Sagan tries to repeat Tour of California crown

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Slovakian sprinter Peter Sagan of Russian team Tinkoff tries to defend his Tour of California crown starting Sunday when the eight-stage cycling race begins in San Diego.

The opening stage will be 175km around San Diego but the third stage, with a 12km finishing climb, and a 20.3km time trial in stage six at Folson figure to be key moments in the event.

"I'm really looking forward to this race. It's a great event at which I have some really good memories," Sagan said.

"It's a race I've liked competing at over the past years and it has now become a tradition in my program. I've been very successful and I believe that I will be back again at a good performance level."

The finish comes May 22 at Sacramento, which hosts the finale of the men's race and the four-stage women's race on the same day for the first time.

"I would be happy if I am again competing for some strong results here," Sagan said. "This year will be a very difficult edition, and not quite suited to my style, but stage by stage we will see what we can do."

Sagan took the narrowest victory in the race's 11-year history last year, edging Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe of Etixx Quick-Step by only three seconds.

"I have some beautiful memories from last year, despite losing the general classification for a handful of seconds," Alaphilippe said. "At that time I was disappointed, but it's all bygones now as I'm coming to the US motivated to try and go for another good performance.

"We have a strong squad for the race and I hope that we will be once again in the heat of the action."

Belgian Tom Boonen, back after a break following his second-place effort at Paris-Roubaix, figures to contend for Etixx.

British sprinter Mark Cavendish, who won four stages last year, returns for South Africa's first-year Qhubeka team.

"We'll look for our chances in the sprints with Mark Cavendish, but do also have allrounders in the team that can be a surprise in the hilly stages," said team sports director Roger Hammond.

Britain's Bradley Wiggins, the 2014 Tour of California winner, returns with his new Team Wiggins.

"The Tour of California brings the perfect combination of stellar competition, amazing scenery and superior organization," Wiggins said. "I look forward to returning with Team Wiggins to once again take on the top competitors in the sport."