By Kirsten Robbins in Sacramento, California
Floyd Landis and his American team OUCH presented by Maxxis are far from being underdogs at the Tour of California that kicked off with the prologue in Sacramento on Saturday. Even though Landis has not competed for two years, he is still regarded as one of the best mountain climbers and time trialists in the world. According to Viatcheslav Ekimov, Astana's assistant directeur sportif, Landis is the biggest threat to Levi Leipheimer's quest to bring home a third consecutive victory.
"Landis, for sure, is hungry for the race and hungry for the win," Ekimov told Cyclingnews regarding Landis' return to the peloton after the completion of a two year suspension for a positive drug test at the 2006 Tour de France. "I think he is the number one danger here."
Ekimov also noted that Astana will be up against strong teams including Saxo Bank, Garmin-Slipstream and Cervélo TestTeam during the nine-day stage race but that the OUCH teammates have motivation to perform well on their side. "All Landis will need to do is follow wheels on the climbs and then do well in the time trial," Ekimov said who now assists the Astana captain Johan Bruyneel after competing for 16 years in the professional peloton.
"There will be two more days to control the race after that time trial but his team seems like they are very motivated," he continued. "As for OUCH, this is the biggest race of their season so it was important to them to be here on really good form."