The end of the road racing season always makes us nostalgic, so we’ve been looking through the Amgen Tour of California archives and couldn’t help but land on the 2011 edition. It was the year of that fateful first stage that never happened, cancelled because of the extreme snowfall around South Lake Tahoe, as well as the victory of Chris Horner (now of NBC Cycling) ahead of his teammate Levi Leipheimer. When we dug deeper into the start list, however, what we were really excited to discover was the depth of talent that started our sixth ever edition, young riders who went on to become great riders.
So join us as we take a dive into the start list of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, back when our last two champions Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogačar were 14 and 12 years old respectively, to see who we can find.
A stellar freshman class
Cast your eye down the list of 2011 debutants and you’ll see the future – now the present – of the sport in all its glory. Among them were 2010 U23 world champion, Michael Matthews, Taylor Phinney, Ben King, Andrew Talansky, Ben Swift, Rafał Majka, Dan Martin and a rather promising stage racer called Chris Froome…
Colorado native Phinney was in his first full year in the pro ranks and had a pretty great maiden appearance. He netted four top-10 finishes and showed off the US national champ’s jersey in the stage 6 time trial. He missed the next two editions – he got busy winning both road stages and time trials in the interim, including the Giro d’Italia prologue in 2012 – but came back with a bang in 2014, soloing to a sensational stage victory.
His compatriot and fellow neo pro, Ben King, had the honor of wearing the number 1 bib at the 2011 Tour of California by virtue of his 2010 US National Championship glory. King has only missed two editions since turning pro, his best result coming in 2016 when he won stage 2 and spent a day in the Amgen yellow leader’s jersey. Two years later he celebrated not one but two mountaintop stage wins at the Vuelta a España, an all-time career highlight.
Rafał Majka is another rider who loves racing in California. 2011 was his first year in the pro ranks and he gave a sign as to the awesome climber he would become with an 11th place finish up Mt Baldy. He came back in 2017 having established himself as one of the best climbers in the world, taking stage wins at the Tour of Poland and Tour de France, where he’d also taken the Mountains Classification in 2014 and 2016. Wearing the jersey of Polish national champion, Majka was a dominant force on the Californian climbs, winning stage 2 and leading the race overall until the stage 6 time trial.
2017 was a good year for the quietly determined Polish climber. After celebrating second overall, he headed to the Tour of Slovenia where he won a stage, the overall and mountains classification. After crashing out of the Tour de France, he rallied and took a fantastic victory on stage 14 of the Vuelta a España ahead of a formidable field of climbers.
Another notable first-timer was none other than Chris Froome, part of a very different looking Team Sky. Back then he was still ‘Crash’ Froome, the enigmatic Brit who was actually born in Kenya, but despite a fairly anonymous Tour of California – he finished 66th overall – 2011 would become his breakout year. He’d take his first pro victory a few months later on stage 17 of the Vuelta a España, and would go on to win it overall…eight years later.
Where is he now? Since 2011, Froome has become probably the most successful stage racer in modern cycling history with seven Grand Tours to his name. But he’s not done yet…
Tejay van Garderen shows his colors
2011 marked Tejay van Garderen’s second season with the celebrated HTC-High Road outfit, and after an admirable first year, during which he showed off his GC credentials at the Critérium du Dauphiné and held firm in his first Grand Tour at La Vuelta, he returned to US soil in May as team leader. A consistent performance, including two top-10 stage finishes, would net him fifth overall and best young rider by some margin.
That performance proved to be a fantastic springboard. Van Garderen would take his first pro victory just a few months later at the Tour of Utah having just completed his first Tour de France, and the upward trend continued. He says the proudest moment of his career came in July 2012 when he won the white jersey of best young rider at the Tour de France, and who could forget his 2013 Tour of California overall victory?
Tejay has raced California seven times, only finishing outside the overall top 10 once in his debut in 2010. He always arrives hungry for more and we can’t wait to see what he brings to the table in 2020.
At the ripe old age of 21, Slovakian upstart Peter Sagan had wasted no time in making his mark on the highest level of the sport. After a brilliant first season, he made his bombastic return to California in 2011, defending his green points jersey and adding to his blossoming palmarès with victory on stage 5.
Where is he now? The inimitable Sagan now boasts over a hundred career wins (he’s 29), including 12 stages and seven green jerseys at the Tour de France, three Road World Championship titles, and he also happens to be the most prolific winner at our very own event with 17 stages and one overall victory to his name. The wheelie king hasn’t missed a Tour of California since turning pro in 2010, and boy, are we glad to keep welcoming him back.
It’s exercises like this that make us wonder who might feature on this list in eight years time. Tadej Pogačar, and Egan Bernal, without doubt; Brandon McNulty; we think so! And then there’s the likes of Alex Hoehn who valiantly defended his polka dot jersey for three stages in 2019 and his USA Cycling teammate, Michael Hernandez, who put on a show by taking all the intermediate points in a single stage.
Whatever happens in the future, it’s awesome that the Amgen Tour of California might have played an important part in building the foundations of their careers.
Watch this space…