02.17 Prologue – Palo Alto ITT – 3.4 km
02.18 Stage 1 – Sausalito > Santa Rosa – 156 km
02.19 Stage 2 – Santa Rosa > Sacramento – 187.2km
02.20 Stage 3 – Modesto > San Josй – 152.2km
02.21 Stage 4 – Seaside > San Luis Obispo – 217 km
02.22 Stage 5 – Solvang > Solvang (ITT) – 24 km
02.23 Stage 6 – Santa Barbara > Santa Clarita – 175 km
02.24 Stage 7 – Santa Clarita > Pasadena – 150 km
Looking at the start list for Year 3 of the Tour of California is something to marvel at. The big teams are sending real squads with some of the world’s best riders, and the Tour of California should thrive under the added firepower. The race should give a shot to pretty much every type of rider imaginable: time triallists, sprinters, climbers, and the inimitable breakaway daredevils.
Let’s take a look at who might be animating the race out of these categories.
The Time Racers
Since the race starts with a super fast Prologue in Palo Alto, why not start our look at the race with the time triallists. Just like last year, there’s the first day Prologue and then five days later, there’s the arduous 24k effort in and around Solvang to test the suffering capacities of all present.
Levi’s tiny body cuts a miniscule swath, and his legs concoct a virulently powerful power potion.
The first rider to come to mind in terms of the Tour of California and time trialling at this point has to be defending champ, Levi Leipheimer. Levi took both TTs last year to jump start what was by far his best season ever. Look for more of the same from the now Astana rider.
Fabian Cancellara might be twice as big as Levi, he also has two more World TT Championships.
Behind Levi there are tons of possibilities. Fabian Cancellara is a good bet to take at least one of the two time trials, if not both (he did become THE dominant TT rider on the planet at some point last year). It’s not just those two though – there is horsepower a’plenty to be had on the TT bike next week: Vladimir Gusev, Chris Horner, Stefan Schumacher, George Hincapie, Santiago Botero, Tom Danielson, Danny Pate, David Millar, David Zabriskie (last four all Slipstream), Bobby Julich, Gustav Erik Larsson, Jason McCartney, Jens Voigt, and Bradley McGee (along with Cancellara, that makes SIX solid TTers in California for CSC).
Santiago Botero and Tyler Hamilton should provide some nice TT capabilities to the Rock Racing squad.
And already you start to get an idea of the two teams to watch: CSC, Slipstream, and Astana. CSC and Slipstream are sending veritable all-star squads, while Astana is sending the favorite along with a cast of powerful supporting characters (if you can call Chris Horner a supporting character).
What will we get from arguably the best domestic TT riders, Ben Jacques-Maynes, Tom Zirbel, and Chris Baldwin?
Out of the Americans, there is of course the double dose of Tom Zirbel and Ben Jacques-Maynes from Bissell and gobs of other potential breakthroughs waiting to happen. Chris Baldwin ain’t too shabby on a TT bike either.
The single most exciting aspect of this Tour of California might be the fantastic collection of sprinters ready to test their legs on the Californian roads. It’s darn near jaw-dropping: Robert Foerster, Heinrich Haussler, Mark Cavendish, Gerald Ciolek, Tom Boonen, Paolo Bettini, OScar Freire, Fred Rodriguez, Luciano Pagliarini, Juan Jose Haedo, Stuart O’Grady, Tyler Farrar, and Ivan Dominguez…just to name a select few.
They’ll have ample opportunity to test their twin pistons of power – the sprinters should see finish line glory in 4ish stages, the -ish pertaining to the constant danger of breakaways, especially along the lumpy California route.
Take your pick!
The hits don’t stop with the uphill specialists either. Obviously the most important climbers are going to be the ones with the doubling up capacity for time trials: no one does it better than Levi Leipheimer in California. Leipheimer is the man to beat, but there’s a good bit of talent right behind him: Danielson, Rabobank’s young Robert Gesink, Fabian Wegmann, Bernhard Kohl, Hincapie, Devine, Barry, that’s just a couple of teams worth of talent right there.
The climbers should have two days for ball bashing celebration: the third stage into San Jose and the final stage into Pasadena. Stage 6, which takes in the lovely slopes of Balcom Canyon could also provide the aggressive climber with an opportunity worth seizing. The aggressors haven’t cracked the tough nut of staying away on Stage 6 YET, but it’s bound to happen at some point.
I’ll be giving Astana, Slipstream, and CSC a lot of credit for the best teams in the race in a moment, but on the topic of climbers, High Road has three great ones, especially for this type of course: Hincapie, Devine, and Barry. George Hincapie has to be seen as a legitimate threat for the overall – he has to win the thing someday, kind of like an eclipse: it’s going to happen.
The Top Teams
Of course, Astana, Slipstream, and CSC will be the big ballin’ teams, but there are a number of other teams which should well wield some big sticks.
Quick.Step will control this race at varying points for Boonen or Bettini or both, and one or the other should capitalize at least once, and I’m guessing multiple times. Tom Boonen in the early season is a bad, bad man.
A team to watch for sure next week? Gerolsteiner. The Mineral Water Boys from Germany are bringing a top notch Grand Tour capable team. Gerolsteiner is sending their best GC guy in Stefan Schumacher, as well as their top two sprinters in Haussler and Foerster, AND their best of pretty much everything: Davide Rebellin. I didn’t even mention German Champ Fabian Wegmann in that list, or former Austrian champ and Dauphine podium finisher, Bernhard Kohl. If Gerolsteiner goes home without at least a stage win, it’ll be a dismal week for them.
Somewhere in all of this has to be a mention of Bradley McGee. He’s moved to CSC and he should be the next in a long line of career resurgences with Bjarne Riis’s team.
With yesterday’s news from the ASO announcing Astana’s non-selection to all ASO events, you can be sure that Astana is going to come out guns a’blazin. They just might come into the race with an even bigger chip on their shoulder than Slipstream – who are doing their damndest to impress ASO and pick up that glittering possibility of eternal glory: a Tour de France invite. CSC claims to be motivated for the race due to the company’s heavy North American presence, especially in California, but this team needs no extra motivation. They have Jens Voigt, and Jens Voigt would race to race-induced sickness for nada.
You’re looking at my favorite for California.
It’s hard to focus on all of the teams coming this year, as the top few teams are bringing bomb squads. There are many more that will impress – the American teams will, as always, be at 100%. This is no training race, no preparation for a future goal: California is a season high point for any American squad lucky enough to get an invite.
For all the course detail you could hope for, check out the PEZ Preview on the 2008 course.
Just in case you forgot what California looks like, here’s the race map.
• Keep it dialed to PEZ as we hit the ground rolling tomorrow, chasing the sights, the sounds and the smells of a great season opener…