Robert Gesink, three-time winner of the best Young Rider jersey, and Laurens ten Dam, sixth overall last year, will lead the team along with twice Romandie stage winner Luis Leon Sanchez and sprint specialist Michael Matthews. The stacked roster should provide the team with plenty of options for snagging the results its sponsor is banking on.
"Rabobank is becoming a bigger bank over here," Gesink said. "So they really want to express themselves, and that's why we're here with a really strong team. So we want to try and do some really good results and win stages here."
Despite naming the Tour de Suisse and Tour de France as his main targets this season, Gesink told Cyclingnews that he is "dying" for a good result after recovering from a broken leg suffered in a training accident last September. To that end, the 25-year-old is coming off 11 days of altitude training at Lake Tahoe and is hoping the extra time spent acclimating to the US pays off.
"I've been struggling since my broken leg last year," Gesink said. "So I am dying to get a result, of course, because that's what you become a cyclist for – you want to win races. So I could really use a good result."
He arrived in California early enough to squeeze in some training in the San Jose area before going to Lake Tahoe. Now Gesink wants to test his form against the highly motivated field at the Tour of California, where he raced in 2007, 2008 and 2009 but missed the past two years.
"Of course, it's always a question of where you are exactly in the race," he said. "But if there's a chance in this Tour of California I'll take it. From the beginning you have to not lose any time, and then see how it goes in the two uphill finishes. That could be an advantage being off 11 days of altitude. Both of those finishes are at 2,000 meters, so that's a good thing."
Ten Dam finished third on the difficult Mt. Baldy stage last year on his way to sixth overall and hopes to repeat or better his performance this year. But he said that with the team's strong roster he could end up in a support role.
"Last year it clicked into place for me, and this year I hope it's the same," Ten Dam said. "For sure I can play my roles in the race, if it's top three or top 10 or if I have to assist Robert [Gesink] and get out of GC. I'm just here with the team to perform as well as possible. It's always that way at a race. People are unsure of their form compared to others riders. After a few days you can say, 'yes it's there' or 'it's going to be difficult.'"
Ten Dam said the changes to this year's race, with only one true summit finish and a longer, flatter time trial, may not play into his favor in the GC battle.
"The Mt. Baldy stage is good for me," he said. "But I think the Big Bear stage, compared to last year, is maybe less chance for the GC riders to make differences. For example, last year on Sierra Road we were already quite time gapped. Between the first 15 riders were reasonable gaps. So this year may be better for the time trialists. My TT is not that good compared to Zabriske, Leipheimer, Tejay [Van Garderen]. So for me it's more or less I'd like to be good on the mountain stages, and then in the TT we'll see how it goes with the GC."
The Dutch rider, who made headlines last year after finishing a stage of the Tour de France with his faced wrapped in bloodied bandage, said the team sponsor is excited for results at the race and has thrown a little extra support behind the squad's efforts.
"It's an important race for the team," Ten Dam said. "Normally the race organization pays for the plane tickets, but Rabobank California paid for an upgrade to business class, and it makes a huge difference in your fitness level when you arrive in San Francisco, you know, 12 hours relaxed in business class. So it was pretty nice from the bank, but it also shows the importance of the race for the team. They want to see us win races this week, so we hope we can deliver that."
But he also said that despite the extra support, the Tour of California has gotten bigger and more competitive every year, especially with the many motivated American riders and teams looking to score a big victory on home soil.
"This year, for example, Zabriske and Talansky from Garmin, and Danielson, so they've got a really strong team here," Ten Dam said. "I don't know how Tejay [Van Garderen] is after his crash at Romandie. Then you've got [Chris] Horner and Levi [Leipheimer]. So it's going to be big, but we've got a good team here and we've got confidence."