By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
It has been a long time coming, and now the North American cycling fans, as well as the rest of the cycling world, will know if the new Tour of California will live up to the hype to become the top race in the land. Finishing in Los Angeles, the race begins on Sunday with a prologue in San Francisco - from the Embarcadero through Telegraph Hill up to the finish at Coit Tower. The start city is a little ironic with the last pro cycling race in San Francisco having been run out of town by the city. Regardless, one thing is certain, the cast of characters set to play out the drama on the roads past Hollywood shows that people are taking this race seriously.
Without even glancing at the specific riders on the team list, the teams alone make for an impressive line-up. Of the sixteen teams in the race, half are ProTour squads - the most ever to race on this continent. The full T-Mobile team makes its debut in this hemisphere with the world time trial champion, Australian Mick Rogers, leading the way. T-Mobile is racing here in southern California, in part, for its bicycle sponsor Giant. "We are really excited about it," says Giant's Andrew Juskaitis. "We are a little hesitant of how successful it could be, but we are hoping it turns out to be a big deal. Obviously stage seven finishes in our back yard and we are certainly going to take advantage of it with a huge party here. Not only just celebrating the race, but that our team is here. It's almost a homecoming for us!"
Of course, many in America will be looking at the Discovery Channel team - not only for a win, but to see the first step in a process to replace Lance Armstrong. "Tour of California is an important race for us," director Johan Bruyneel said at the team's presentation last month. "The course is great and we are going to bring a strong team. The most important guys are going to be Hincapie, Tom Danielson, Ekimov and Paolo Savoldelli."