The Amgen Tour of California will begin in Lake Tahoe on May 15 and conclude in Thousand Oaks on May 22. The parcours will include a little bit of something for everyone, from mountainous terrain to a decisive individual time trial and several predicted bunch sprint finishes.
AEG Sports, organizers of the eight-day race invited five US-based Continental teams Kelly Benefit Strategies - OptumHealth, Jamis-Sutter Home, Jelly Belly p/b Kenda, Kenda/5-hour Energy and Bissell along with two US-based Professional Continental teams UnitedHealthcare and Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis and one Canada-based Professional Continental team SpiderTech p/b C10. Cyclingnews highlights some of the key riders from these teams that are likely to put forth a strong showing.
When the road goes up, look for these riders
Top-notch climbers in attendance at this year’s event include Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek), Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner (RadioShack), Dave Zabriskie, Ryder Hesjedal and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Cervelo), Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad), Steve Morabito (BMC Racing) and Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Doimo). The most decisive ascent will no doubt take place on the nearly 25kms jaunt up to the Mount Baldy Ski Resort on stage seven where some of the top climbers from the US-based Continental and Professional Continental teams will want to show their top form.
Paul Mach and Chris Baldwin (Bissell) will be amongst the top domestic climbers in the peloton. Mach carried the California Travel and Tourism King of the Mountain jersey into his home town of Davis, the finishing city for stage two last year. This year, Mach will no doubt be a contender in the KOM competition once again.
His teammate and late addition to the team, Chris Baldwin, from Colorado, has proven top form placing sixth overall at the San Dimas Stage Race, third overall at the NRC Redlands Bicycle Classic and seventh overall at the Tour of the Gila. He will be expected to contest the event’s two mountaintop finishes on stage four’s Sierra Rd and stage seven’s Mount Baldy.
Tyler Wren (Jamis-Sutter Home) has significantly improved his climbing ability to become one of the top domestic climbers this season. The Utah transplant turned heads at all of the early season stage races, placing third overall at the San Dimas Stage Race, seventh overall at the Redlands Bicycle Classic and 15th overall at the Tour of the Gila, where he placed second to former Grand Tour contender Francisco Mancebo (RealCyclist.com) in the opening stage on lengthy and steep mountaintop finish in Mogollon.
Andrew Bajadali (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) has been a staple ascender amongst the American peloton for nearly a decade. The Colorado native has a palmares that includes victories at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Tour of Utah, Tour of Thailand along with winning the KOM competition at the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic and a second place at the USPro Road Championships. An unfortunate knee injury has forced him off his bike in recent years. However, he will return to the Amgen Tour of California with ample preparation in his legs for the mountainous terrain.
Ryan Anderson (SpiderTech p/b C10) proved his climbing prowess when he wore the KOM jersey at the Tour of California for two stages last year. The Vancouver resident built on that performance with strong finishes in the mountainous Vuelta Uruguay where he took four top ten finishes including one podium in second place.
This year, Anderson surprised himself and his team when he placed 13th at the UCI 1.1 Trofeo Laiguelia in Italy, one of his first overseas events with the new Professional Continental Team. His teammate David Boiley, who won the KOM competition at the UCI 2.1 Giro di Sardegna will not be participating in this year’s Amgen Tour of California, but the team’s California native Lucas Euser is expected to be in top climbing form.
Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) is a promising climber who placed seventh overall at the Amgen Tour of California last year. He placed second to Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo) on the queen stage six, a mountaintop finish to Big Bear Lake. This year, the Australian had top performances at UCI 2.1 Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali, where he placed sixth in stage three and third in stage four and the UCI 2.1 Vuelta Asturias Julio Alvarez Mendo, where he placed third in the stage 2b individual time trial and second place in stage four.
Alexander Efimkin’s (Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis) recent overall victory at the UCI 2.HC Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey is a strong indication that he is ready to take on the mountainous terrain at this year’s Amgen Tour of California. Born in Russia, he is well versed in the climbing arena having placed inside the top ten at the Giro d’Italia, Tour de Suisse, Paris-Nice and Vuelta al Pais Vasco in previous years.
The men against the clock
The top contenders that will take the starting ramp at the stage six 24km time trial in Solvang will include Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervelo), Gustav Larsson (Saxo Bank Sungard), Bert Grabsch (HTC-Highroad), Alex Dowsett (Sky ProCycling) and Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing), among others. There are a handful of riders on the US-based Continental and Professional Continental teams that might be able to give them a run for their money.
Tom Zirbel and Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home) will lead their team into the stage six time trial as potential top ten contenders. Zirbel, a late addition to the team, is no stranger to the top ten ranking on this particular time trial course, having done so in 2008 and 2009. Luis Amaran is the nation’s current National Racing Calendar champion, accumulating the most number of points during the 2010 domestic calendar year. He is known for his strong time trialing ability and is an opportunistic breakaway rider.
Jeremy Vennell and Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) are just two of a series of strong time trialists on the team. Vennell is a former New Zealand national time trial champion and recently showed his top form placing second at the Tour of the Gila stage three time trial and second at the Joe Martin Stage race time trial and overall classification. His teammate, Jacques-Maynes, is also a talented time trialist who placed third in the Amgen Tour of California in 2007 and 9th in the time trial in 2008.
