Wiggins set for California challenge

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iol spt may9 Bradley Wiggins AFP Former Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins says he's looking forward to tackling the Tour of California. Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for 21st Century Fox/AFP

Los Angeles – Former Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins says he's looking forward to tackling the Tour of California that starts on Sunday, claiming it's an opportunity to fly the Sky flag Stateside.

“It's an important event for the team and we want to put in a good performance in front of the American fans and our co-owners 21st Century Fox,” said the Briton, who was among the field of 128 cyclists announced for the eight-day, 1 144 km race that will start on Sunday in the California capital of Sacramento and conclude on May 18 in Thousand Oaks, west of Los Angeles.

Other elite riders in the field include Omega Pharma-QuickStep's Mark Cavendish of Britain and Cannondale's Peter Sagan, the Slovakian who holds the record for the most California stage victories at 10.

Wiggins's star has dimmed somewhat since his outstanding year in 2012, when he became the first Briton to win the Tour de France and followed it up with a time-trial gold at his home Olympics in London.

He suffered a disastrous 2013 when he pulled out of the Giro d'Italia due to illness and then missed defending his Tour title with an injury.

He also had to watch as Chris Froome succeeded him as Tour champion and firmly established himself as the Team Sky leader.

After finishing ninth at Paris-Roubaix last month, Wiggins vowed to earn his place on the Sky team to support reigning champion Froome in the Tour de France in July.

First, however, comes California.

“Riding in California is definitely something different and a nice alternative to the traditional racing programme in Europe,” Wiggins said in comments posted on the Team Sky website. “There are a lot of passionate cycling fans in the States and this is one of the only chances we get to ride in front of them. We're all looking forward to it.”

BMC's Tejay van Garderen won the 2013 Tour of California, but the American won't be back to defend his title. After retiring from the Tour de Romandie, where he had crashed hard in the prologue, he said he would take a break hoping to return to racing at the Criterium du Dauphine.

Peter Stetina, who lives in Santa Rosa, California, will lead BMC, returning to the race for the first time since 2010.

“I have never actually been in a protected role like this, so it will be a new opportunity that I have been chomping at the bit for and one that I am excited for,” Stetina said.

This year's ninth edition of the Tour of California features a 20.1 kilometer time trial in Folsom as Monday's stage two, and a pair of mountain-top finishes at Mount Diablo State Park in stage three and Mountain High in stage six.

It concludes with a circuit race in Thousand Oaks, in rolling country west of Los Angeles.

Stetina predicted the time trial will be crucial.

“Mount Diablo is not very steep until the very final, so I think there are going to be bigger time gaps for the time trial than on Diablo,” he said. “And then Mountain High is a hard climb. You definitely have to have a good time trial to contend for the overall.” – Sapa-AFP


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