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Of all the squads starting the Amgen Tour of California Sunday in Sacramento, there are few with realistic chances at winning both field sprints and the overall.
One team that comes to mind is Bora-Hansgrohe, which has brought Peter Sagan and Rafal Majka. The other is Team Sky, which brings Ian Boswell for the overall and Elia Viviani for the sprints.
Viviani, who took his first victory of 2017 at the Tour of Romandie after five frustrating second-place finishes, described Sky’s California squad as “a very strong team.” In fact, he believes it’s the best possible lead-out he could ask for at the GC-focused British squad.
“In Owain Duoll, Dibbern Van Poppel, and Peter Kennaugh, this is maybe the best lead-out I can have for Team Sky,” Viviani said.
And he’ll need it, to beat riders like Sagan, Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin), and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo).
Team Sky won the Amgen Tour in 2014, with Bradley Wiggins, and finished third overall in 2015, with Sergio Henao.
This year, the team will put its hopes on Boswell, who will lead a team that also includes strong climbers Kennaugh, David Lopez, and Tao Geoghegan Hart.
“In a sense, we do have split aspirations with the sprints and GC,” Boswell said. “But at Team Sky we always tend to have deep rosters, we try to run into that problem. For our team at a race like this, with shorter days, and several sprint opportunities, a GC rider can help Viviani without taxing ourselves. It gives us focus, so that we’re not waiting around until Stage 5 up Mt. Baldy. We can race every day and have a goal, and that creates a positive morale. And if we win a stage or two before the key GC days, it takes a bit of pressure off.”
In 2015, Boswell finished third on Baldy behind Alaphilippe and Henao after riding the final kilometers in a support role. However he’s currently recovering from a heavy crash at the Tour of the Alps, where he hit the deck on the final stage traveling at 70kph. Injuries included road rash and bruising to his hip and knee, and a contusion to his left elbow that required x-rays. He returned at Romandie, where he said he was “nowhere near 100 percent.”
“The injuries made it challenging to ride bike with any kind of comfort at Romandie,” Boswell said. “It causes you to sit on bike funny, which can cause a saddle sore, general imbalances.”
Boswell spent the past two weeks at home in Oregon, recovering. He says he’s “physically fine” now, though he can’t say for certain what the time away from training and racing will mean when the peloton heats up in a few days.
Last year, Kennaugh crashed on the lead-in to Gibraltar Road and broke his collarbone, an injury that ultimately led to him withdrawing himself from Olympic selection. Geoghegan Hart finished 12th at California last year riding for Axeon Hagens Berman. Lopez has already finished six stage races this season, without a major result.
“There will be four of us capable of riding GC,” Boswell said. “It will come down to being honest with each other on the day. If it’s me, that’s fantastic, if I’m required to work, at this level, being on a professional team, we’ll put the best rider forward, and try to win stages and the best possible overall placing.”