Ben Day (Kenda/5-hour Energy) is a former top-ten contender at the Amgen Tour of California. He placed 16th in the individual time trial and eighth overall in the 2007 edition. He is a former Australian national time trial champion with an extensive palmares that includes wins at the UCI Tour de Beauce and La Visite Chrono De Gatineau along with wins at the San Dimas Stage Race and Redlands Bicycle Classic. He is eyeing a top-ten overall finish once again.
Svein Tuft (SpiderTech p/b C10) is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to time trialing. He is a six-time Canadian national time trial champion and currently holds the title after winning the championships event in 2010. He secured the silver medal at the UCI World Time Trial Championships in 2008. He is an overall contender having placed second overall at the Tour of Denmark, third overall at the Tour of Missouri and prologue winner at the Eneco Tour. This year, he placed fourth in the prologue at the UCI 2.HC Driesdaage ven West-Vlaadneren and hopes to bring that form into the Amgen Tour of California.
Speedsters capable of podium finishes
The Amgen Tour of California peloton has a handful of world-class sprinters including the current UCI Road World Champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cerevlo), Milan San-Remo winner Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad), Juan Jose Haedo (Saxo Bank Sungard) and Ben Swift (Sky ProCycling), among others. The US-based Continental and Professional Continental teams will have their hands full containing some of the fastest men in the world, but here is a list of those who might be in contention for a podium appearance and perhaps even a stage win.
Alejandro and Anibal Borrajo (Jamis-Sutter Home) are two of the fastest brothers racing domestically. The Argentine duo offer their team a tough-to-beat combination, both equally as fast and capable of a bunch sprint podium finish at the Amgen Tour of California. Elder brother, Alejandro, has an impressive palmares with seven top-ten finishes in bunch sprints at the Giro d’Italia. His Stateside victories include Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, Presbyterian Hospital Criterium, Nature Valley Grand Prix, Redlands Bicycle Classic and Clarendon Cup. The younger of the two, Anibal, has proven to be on top form this spring with stage wins at the San Dimas Stage Race and Joe Martin Stage Race.
Ken Hanson (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda) is a former Elite USA Criterium Champion and placed second in the USPro Criterium Championships last year. His results also include wins at the Nature Valley Grand Prix, Historic Roswell Criterium and the Wells Fargo Twilight Criterium. This year, he took a stage win at the Tour of Korea, along with two top ten stage finishes. He also placed second in a stage of the Redlands Bicycle Classic.
Luca Damiani (Kenda/5-hour Energy) is becoming a recognized sprinter on the domestic scene. The Italy native recently won the Terrapin Athens Twilight, one of the most celebrated criteriums in the nation. His is also a former winner of the CSC Invitational Criterium. His skills in a bunch sprints can largely be attributed to his many years of BMX and cyclo-cross racing. A member of the Italian National Cyclo-cross team, Damiani has placed on the podium at his country’s national cyclo-cross championships.
Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) is decade-long sprinter amongst the US peloton. Some would say that he specializes in stage race and one-day road race bunch sprints. He has had ample success at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Tour of Utah, Tour de Beauce, Tour of Missouri, Tour de Georgia and the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championships. He has placed second in the 2010 USPro Road Championships and 2008 USPro Criterium Championships.
In addition, he placed inside the top ten in two stages of the previous year’s Amgen Tour of California.
Frank Pipp (Bissell) will arrive to the Amgen Tour of California fresh off an overall victory at the Joe Martin Stage Race. He had a stellar series of races beginning with top ten finishes at the Merco Cycling Classic and a stage win at the Tour of the Gila. He is a formidable stage race sprinter having won stages of the Tour of Arkansas, Nature Valley Grand Prix and the International Tour de Toona. This year, he will no doubt want to add a podium finish at the Amgen Tour of California to his list of career highlights.
Martin Gilbert and Kevin LaCombe (SpiderTech p/b C10) are former Canadian hockey players who turned to cycling as an activity to stay fit during the summer months. They have become two accomplished sprinters, both in domestic Canadian and American professional bike racing scene and internationally. Gilbert is a four-time Canadian National Champion and has won stages at the Vuelta Uruguay, Vuelta a Cuba, however, he is best known for his stage seven victory at the Tour of Missouri two years ago. LaCombe has brought home some successful results during the team’s first block of racing overseas as a Professional Continental team.
Robert Forster (UnitedHealthcare) arrives to the new Professional Continental team with ample of international experience and accomplishment in bunch sprinting. He has competed for over a decade on the professional Europe circuit under teams Nurnberger, Gerolsteiner and Milram. He has won bunch sprints at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana, Circuit de la Sarthe, Denmark Rundt, Tour of Turkey, Deutschland Tour and the Volta ao Algarve. This season, he brought his team early season success, winning a stage at the Tour de Langkawi and placed two top 10 finishes at the Clasica de Almeria and Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia, and a recent stage win at the Vuelta a Asturias.
Aldo Ino Ilesic and Jure Kocjan (Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis) will be the designated sprinters and strong-men for the Amgen Tour of California.
Ilesic predominantly raced on the US domestic scene last year and is known as a top sprinter. This year he secured a podium and a tenth place stage finish at the Etoile de Besseges. Kocjan added a series of stellar results to his resume this year with podium performances at the Fleche d’Emeraude, GP Regio Insubrica along with top ten finishes at the Circuit de la Sarthe, Montepaschi Strade Bianche, GP di Lugano, Tour du Haut Var and GP d’Ouverture La Marseillaise.