Ventura made such an impression on the 2018 Amgen Tour of California that the Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race empowered with SRAM makes its first appearance in southern California at this beachside paradise. The course is an out and back from Ventura through the immaculate Ojai Valley to the scenic coastal town of Carpinteria before returning to Ventura. Never a race to be taken for granted, the 2019 edition will be particularly challenging, and Stage 1 will set the bar for the women’s peloton. Over the route’s sixty-one miles are six KOMs for a total of almost 5,000 feet of climbing on the day. The last obstacle comes three miles from the finish with a .8-mile climb to the Serra Cross, an ascent that averages 7.2% and will almost certainly propel a lone leader to victory at the County Fairgrounds.
Starting from the fairgrounds, the race darts through the heart of downtown Ventura and Westside Ventura’s “The Avenue” on its way into the Topatopa Mountains. Yes, this route to the arty enclave of Ojai is well trodden by vehicles scurrying along the popular and beautiful Route 33, a lesser-known bike only path is the Ojai Valley Trail. This distinctive track is about sixteen miles in length (one way) and rises 833 feet before arriving in Ojai, making it an ideal course for any skill level. It is a spectacular way to slow down and enjoy the magnificence of the surrounding countryside along the Ventura River – the perfect day trip to fully experience the diversity of the Ventura/Ojai area. And to think that this is only one of many excellent, if not iconic, trails and routes that Ventura proudly offers. Whether they come with coastal breezes or canopied vineyards is up to you.
As the peloton continues to climb into the Ojai Valley, it begins to skirt the many fingers of Lake Casitas, just southwest of Ojai. A few short but steep climbs later and the riders will be looking forward to a Carpinteria loop that briefly takes them into the seaside town before re-entering the Topatopa Mountains. For the spectator looking for a memorable day out on the course, Carpinteria is a great spot. It is a quintessential California beach town with palm trees, boutique shops, mom and pop eateries, and the afternoon sun lining Linden Avenue. This makes for a fun small-town commercial flair that is distinctive from the beach itself. Crossing the Amtrak line, a different world emerges – one that is rustic and secluded. Few residences or businesses extend to this westernmost portion of Carpinteria, where Carpinteria State Beach dominates the coastline for an organic and restful scene. The park itself is more than just sandy beach. It includes the naturally forming prehistoric tar pits seeping into the ocean and the famed Harbor Seal Preserve at the south end of the park. All these highlights are easily accessible from the women’s route and make for a memorable day at the race.
Coming back around Lake Casitas, the peloton makes a final sprint into Ventura. This time, however, they are detoured up the one-mile long climb past Serra Cross Park. At an elevation of almost 400 feet, the city lies at its feet, the Pacific Ocean beams at an arm’s length, and the Channel Islands are tantalizing sirens in the distance. The park is both a historic and serene place to absorb Ventura in all its wonder. Its modern context is steeped in the legacy of the Spanish Mission system, but it is easy to imagine the Chumash Indians looking out from this spot across a plentiful yet mysterious sea. Indeed, this climb will be challenging to the women’s peloton, but with great endurance comes great reward - and an immense advantage to win the stage.