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Tour of California: Where to watch in SLO County, and top riders in this week’s race

The world’s top cyclists will be rolling through California this week starting Sunday in Sacramento — and for two days they’ll be pedaling through San Luis Obispo County.

The fourth stage will conclude Wednesday in Morro Bay for the third time after beginning at the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey County and winding its way 133 miles down Highway 1 in Big Sur, passing through San Simeon and Cambria. The race is expected to finish in Morro Bay at about 3:45 p.m.

The fifth stage will begin on Thursday in Pismo Beach, continuing down Highway 1 and crossing to Highway 154 before ending in Ventura after another 138 miles. The stage is expected to start at 10 a.m. See the maps below for the full routes of the two stages.

Here’s a quick guide of what to watch for in SLO County’s two stages, including top riders and suggestions for a few of the top spots to view the cyclists whiz by.

Best places to watch in SLO County

The fourth stage will be dominated by the sprinters after several days of mountains, which likely means that some of the most exciting racing will happen at the end of the stage in Morro Bay.

Morro Bay: Main Street, along the Embarcadero and the finish line on Harbor Street should be prime viewing spots. Another spot to consider would be Cayucos Drive, which will overlook the riders as they pass through Cayucos on Highway 1.

Pismo Beach: The fifth stage will kick off in the heart of Pismo Beach and will follow Highway 1 out of town.

A good place to watch would be near the Monarch Butterfly Grove and the Oceano Dunes Natural Preserve. The race will then cut in up to the Nipomo Mesa on South Halcyon Road, making it another prime viewing spot as the riders climb the hill.

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Riders to watch:

Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe)

The three-time World Champion holds the Tour de California record for stage wins with 16. Sagan will be competing for the green jersey, awarded to the best sprinters and the yellow jersey. Sagan won the race in 2015. He should do his best on the flatter stages, namely Stage 4 and 5, which come after mountainous sections that will sap some of the energy from the legs of the other riders.

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data)

Cavendish has battled back from mononucleosis, which forced him to take a break from the sport. He holds the second most stage wins in Tour de France history (30) and has had 10 Tour de California stage wins. Expect Cavendish to be Sagan’s main competition for the green jersey.

Cavendish has had an injury and disappointment filled past two years. His last Tour de France stage win came in 2016 and he was forced to withdraw from the race in 2017 after suffering a fractured shoulder blade and didn’t make the stage time cut during the 11th stage in 2018. Now that he’s finally healthy, look for him to make a splash.

Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First)

Van Garderen has only competed in the Tour twice, but he was the runner up in 2018, and the champion in 2013. The EF team will be easy to spot — their kit includes pink helmets and jerseys which fade into black.

Van Garderen has the legs to attack on the mountainous stages — he has finished fifth in the Tour de France twice.

Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo)

This will be Porte’s first Tour de California, but don’t count him out. Porte is gearing up for the Tour de France.

The Tour de California is one of the last chances riders have to prepare and get race-ready for the Tour de France, so Porte will want to make this race count after missing some of the early racing season due to bronchitis and other illnesses.

George Bennett (Jumbo — Visma)

Bennett is the youngest of the aforementioned riders at 29 and has nothing to lose. His team is focusing its Tour de France efforts another rider, Steven Kruijswick, but Bennett will get his chance to lead the team for this race.

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