Want to sound smart discussing Amgen Tour of California? Here’s what you need to know

If you’re still looking for a fun Mother’s Day activity, head outside Sunday afternoon and watch some of the fastest cyclists in the world sprint through Sacramento.

The Amgen Tour of California is the only men’s cycling event at the highest level of the sport to take place in the U.S. Stage 1 of the annual road race begins Sunday in Sacramento at 2:15 p.m.

The race spans seven stages, covering 773 miles between Sacramento and Pasadena, through May 18. The Tour of California women’s race is May 16-18 in Southern California.

This is the race’s 11th appearance in Sacramento and the 14th year of the event overall. Stage 1 launches in the shadow of the Capitol building and will take riders through the northern Central Valley before turning back into Sacramento for the finish. The stage is estimated to end around 6 p.m.

With the race beginning in Sacramento, we came up with seven ways to sound smart about the Tour of California. Impress your friends this weekend by sounding like an expert on the peloton – and not the kind you ride in spin class.

1. The route: Where you can watch the peloton zoom through Sacramento

Before the race really gets underway, riders will launch at L and 12th streets with a bit of fanfare in a parade down Capitol Mall. The cyclists will then cross Tower Bridge before touring flat-as-a-pancake rural roads across the valley. The 88.9-mile stage ends with three laps of a fast, technical sprint back in downtown Sacramento. This is a good time to catch the action. Grab dinner at Zocalo or a drink at Big Stump Brewing and catch all the action live. Spectators can also head to the tour’s lifestyle festival, featuring vendors and activities to explore during the race. The festival takes place by the finish line, adjacent to the Capitol. If you can beat the crowd, this is the best spot to get up close and personal with the athletes. Monday, the race starts in Rancho Cordova and Stage 3 in Stockton on its way to the finish in Pasadena. Experts say this year’s route is set to be the hardest yet with several long climbs.

2. The lingo: Use these words to participate in a cycling conversation

Cycling involves technical jargon you should know before bringing up the Tour of California in conversation. First is the peloton, the main group of cyclists in the race. When you see a mass of cyclists in colorful jerseys fly by, you are looking at the peloton. The majority of riders hang out in the peloton to save energy by drafting off other riders. Ahead of the peloton is the breakaway, or the group that is basically the bunny the peloton is chasing. These are riders that are trying to win the individual stage. The group that looks like a bunch of slackers falling behind everyone else is the gruppetto. The gruppetto is mostly sprinters who aren’t trying to win the stage, but who want to make it across the line within the time limit to be eligible to continue the race. Sprinters are better in the flat, fast parts of the race whereas climbers excel in the mountain stages.

3. Winning: There is more than one way to get a W in cycling

There is much more to cycling than who crosses the finish line first. Multiple contests will go down within the race itself. These contests are coded using special jerseys so that casual observers can tell who’s who. The rider wearing the yellow jersey is the overall leader of the tour, the rider with the lowest cumulative time. A good trivia point for the Tour of California is that the overall leader jersey used to be gold as an homage to the gold rush. Next is the King of the Mountain. For this competition, the best climbers will earn a red and white polka-dot jersey. This year’s tour includes 25 King of the Mountain climbs. Sprinters earn a green jersey for success during the 14 sprints. A white-and-black jersey will be awarded to the rider under the age of 25 with the lowest cumulative time in the Best Young Rider competition, and the blue Most Courageous jersey will go to a different rider each day who demonstrates the most dedication to the race.

4. Who to watch: Just in case someone asks for whom you’re cheering

Some of the best cyclists in the world will descend on Sacramento. But not all of the world’s pros will be in attendance. The Giro d’Italia, a three-week Grand Tour, will run at the same time as the Tour of California. The Giro, along with the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, is one of the most prestigious races in cycling. Pros generally only participate in one grand tours per season, so despite the Giro, the Tour of California will still feature some of the best. Three former Tour of California champions will be in the mix. Renowned sprinter Peter Sagan, who won in 2015, will ride with team BORA-hansgrohe and vie for the green jersey. Tejay van Garderen, who won in 2013, will also be there, riding with EF Education First. George Bennett, who won in 2017, is back and riding for Jumbo-Visma. But last year’s winner won’t make it. Egan Bernal of Team Sky was set to race at the Giro but pulled out because of a collarbone injury. Other big names in the mix include sprinters Mark Cavendish, who rides with Team Dimension Data, and Nacer Bouhanni, who rides for Cofidis. Cavendish is still rebounding from illness, and Bouhanni hasn’t won a race since a stage in last year’s Vuelta a España.

5. The teams: Cycling is not an individual sport

You might have noticed above that riders are listed with teams. Teams are critical for cycling – the success of individual riders is based on intense teamwork and strategy. One team member serves as the leader, or the rider the team wants to win. The leader works with the other riders on his team, who don’t have as much a chance to win but are nevertheless critical for the game plan to work. These cyclists generally ride in front of the team leader to cut out the wind, saving the leader’s energy for when it counts. Or, if the team’s leader is trying to pull away from the pack, teammates can block other riders from trying to catch up by moving to the front of the peloton. They then slow the pace so other teams will have a harder time catching the breakaway. Teams function to conserve and protect the energy of the leader and tire out rivals.

6. Time trials: Why there won’t be any in the Tour of California

The one exception to the team aspect of cycling is individual time trials, during which working as a team is forbidden. A time trial is a race against the clock. Individuals are released one at a time at different intervals, so later racers know what time they have to beat. Time trials can add more pressure to the competition by giving riders with different skills a chance to move ahead in the race, but there won’t be any time trials at the Tour of California this year. Organizers said they expect excluding time trials to make the race more interesting because winning will come down wholly to performance during stages. Some viewers also just find mountain stages more exciting than time trials because the climbs are more aggressive and dynamic.

7. Lightweights: Why bikes – and their riders – are so skinny

Cyclists and their bikes aim to be as lightweight as possible to be able to make it up the mountains. Riders still carry considerable muscle in their legs, because that’s where they get their power. Arms? Not so much. Bikes are light for the same reason: Too much extra weight slows the rider. Professional cyclists are required to ride 15-pound bikes, though technology has made it possible to create much lighter options. Oh, and the men also shave their legs like swimmers, supposedly for improved aerodynamics. All this contributes to cyclists’ abilities to move at speeds of around 30 mph on flat parts of the race.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee