Race newbie King City starts Stage 3 of the 2018 Amgen Tour of California. Like an eager host, however, King City welcomes the peloton not once, but twice throughout the day. The Tour departs town and races south along legendary Highway 101 before turning out of the Salinas Valley at San Lucas. If riders were looking for a relaxed day of racing after Gibraltar Road, they need to keep searching. The day features five KOMs over 123 miles and 8,300 feet of elevation gain.
Two of these climbs occur within the first fifty miles before re-entering King City and heading north. In fact, King City presents a unique opportunity to see two portions of the race while still leaving time to explore this California farming town made famous by the illustrious John Steinbeck. First, sample some of King City's authentic Mexican taquerias once the race starts. Several are located in downtown, so sample a few before declaring a winner. With bellies full and feet rested, head east on Broadway, taking solace that the one mile walk to the next destination is flat compared with the peloton's hilly fifty miles sojourn to the same spot. Our objective is the sharp 60-degree turn from Bitterwater Road onto Airport Road. Passing warehouses and an endless sea of crops, one can almost imagine the timeless figures and features in Steinbeck's novels like East of Eden. Interested in learning more about the Salinas Valley's famed agricultural legacy? Kids love walking back in time at the Agricultural and Rural Life Museum across town on the flood plains of the Salinas River, a nice stopover before heading north to Stage 4.
Before heading across the Valley and into the coastal Santa Lucia Mountains, the Tour rolls through Greenfield, a small but ideal place to see the race before heading into the Gabilan Mountains. With only one way in, Pinnacles National Park is on the road less traveled. At only 26,000 acres, this is perhaps the best kept secret in California. Regardless of area, Pinnacles' towering beauty, unbelievable geologic history, and unique wildlife make it an unforgettable experience. The park is the cataclysmic result of several ancient volcano lava fields split apart and heaved about by moving tectonic plates. Over millions of years, the park shifted hundreds of miles to the north. Now they're yours to discover in a labyrinth of trails, caves, and colossal rocks that lie under the soaring gaze of the endangered California Condor. Chose any number of hikes, loops, and combinations to make your own adventure. The best part? Pinnacles National Park is a day-hiker's paradise with trails to fit every skill level and time availability.
The race is only given a short reprieve before heading back uphill, passing vineyards along the way. It is impossible to mention Monterey County without its bountiful wine portfolio. Several vineyards and tasting rooms are centrally located in the Salinas Valley, but for those looking for one-stop tasting, the quaint village of Carmel Valley is second to none. Still, this small community of 4,400 residents and ten tasting rooms is off the beaten path. Where Ojai is dominated by quaint Spanish charm, Carmel Valley is a rancher's paradise. Its two-lane oak tree-lined "thoroughfare" is just as likely to see horses and cyclists as cars. This feel is reflected in names like Cowgirl Winery, Holman Ranch, and Parsonage. These vineyards take pride in producing wines just as unique as the area in which they are produced. Typically grown in the hillsides surrounding Carmel Valley, grapes are naturally starved of rain and damp fog resulting in superb red varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon in a region typically known for Chardonnay and Pinto Noir. The peloton will only wish they could stop for a taste instead of making a beeline for the fifth and final KOMs before the fast-paced finish at the revered Laguna Seca Recreation Area racetrack.