The Amgen Tour of California race will host 16 teams and 128 riders. The race starts Sunday in Sacramento. Many have been here before and have wildly disparate memories of their previous experience.
Taylor Phinney of BMC Racing says the sprints give him the best chance to gain time on the field, but it's the climbs he remembers most fondly,
"It's a different energy," he says. "Even inside the peloton, the people are happy to be here. The fan base is definitely eclectic and crazy. I know you have a lot of people who like to dress up and run alongside us in the mountains." He laughs, " I don't know if that's a good idea, but it's fine. so, we love it and I love it.. I love to see the sport grow in this country."
Bradley Wiggins of team SKY says the sport is growing not only in this country, but worldwide. He says team financier James Murdoch ranked the Amgen Tour of California the second most important event in the world only behind the Tour de France.
But, Wiggins last trip to California did not end happily.
" The last time I was here was with Cav (Mark Cavendish) and had a horrendous time," he says. "It was in February. We were both fat as anything and we struggled. I spent one of my worst days on a bike from some town somewhere to San Luis Obispo. It was 236 km in the rain. Guys were retiring from the breakaway. It was that cold. I've never seen that in any other bike race. So, that was the last time we were here. I got sick and retired. Cav won the stage, got disqualified, so it was a horrendous race for us. That was the last time we were here. So, it can't get any worse than that so we're gonna have a good week."
Halfway through Wiggins' story, Jens Voigt of Trek Factory Racing pipes up,
"I was there," he says.
"I know you were," says Wiggins.
In fact, Voigt is the only rider to have raced in all eight Amgen Tours, including a second-place finish in 2007, and he may remember this one the best. Though he leaves the door open a smidge, he says he is likely retiring.
"Needless to say that I must like it to race here, it's the reason I keep coming back," he says. "I sort of eye-witnessed the whole development from a very good start to be this awesome event it is now. I'm happy to be here, but also sort of frightened at the same time because I know it's going to be the last time I'm a bike rider in this race. Maybe next year, I can be your press officer or V.I.P. car driver or whatever, but I'm not gonna come back very probably as a bike rider. So, my body on one side is relieved the suffering has an end, but it's gonna be a new chapter in my life."
Sunday's first stage through Sacramento will be the longest of the eight stages and will produce a whole new batch of memories for this year's field -the largest in the history of the event.