has summited on Mt. Etna, the next big World Tour event will kick-off along the quiet ocean beaches.  No lava flowing here, between Shoreline Village and the giant Pacific Aquarium, in downtown Long Beach, and Sunday’s start, just past noon.

It’ll be interesting to see how the 13th AMGEN Tour of California draws against Mother’s Day, a very full MLB, plus NBA and NHL play-off schedules.

But for at least a week, or two, including the most notable Peter Sagan Gran Fondo and soiree at altitude in Truckee, many of cycling stars, the major teams have been spread up and down the Golden State.

Along the route this year…

Inside Sacramento the Warriors may be shooting hoops, but outside they’re on the road, as America’s biggest annual race hopes to draw hundreds of thousands of fans to this years’ abnormal, south to north stage race route.  Stage 1 Sunday is entirely inside one of the world’s largest port cities.  If you buy a bike or anything else made in Asia, odds are it came through the ports of LA and Long Beach.

Sitting at the autograph table recently were Nicola Conci, Ruben Guerreiro, Gregory Rast, Jasper Stuyven, and their Director Sportif, Dirk Demol (not seated)-see photo above.

We’ll get right back to the skinny Segafredo espresso fueled boys on TREK bikes after a quick preview.

Monday, May 14th, the AMGEN Tour, or ATOC, the second stage will depart from Ventura Pier, after a 96-mile drive north in the team buses.  Then once again thirteen of the best World Tour pro race teams, and five, second tier Pro Continental teams will be reminded of the left coast’s vulnerability to the force of nature.

Teams will ride past areas that were devastated by wild fires. Here you can barely see the burnt remains of a house.

Where the returning vets have seen citrus, sage, grapes, California oaks and avocado groves in years past, stage 2 will take them 97.5 miles through the heart of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Those counties were ravaged by the biggest wildfire in the state’s history and a detour necessitated by the Montecito mudslides that  followed in January.

The first few days of racing will be set against gorgeous backdrops of sand and surf.

Signs of wildfire devastation alternate with gorgeous green fields of new growth along the route.

But Monday the pros will be climb away from the coast past this burnt ash and rock that looks more like a moonscape, and the normal view of the nation’s most fruitful farms and orchards.

You may not see, but the riders will race by hundreds of homes burnt to their foundations, immediately adjacent to enough fields of strawberries, oranges, and lemons to feed half our country!

Julian Alaphillipe won the 2016 ATOC, at a finish racing uphill, almost a mile above Santa Barbara on Gibraltar Road. He passed American Peter Stetina that day with less than a quarter mile to go, a bitter loss for Stetina. This year Stetina is coming back to win, but so are a few previous ATOC winners, among them Peter Sagan who won in 2015.

The summit finish of stage 2 will by near mile high peaks above Santa Barbara.

It’s a perfect setting for the rematch between Quick-Step Floors Julian Alaphilippe who won the stage, and the AMGEN Tour here in 2016, and Peter Stetina of TREK-Segafredo who was passed on the way to a leg-searing finish.

Peter Stetina was a big reason this writer wanted to be at the TREK-Segafredo meet and greet Wednesday night, hosted at one of ten Jax Bicycle Centers.  (During the 70’s and 80’s, Peter’s father, Dale Stetina, and his Uncle Wayne, left me, and many fellow Midwestern racers eating their dust, not to mention anyone in the Red Zinger/Coors Classic and every major American race of that era).

Outside the TREK-Segafredo meet and greet Wednesday night, hosted at one of ten Jax Bicycle Centers

While generations of this Jax store’s customers worked for McDonald-Douglas and Boeing just a mile of two away, making thousands of airliners, flight delays kept three of TREK’s racers from making this party!  Stetina, his American teammate, Kiel Reigned, and Toms Skujins of Latvia were in the air, instead of on their bikes rolling in for this.

TREK-Segafredo is bringing a good group of racers who’ve proven themselves on rolling courses.

Just 21, Italian Nicola Conci raced for Italy’s best developmental team, Zalf Euromobilit Désirée Fior in 2016-2017  just before turning pro for TREK-Segafredo.  Conci is what’s called a stageaire, or trainee, and was 4th among the youngest racers in the Tour of the Alps earlier this year!

Ruben (Antonio Almeida) Guerreiro isn’t wearing a standard TREK-Segafredo jersey  because he is the current National Road racing champion of Portugal, so he wear’s custom colors to represent his nation and his pro team.  And like other teammates to be named, he has extensive experience racing in the USA, as a former member of the AXEON Cycling team.

He started this year with big results in Australia, 4th overall in the Herald Sun Tour, then 9th overall in the Tour Down Under, so know he’s known internationally as someone to watch!

Just 21, Italian Nicola Conci raced for Italy’s best developmental team, Zalf Euromobilit Désirée Fior in 2016-2017  just before turning pro for TREK-Segafredo.

Taller than his younger teammates, former 2x Swiss Champion Gregory Rast  would have been the best known on this TREK-Segafredo squad, as a Tour de France stage winner (2009), Tour of Luxembourg winner (2007), and a racer who has won on three continents!

