It's pretty exciting to have the world's best cyclists riding into my home town this Monday, riding on the same roads I have become so familiar with... usually seen through a veil of blood, sweat and tears as I struggle up the big hills! Putting one's predictions in writing for all the world to see is risky, to say the least. But it does help fight boredom! Here I go:
The long ride down Highway 1 from Sausalito over the Golden Gate bridge will probably face a strong crosswind. That, plus the many rolling hills, will likely tire out the sprinters and maybe even open up some gaps as the riders at the front form "echelons" to fight the wind.
Even if the peloton stays together down HWY1 (a head wind is also possible, and that could prevent breaks from succeeding) then the big climb on Tunitas Creek Road might break it up. It is big, and gaps will open up. Depending on who is (and isn't) in the lead breaks, it is possible that a motivated team, like Columbia for instance, could bring them all back together in order to get their sprinters to the front on the next section down HWY1 before...
I've ridden up the decisive Bonny Doon Road climb close to a hundred times (though it feels like thousands!). It is decisive because it is steep, long and close to the finish line in Santa Cruz. Breaks will form, guaranteed, as the various body-types work for or against the riders in the race; big sprinters will struggle at the back (e.g. Tom Boonen, JJ Haedo, even smaller sprinters like Mark Cavendish), while small climbers will fly up (e.g. Levi Leipheimer, or local favorites Andy and Ben Jacques-Maynes). The top of the 25-minute climb is followed by several miles of fast descending down Empire Grade, and some tricky turns through old neighborhoods, narrow streets and into downtown for the finish on Front and Cooper Streets. That means the guys at the front at the top of Bonny Doon will be very hard to catch before the finish line.
This course's finishing profile is actually a lot like that of Milan-San Remo, and that race usually ends with a small group contesting the finish, or even solo attacks that stick (remember Fabian Cancellara's win last year?).
In short I doubt the peloton will stay together for a mass sprint on Front Street. That means the stage winner will probably be an all-around rider who can climb pretty well, and sprint. Perhaps one of the one-day classics riders like Oscar Freire or Fabian Cancellara... or maybe Levi will try to make his mark on this one. Robert Gesink won the similar Sierra Road stage into San Jose last year. Others like him who can climb, but aren't small, could shine due to their combination of climbing ability and high power that will help them on the flatter sections. I would add Lance Armstrong, but he is still getting up to speed and is riding in support of Levi anyway.
There, I have written down my predictions! Shoot away....