Perhaps not quite yet big enough to be dubbed “the fourth grand tour”, this year’s Amgen Tour of California nevertheless welcomes arguably the two biggest names in stage racing: Lance Armstrong and Mark Cavendish.
A new May date will hopefully avoid the inclement weather that has so often blighted the race in its previous February slot, but also puts the race into direct competition with the Giro d’Italia (May 8-30).
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Both Armstrong and Cavendish rode at the Giro last year, having already ridden the Tour of California three months earlier, where Cavendish won two stages and Armstrong finished seventh overall.
But both riders choosing California over the Giro this year adds extra prestige to a tough, eight-day stage race, which, as the US’s largest cycling event, attracts huge interest from both the media and roadside spectators, and arguably connects Armstrong and Cavendish with a more receptive English-speaking audience than they would have experienced in Italy.
With no prologue this year, the fast and furious, downhill-all-the-way stage one has Cavendish’s name all over it. The climbing starts already on stage two between Davis and Santa Rosa, then ramps up again on stage four, taking in both the Sierra Road climb – where Rock Racing’s Francisco Mancebo led a breakaway group over the top last year, taking the race’s King of the Mountains jersey before crashing out on the race’s penultimate stage – and the longer, but more gradual, Mines Road climb.
Mancebo won’t get another chance on the event’s ‘queen stage’ on stage six; the Spaniard’s Rock Racing squad has not been invited this year. Instead, defending California champion, and Californian local, Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) will be looking to stamp his authority on the day’s 218km route through the San Gabriel mountains between Palmdale and Big Bear Lake, with the route regularly taking the riders above 2,000m, with the race’s high point at Dawson Saddle at almost 2,500m. The ski station at Big Bear Lake will be the race’s first-ever summit finish.
As he did last year, Leipheimer’s RadioShack team-mate Armstrong may again be happy to ride in a supporting role to help the 36 year old win a fourth straight title, having already guided a clearly in-form Leipheimer to victory at the recent Tour of the Gila.
But with Armstrong admitting that he is behind schedule with his Tour de France preparation, might we see the Texan take on a more starring role, particularly on stage seven’s 34km test against the clock where he will get a chance to push himself?
Providing he can carry his stage-winning form over from the Tour of Romandy, HTC-Columbia’s Cavendish should face little competition on the flat stages in between, but will surely be doing his utmost to keep his two-finger salutes to a minimum.
Tour of California 2010: Stages
Stage 1, Sunday May 16: Nevada City – Sacramento, 168km
Stage 2, Monday May 17: Davis – Santa Rosa, 176km
Stage 3, Tuesday May 18: San Francisco – Santa Cruz, 152km
Stage 4, Wednesday May 19: San José – Modesto, 196km
Stage 5, Thursday May 20: Visalia – Bakersfield, 196km
Stage 6, Friday May 21: Palmdale – Big Bear Lake, 218km
Stage 7, Saturday May 22: Los Angeles, 34km ITT
Stage 8, Sunday May 23: Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village/Agoura Hills circuit race, 134km
Click on the map below to enlarge
Map: Tour of California
Tour of California 2010: Teams
BMC Racing Team
Cervelo Test Team
Kelly Benefit Strategies
Team Type 1
Tour of California: Recent winners
2009 Levi Leipheimer (Astana)
2008 Levi Leipheimer (Astana)
2007 Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel)
2006 Floyd Landis (Phonak)
Three-time winner Levi Leipheimer
Tour of California: 2009 top ten
1. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana in 31-28-21
2. David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 36secs
3. Michael Rogers (Aus) Columbia-Highroad at 45secs
4. Jens Voigt (Ger) Saxo Bank at 1-10
5. Thomas Lovkvist (Swe) Columbia-Highroad at 1-29
6. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 1-37
7. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at 1-46
8. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 1-54
9. Thomas Danielson (USA) Garmin – Slipstream at 2-24
10. Jose Rubiera (Spa) Astana at 2-48
64. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia-Highroad at 46-29