He also finished 4th in the tough Paris-Roubaix, so he has a reputation as a “hardman” in the toughest, classic conditions of the most difficult one-day races, from day one in Long Beach, until Sacramento Rast is a rider to watch, a veteran who has, and can win in any circumstances!

After the first four months of 2018, the one guy on the team who has had the most consistent, and incredible results is another big guy, 6′ 1″ and 172 pound Belgian pro Jasper Stuyven, looks like he could play hockey, as well as take care of the end of the table, or… let’s just say it’s unlikely anyone will try to knock him off his bike!  This is his fifth season, he’s an anchor in TREK’s tougest races, having started four Grand Tours in Italy, France, and twice in Spain.

His team director, Dirk Demol, was grinning ear to ear when he shared about Stuyven, Stuyven has been 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th twice, in seven of 2018’s classics, the most prestigious races, including monuments Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix, with a record like that, if the Tour of California were the Kentucky Derby – he’d certainly be a horse to bet on – hungry for that BIG win, when he’s always among the leaders.  Among a few thousand pro racers in the world, his current ranking is #19, and that spells trouble for TREK’s competitors. 

The TREK-Segafredo team at presentation night on May 11.

This brings us to the rest of the TREK-Segafredo squad for the AMGEN Tour of California, the guys who were late to the arrival gates at LAX, or Long Beach.  Starting with American, Kiel Reijnen who began racing before he finished his degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado – Boulder.  He has raced for Jelly Belly, Team Type 1, UHC, and people in Colorado and Utah know better than Californians, he is a formidable competitor, who has won races in Africa, Asia, and big stages in the aforementioned states pro tours.  So the locals may not know what he can do in the 2018 ATOC, but the guys in the pack know he is capable of winning in a sprint, or a race with a thousand hills! 

Toms Skujins has been a Latvian national road champion who raced in the USA for George Hincapie’s development team in 2014-2015, and another bike team in 2016.  In 2015 he was the #1 ranked rider in the UCI Americas Tour (for all pros based in the Western Hemisphere!) and won the ATOC stage 3.  In 2016 Skujins returned to win another stage (5) in California, and in 2017 he was a stage winner, and second overall at the very prestigious Coppi e Bartali international race.  He has one pro win in 2018, and no doubt will gun to add another!

Peter Stetina being interviewed on May 11 by Christian Vandevelde at the team presentation.

Finally, we’re back to Peter Stetina again, from the third generation of one of United States’ most successful cycling families, with more national championships than we could count in a day.

Peter looks like more of his team, super lean guys who fly up steep mountains faster than most of us can ride down a little hill.

With only 140 pounds on his 5′ 11″ tightly muscled frame on a fifteen pound, twenty-speed TREK bike, he flashes past the average rider heading uphill.  Naturally he has been a pro team pick, four times for the Giro and a stage winner in that tour of Italy (known for more mountains, 21st in his first try!); twice for the Tour de France, finishing 35th and 46th overall, and he finished 31st in his only Vuelta a España.

One of the biggest cycling stars in France, winner Julian Alaphilippe of ATOC in 2016.

He won Colorado’s famous Mt. Evans Hill Climb in 2010, before turning to bigger races in Europe, he’s especially happy to finally be home in California, where he spends a little time at home, in the short, off-season.

Stetina is back to the AMGEN Tour, as a grudge match, after he might have won the whole enchilada in 2016, but for one of the biggest cycling stars in France, winner Julian Alaphilippe.  This year’s stage two, almost duplicates that same course.

In 2016 from a vantage point far above the ocean, looking down at the California Gold Coast, a.k.a. Santa Barbara, we saw Stetina as the first racer clawing his way up the long climb up Gibraltar Road.  All he had to do was stay out in front for less than another mile, and he would have won the day, and maybe had enough of a time gap to win the whole week’s Tour of California.  But we could see Julian Alaphilippe chasing down his long breakaway, catching Stetina, within yards of the line.

This road these climbs are a part of American road racing history, as the first American pro team to race the Tour de France, the 7-ELEVEN cycling team used to train up here every spring.  Whether or not Santa Barbara was included in the annual Tour of California, and it has been a few times since 2006, many American and European teams have ridden over the road to the sun, El Camino Cielo, past Painted Cave, and far above the steep hillsides that come up from the Pacific, over Summerland, Montecito, Santa Barbara, and Goleta.  Just over the ridge, you can descend for miles toward the  famous Danish resort, and AMGEN Tour Time Trial hosts in Solvang.  But there’s no time trial there this year.

First it’s a circuit race in Long Beach on Mother’s Day.  Twelve laps of a nearly flat, seven mile course, through one of America’s most bike friendly cities, bars, cafes, huge hotels and tourist destinations, perhaps some places sports fans saw a few weeks ago during the Long Beach Grand Prix.

Then Monday’s race from the Ventura Pier, over the ocean, with sharks in the water, and big fish on the boards, to this peak in Santa Barbara- even if that stage does establish a race leader (and possible winner they’ll be another five days of battles, for the road warriors who arrive in Sacramento the following Saturday!

This report written and sponsored by:

Jim Freibert, author, and owner of Recycling Jerseys (right) and Jens Voight (left).
Recycling Jerseys and RecyclingJerseys4U
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