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"Tour Insights" archive

ATOC's Place in the International Cycling Calendar

By Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach

As the international cycling calendar expands, riders and teams have more and more choices for how to schedule their competitions. And while this is great for race fans and riders, it also means that race organizers have to compete to attract the best riders.

The Amgen Tour of California attracts the world's top professional teams - and their top riders - for good reason.

Racing for Stimulus

In professional cycling, one of the greatest training stimuli is racing itself. Outside of competition it is very difficult to replicate the pace, intensity, variability, and overall workload of racing. As a result, races are integrated into overall season planning so athletes can use a series of competitions to progressively grow stronger and faster as they approach one or more ultimate goal events.

Early in the season, which starts in late January, riders tend to start with shorter stage races and one-day races. As the season progresses into the spring (March-April), there's a split: some riders are peaking for major one-day Classics while others are continuing to race 7-10 stage races as they prepare for Grand Tours or other mid-summer stage race goals.

The Amgen Tour of California has a unique position in the international calendar. Situated in May, the ATOC overlaps with the 3-week Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy), one of the three Grand Tours (along with the Tour de France and Tour of Spain). Depending on the athlete and their other season goals, the Giro may be too hard to be an effective training stimulus. However, smaller stage races in Europe at that time may not offer enough stimulus because they lack the depth of strong riders (they're at the Giro or ATOC). At 8 days in length, and with the stature of the riders and teams in attendance, the ATOC has become the optimal choice for riders looking for success at races like the Dauphine Libere, Tour de France, and Tour of Spain.

Racing for Results

As in any other profession, results are currency. Not only do race results earn a rider UCI points that help to determine the rider's contract value and worth to his team, but race results determine leadership opportunities on the team and starting positions in future races. The ATOC is a highly competitive race because at 8 days in length it can be won by either an up-and-coming rider or an established star of the sport. In contrast, out of the nearly 200 riders who start each Grand Tour, fewer than a dozen are really in contention for the overall victory.

The prestige of winning the ATOC yields benefits beyond the podium. For a potential Tour de France contender, it sends a signal that the rider deserves to be his team's leader and that he is already fast and strong with nearly two months still left to train before the Tour. For an up-and-coming rider it is a sign that he has the skill, speed, and resilience to be one of the sport's star riders. And for riders who may not grace the ATOC podium, a strong performance in California may be the tipping point to earning a spot on the team's Tour de France squad or getting their contract renewed. For some of the youngest riders in the ATOC peloton, it may be the performance that catches the eye of a major pro team.

Racing for Recognition

Professional cycling is a sponsor-driven sport, and getting your sponsor's name in front of cycling fans is the name of the game. The ATOC offers a great opportunity for teams to get in front of American cycling fans, of both the hardcore and more casual varieties. An invitation to be one of the 16 teams in the ATOC peloton is among the most coveted invites in the sport, especially for teams who have US-based sponsors.

To be invited to the biggest races on the international calendar, teams must either be in the top tier of the sport as a Pro Tour Team, or they have to display the ability to be a factor in the race. For smaller teams with an outside chance of earning an invitation, this means that early-season races take on particular importance. You're not just racing for results in today's race; you're also building a campaign or body of work you can present as evidence of your team's credentials.

From the outside looking in, cycling sometimes appears to be a pretty simple sport. A large number of riders roll off the start line and hours later the first rider across the finish line is the winner. But not only are the details of what happens during a road race much more complex than that, there's also a lot of context to consider in terms of how races fit together to create a season, for individual athletes as well as for their teams. And as you watch the season progress toward this year's Amgen Tour of California, understanding that context helps frame the expectations and stakes at play in May.

Jim Rutberg is a Pro Coach for Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) and co-author of "The Time-Crunched Cyclist". In May 2013 CTS will lead a team of 20+ amateur cyclists as they ride every stage of the Amgen Tour of California with a head start on the pro peloton. For information about the ATOC Race Experience from CTS, visit www.trainright.com/atoc-2013.