Amgen Tour of California '09 Preview

by Jack  

Link: http://www.amgentourofcalifornia.com

Once the dust settled at the Tour Down Under in Australia and the Tour of Qatar and the sprinters had their fix of glory on those mostly flat races, it's time for the big boys to come out and play. This Saturday, February 14th, the 4th Amgen Tour of California gets under way in the state's capital of Sacramento. If you thought last year's field was top notch, that field has nothing on the 2009 list of starters. Not since the LeMond and Hinault days of the Coors Classic or the Tour de Trump/duPont races of the early 90s has a more distinguished field of cyclists touched down on North America. If you are a cycling fan and are anywhere close to California, this race is a must see in person. And if you do go, I am jealous! The last race I saw in person was the 2005 Tour de Georgia, Lance's last race on home soil, so it would have been nice to head out to Cali for this one. But like most of you, I will be glued to the web and Versus.

This year's race will wind its way down to the southern-most point ever traversed by the Tour. Between Sacramento and Escondido, there's plenty of climbing, sprinting and the obligatory time trial to help settle the score. But if 8 days of racing aren't enough, the last stage of the Tour, stage 8, will be anything but a parade lap. In order to facilitate more drama in deciding the overall winner, the organizers have added the biggest mountain ever crossed by the Tour of California peloton. Palomar mountain sits right smack in the middle of stage 8 and climbs to over 5,000 feet in elevation, easily the highest point ever reached by the race. If the leader hasn't been settled by the individual time trial, this will truly be an epic. And as of today, snow still sits at the top. Where's Andy Hampsten?

Since there are plenty of websites that have analyzed the stages death, I won't go into them here. To get the official story, please visit the official website. Here are just a few of the names you'll be seeing at this year's race:

~ Levi Leipheimer(Astana): defending champ
~ Lance Armstrong(Astana): first race on American soil since his comeback
~ Floyd Landis(Team OUCH!): winner of the first ToC (and the '06 Tour de France)
~ Carlos Sastre(Cervelo): defending Tour de France champ and all around good guy
~ Ivan Basso(Liquigas): despite his ban, easily the most talented cyclist after Contador
~ Christian Vande Velde(Garmin-Slipstream): Tour contender
~ Kim Kirchen(Columbia): Tour de France yellow jersey and winner of Fleche-Wallone
~ George Hincapie(Columbia): 2009 Paris Roubaix winner
~ Tom Boonen(Quickstep): winner of everything
~ Mark Cavendish(Columbia): fastest man on earth
~ Frank and Andy Schleck(Saxo Bank): Tour de France contenders and brothers
~ Michal Rogers(Columbia): former world time trial champ 3 times over
~ Thor Hushovd(Cervelo): the God of Thunder
~ Oscar Freire(Rabobank): world road race champ 3 times over
~ Fabian Cancellara(Saxo Bank): gold medalist and world time trial champ 2 times over

Ok, you get the picture. The fact is, there's easily a dozen others that are notable as well. See the official start list here.

So what's going to happen? We can easily predict that Astana will be the team that will take control of the peloton because of both Levi and Lance. But there are plenty of other riders capable of winning this year's race and with the addition of a few extra mountains, the winner cannot be easily predicted just based on the time trial performance.

I love Levi but I am personally rooting for Floyd Landis. I think Floyd is super motivated in his first big race back from suspension and he's looking to make a statement. Floyd won the first edition of this race and can easily time trial and climb with the best. And in the interest of good television, a battle between Floyd and the power of Astana would be great to watch but come crunch time, it's up to the individual, whether it's Levi or Lance, to shine.

My prediction for top 3 at ToC:
1. Floyd Landis (Team OUCH!)
2. Lance Armstrong (Astana)
3. Levi Leipheimer (Astana)

Please cast your vote for the winner with the poll on the right.

Happy racing!

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