American squad looking for aggressive race
The Garmin Sharp team will hope to transform David Zabriskie's four second-placed finishes overall with its first ever victory in the Amgen Tour of California this week, and is standing behind the reigning time trial champion even if this year's course is a bit more difficult than previous years.
"He's in great form again, and he trained very hard for the race," Van Bondt told Cyclingnews. "I think we have a very good chance for him to win this race. Then we have Tyler, who skipped the Giro this year and is focused on the Tour of California. Our objective is to win a minimum of one stage and then try to win the overall with Zabriskie.
Last year Zabriskie's 34-second lead after the time trial was wiped out on the climb to Mt. Baldy, when Robert Gesink rode away to gain more than a minute on the American. But Garmin directeur Geert Van Bondt thinks that the climbs in this year's race suit Zabriskie a bit better.
"Last year when he was second and we went up to Mt. Baldy, and that was not an easy climb, and he was still second in GC. We had a very good Gesink last year, and he's not here. So I think Zabriskie can be good on the Palm Springs stage as well."
The stage 2 finish in Palm Springs ends atop the Tramway, a 3.7-mile ascent that is quite steep, but Van Bondt thinks its consistent grade will be better for Zabriskie than Baldy's steep ramps. "Zab has more problems when it gets steep, but this climb is very consistent. It's long, but it's 10% all the way up. I think the race maybe suits him better than last year."
What Van Bondt doesn't want to see happen is for Garmin to miss an important breakaway and waste its precious resources having to chase down gaps. At the USA Pro Cycling Challenge last year, the team went on the attack instead, and was able to dominate the race, winning three stages and the overall classification.
"I think we have to race pretty aggressive. If you see the first two days - Sunday is already a hard stage, and that's the difference between this and last year. Last year we had a few flat stages at the beginning and then the climbs, but Sunday it goes directly to 1600m on a really long climb. It's going to be difficult to control the race. We have to be aware that if the breakaway goes, we have to be in there, so we don't have to close the gap. That's the worst scenario because then you have to sacrifice so many people."
He tipped Alex Howes, Rohan Dennis and Caleb Fairly as the riders to mark the moves on the early stages, but expects the opening stage to be hard to control, as the Continental teams look to get into the early breakaways to have a chance to don the first leader's jersey.
"I think they will race aggressive as well - for them it's difficult to hang on the climbs, if they make a move they have to make it before the climb, and it's a very long one.
"All of the teams will be trying to do the same thing ... but what I learned from my experience is if you race aggressive, then every time you're in a better position."
If Zabriskie can hang on the climbs, then Van Bondt expects that his skill and experience as a time trialist will be key in the San Jose stage.
"It's going to be different - Zabriskie could take a 20 second advantage [in the time trial] last year, but with the uphill it is going to be important to pace it correctly. You don't want to be a bloc when you hit the climb. You need experience to do it right, and Zabriskie has that."
Garmin Sharp's team for the 2013 Tour of California: David Zabriskie, Rohan Dennis, Caleb Fairly, Tyler Farrar, Alex Howes, Lachlan Morton, Jacob Rathe, Johan Van Summeren.
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