By Greg Johnson
The Tour de Georgia has announced the 15 teams that have accepted invites to contest this year's event, which includes five ProTour squads. Leading the field of 120 cyclists that will contest the April 16-22 event is the number one ranked ProTour team from 2006 Team CSC and the United States' only ProTour team Discovery Channel.
"The stature of the Tour de Georgia field continues to grow year after year," said Tour de Georgia race director Jim Birrell. "Kevin Livingston, the Tour de Georgia's competition director, has again assembled an outstanding and world-class field for our spectators and viewers to enjoy."
Discovery Channel's Levi Leipheimer will be aiming to repeat the feat of fellow American Floyd Landis in 2007, after the latter took a sweep of the big American Tours in 2006 with victories at the Tour of California and the Tour de Georgia. Leipheimer, who has already taken top honours in California, is looking forward to returning to Georgia for a crack at the title.
"It is going to be exciting to come back and race with Discovery Channel, an American team, this year and try to get Johan (Bruyneel, director sportif) another win in Georgia," explained Leipheimer, who last contested the event in 2005.
In addition to the ProTour teams that have accepted invitations to this year's race, a host of Professional Continental and local squads will also lineup for the seven stage event. Among those Pro Conti squads is Italy's Tinkoff Credit Systems.
Tinkoff's inclusion will make the Tour de Georgia Tyler Hamilton's first UCI sanctioned race on home soil since the completion of his two year suspension for blood doping.
"I'm really looking forward to racing inside the United States again," stated Hamilton. "I'm hoping the good block of early season racing I'll have under my belt by April will serve me well. The last pro cycling race I competed in inside the U.S. was in San Francisco in 2001.
"I hope that we can make a good showing at the Tour of Georgia," he added. "The team is really strong and I have a lot of confidence in them. We'll pick the leader based on who is riding best at the time."
The announcement of the squads contesting this year's event comes just a week after the events organiser Medalist Sports confirmed it would go ahead. The UCI 2.HC event was hit with financial uncertainty when the Georgia Ford Dealers' Association opted against renewing its title sponsorship deal last June, with the American manufacturer forced to tighten its budget strings over the past 12 months due to multi-billion dollar losses.
According to an article published in the Atlanta Business Journal earlier this month, the event was still rushing to fill an $800,000 budget shortfall. After issuing a call for help, organisers announced last week that they were satisfied with the response and confirmed the 2007 edition would go ahead.
The 15 confirmed teams for the Tour de Georgia:
Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team
Tinkoff Credit Systems
Health Net presented by Maxxis
Team Slipstream presented by Chipotle
Navigators Insurance Professional Cycling Team
Jittery Joe's Professional Cycling Team
Priority Health Cycling Team presented by Bissell
Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team
BMC Professional Cycling Team
Colavita/Sutter Home Presented by Cooking Light Team
USA Cycling National Development Team