It’s a calendar clash with the Giro, many star riders are in the Giro or on Teide, it’s got World Tour status without really having the World Tour obligations and more. It all works well.
Plenty of races overlap during the season. At first it sounds like a bad idea with half the peloton in one place and the rest elsewhere: how can the public know which race to follow when the best riders are split between two events? Only it’s not so simple, for starters “the public” isn’t a homogeneous entity, people in Italy want the Giro, others in California may prefer their local event. More importantly having the top riders all at the Giro wouldn’t work, some would be aiming for the Tour de France and so either avoiding racing all together, abandoning early or using the race as mere training, all while excluding hungry riders who want to race hard in Italy. So having other races on at the same time is probably a good thing. Almost nobody goes to the Giro for training and conditioning but California has a role here allowing some to resume racing after a spring campaign and young riders can be brought on. Being a training race can sound diminutive but is the Critérium du Dauphiné worse for this? Surely not, nor are Tirreno-Adriatico, Paris-Nice and other week-long stage races that might be prep on the way to something bigger but provide plenty of good racing along the way. Similarly the development aspect is no bad thing given past winners like Julian Alaphilippe and George Bennett.
But should these other races like California be in the World Tour? Again the answer seems simple, probably not in order to preserve a calendar of the best races. Again it’s more nuanced, to have the Tour of California outside of the World Tour would look odd and signal it’s not the top event it wants to be, especially as pro cycling needs a flagship race in the US in order to call itself a “world tour”. California is now a World Tour event but came in with other races and are what I’ve called NEWTs, new world tour races, which have fewer ranking points and are not compulsory for the World Tour teams. So they’re World Tour in label but not necessarily any more, it’s a flexible system that means the likes of Groupama-FDJ who have little interest in marketing French insurance and lottery tickets to the US don’t need to go so they can free up space for US teams that long and even need to race. The TV coverage from the race goes a long way to justifying the budgets of these US domestic teams. It works for everyone just as long as you sit back and enjoy the racing, don’t try to look up the rules about which team can ride what as they quickly get confusing.
It’s a big shop window. The US consumer market for bikes is very large and the Tour of California is one way to tap into it so we can see why teams with prominent bike sponsors are keen to attend, for example Sky can’t sell their main sponsor’s wares – TV subscriptions – but Pinarello are bound to be interested and you can see their marketing trucks at the race. This year’s route has even had a stage outside the Specialized corporate HQ and among the press images sent out every day there’s a lot of bike and gear photos which is unusual.
Another method to reach US fans has been to recruit US riders who for some time were premium items on the transfer market, everything else being equal an American rider could earn more than a non-American such was the demand. But this seems to have calmed down, more out of demand than supply. The US has a steady supply of riders into the World Tour but no star rider nor the kind of rider who is among the best in a particular niche, such as a top sprinter, a victorious climber, a TT specialist. But in Tejay van Garderen they just might have a home winner again.
The calendar clash sounds problematic but it works out well, the Giro might be missing out on some sprinters but would they be in Italy if there was no other race? Maybe not. Simultaneous events allow part of the peloton to focus on the three week Giro, another part to tackle one week of racing with fewer mountains and there’s room for more than one race at time in the media, especially as so much coverage is local. No World Tour would be worth the label if it didn’t have events around the world and the US is a key consumer market for the cycle industry and the Tour of California which has been going since 2006, along with a handful of other races like the Tour of Utah, help keep several US teams going.