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Cycling fans will want to keep an eye on Peter Sagan in Tour of California

A screenshot from YouTube shows cycling star Peter Sagan giving cooking lessons.
A screenshot from YouTube shows cycling star Peter Sagan giving cooking lessons. YouTube

When Peter Sagan isn’t pedaling his bike, he’s peddling his brand.

One day, Sagan is winning a world title, the next day he’s making sushi on a YouTube video. One day, he’s winning a 70-year-old traditional race in Belgium. And the next day, he’s back on YouTube making steamed sea bass with sun root, sunflower seeds and goji berries.

Nothing is understated about Sagan, the reigning two-time world road titlist who will compete for the eighth consecutive year in the Amgen Tour of California. The 12th running of the cycling race begins Sunday in Sacramento.

Sagan, who rides for the German team Bora-Hansgrohe, won the Tour of California by three seconds in 2015. He’s the sport’s best bike handler. He showcases his varied skills often in stunt and brief movie re-creation videos. He races while specializing in solo fast descents few others dare.

In March, during the individual time trial of the Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy, the Slovakian rider abruptly swerved and rode on a sidewalk to avoid to a pedestrian nonchalantly walking her dog on the race course.

“I don’t know why I have been so successful, really,” Sagan said of the Tour of California “I have different characteristics maybe in the climbs and in the sprints. But I just bring what I want. It’s important to have fun. For me, I don’t know. It’s just me, living my life.”

What version of the extroverted Sagan will show up for the Tour of California this year is unknown. He pedaled as a team rider last year and still won two stages. But the sport’s reigning superstar personality, highlighted by his flowing hair and multilingual wit, will likely make his presence known in Stage 1. It’s the third time the event has started in Sacramento in the past four years.

Reigning champion Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) of France – he won the 2016 Tour of California by 22 seconds over Australian Rohan Dennis – will not defend his title because of pending knee surgery. Dennis, who was competing this year in the Tour of Italy, which overlaps the Tour of California, withdrew from that race after Tuesday’s Stage 4. He was involved in a crash two days earlier.

Tour de France veteran Brent Bookwalter, who rides for the Santa Rosa-based BMC team and placed third last year, will be the highest-placed finisher from 2016 returning.

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) of Great Britain won the final stage in Sacramento last year and has 10 Tour of California career stage wins. However, he will miss the race this year after contracting the Epstein-Barr virus.

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) of France, who was expected to challenge Cavendish in sprint stages, will miss the event after suffering a concussion in the recent Tour de Yorkshire in England.

The field of 17 men’s teams, including 12 from the top-level WorldTour, will compete for seven days and an estimated 575 miles to the finale May 20 in Pasadena.

The four-day women’s race begins Thursday in South Lake Tahoe, with two days of road races beginning and ending at Heavenly Mountain Resort. Stage 3 for women will begin in Elk Grove and end near the Capitol followed by a circuit race in the same location Sunday.

“I think I’ve just had more progress,” said Saratoga’s Katie Hall (UnitedHealthcare), who won the women’s opening stage in 2015 and is a favorite for the overall title this year. “I’ve advanced steadily throughout my career, so it’s just been another small step this year. The Tour of California is a focus for me this year, but the field is very deep.”

Reigning titlist Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans), who lives part-time in San Mateo, and 2015 women’s titlist Trixi Worrack (Canyon-SRAM) of Germany will both return.

Following the flat men’s Stage 1 in Sacramento, Stage 2 will begin in Modesto and advance to San Jose, the last Northern California stop. Stage 3 will be a coastal trek from Pismo Beach to Morro Bay followed by another long road race from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita.

A summit finish to Mount Baldy in the San Gabriel Mountains will conclude the Stage 5 route from Ontario. Stage 6 will be a high-altitude individual time trial in Big Bear Lake, followed by the concluding Stage 7 road race from Mountain High to Pasadena.

The 2017 Tour of California men’s division has been elevated to the WorldTour, which means more of the sport’s elite international squads are mandated to compete. As a result, only five Pro-Continental and Continental teams, the second and third pro level which often featuring younger pros, will participate. Axeon Hagens-Bermn, the team that employs Neilson Powless of Roseville, was not selected.

Earlier this week, race organizers announced the addition of the men’s WorldTour squad UAE Team Emirates. Two women’s teams, the USA Cycling National Team and Team Illuminate, have been added to the original roster. The BePink team is no longer entered.

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