Finals preparation are being done before the start of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California on Saturday February 14 in Sacramento where 136 cyclists divided into 17 squads will be vying for honors and publicity for their respective sponsors. Some riders and teams are aiming for the overall win, some for stage wins, some for specific jerseys and others for some time in front of cameras. Here are my thoughts of who is going for what….
Have to start with the coveted yellow Amgen Race Leader jersey. All eyes will be on Levi Leipheimer who is clearly aiming for a three-peat with his strong Astana team. Returning to racing after a two-year suspension for doping and winner of the first Tour of California in 2006, Floyd Landis is rumored to be flying and will definitely be looking for the top step. Can his Ouch team defend the leader’s jersey? I think that Landis will lie low at the beginning and unleash everything in the final stages especially as Stage 8 finishes in his sponsor’s hometown of San Diego. Columbia-High Road is coming in with three contenders: George Hincapie, Mick Rogers and Kim Kirchen, we’ll have to see who’s on form and is the true leader on the road. The other American ProTour team Garmin-Slipstream has a few contenders too starting with Christian Vande Velde, but is he on form yet? For me, the argyle riders to watch for GC are Svein Tuft and Dave Zabriskie.
The form of the other ProTour teams and their goal for the race are unknown but we can throw into the GC bucket Rabobank’s Robert Gesink, Saxo Bank’s Frank Schleck and why not brother Andy as a test of his leadership abilities.
The Pro Continental team on the roster is the BMC team coming in with a Swiss & American roster and so far they have refused to name their GC contender and will let the race decide between Alexander Moos, Scott Nydam and Jeff Louder. I’d be very surprised to see Cervelo’s Carlos Sastre fighting for GC this early in the season especially as he has been sick so in my opinion the team will be hunting stages unless Teddy King pulls something out of the bag.
Bissell’s Ben Jacques-Maynes has repeatedly stated that he wants to race more aggressively even if that means forgoing his top 10 GC potential. Rock Racing well, first of all how did Glen Chadwick and Chris Baldwin suddenly appear on the team roster as in theory they were registered in the club team, but that’s how the ball rolls (groan). Again multiple GC choices on that team with the nod to American and current US Road Champion Tyler Hamilton with Francesco Mancebo and Oscar Sevilla ready to step in. Team Type 1 is counting on South African Darren Lill as their GC guy as Lill has been steadily improving his timetrialing abilities and has shown climbing skills at races such as Mt Hood.
Just learned that Landis crashed during a training on Friday and missed the press conference. His injuries and their impact on his hip are unknown but according to the team he is starting on Saturday.
Sprinters. Lots of fast men are showing up and vying not only for stage wins but the green Herbalife Sprinters Jersey. The duel between Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Mark Cavendish (Columbia-High Road) continues on the roads of California as both have already won stages in Qatar against each other. JJ Haedo (Saxo Bank) has won the most stages with a total of 5 and will be looking to add at least one more to his count. Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas) who was able to best Cavendish at the Tour of Missouri last year. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream), Cervelo’s Thor Hushovd and winner of the 2008 Sprint jersey Dominique Rollin – but Rollin will be a marked man this year. Other sprinters include Team Type 1’s Ricardo Escuela, Rock Racing’s Freddie Rodriguez and the duo of Bernard Sulzberger and Jono Cantwell (Fly V Australia p/b Successful Living), Bissell’s Kirk O’Bee with Frank Pipp to help him out and Jelly Belly’s Brad Huff. Will the Colavita/Sutter Home with Seba Haedo (JJ’s younger brother) and the Borrajo brother Anibal and Alejandro be able to surprise? Is Oscar Freire on form?
Climbers. At stake maybe one or two stage wins and the California Travel & Tourism Commission King of the Mountain Jersey.
Last year the jersey was won by Nydam but the BMC team has stated that they are looking for a top 10 GC finish and will probably not ride as aggressively this year. Candidates for the jersey include Inigo Cuesta (Saxo Bank), Trent Lowe and Tom Peterson (Garmin-Slipstream), Moises Aldape (Team Type 1), Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia), Chadwick, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), teammates Anthony Colby and Tyler Wren (Colavita/Sutter Home) and John Gadret and Cyril Dessel (AG2R).
Breakaway artists. Hunting for a stage win by instigating a breakaway and making it work to the finish line is no easy task but some seem to have mastered it. The list must start with Jens Voig (Saxo Bank), I would add Luis Amaran (Colavita/Sutter Home), Chadwick, Brad White (Ouch) and all the opportunists on the Jelly Belly and AG2R teams.
Time trialists. Men who have mastered the art of the race against the clock: Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Landis, Leipheimer, Zabriskie, Tuft, Baldwin, Lance Armstrong (Astana), Tom Zirbel (Bissell) who to my eye looked thinner this year, Rogers, Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Slipstream), Day, Jani Brajkovic (Astana) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas).
Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey for riders who are under 23 years old. A few names: Peterson who won the jersey in 2006, Gesink who has won for the past two years and his teammate Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) … who else?
The last jersey is the Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Jersey. Each day, the most courageous rider will earn Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer jersey. It will be awarded to a cyclist who best exemplifies the character of those engaged in the fight against cancer. The jersey will not necessarily be awarded to the fastest or best cyclist of the day, but rather to the rider who best demonstrates courage, sacrifice, inspiration, determination and perseverance. If it is like previous years for the Most Aggressive jersey, then the media votes for the recipient.