A new addition to the Garmin-Transitions team for 2010, South African Robbie Hunter gave the team its first European win of the season in the Tour of Murcia in March. The 33 year-old is back in action at the Amgen Tour of California and looking to improve upon his solid results at the recent Tour de Romandie.
After his successful start with back-to-back wins in Murcia and two days in the leader's jersey, Hunter's early season was waylaid by a bout with Achilles tendonitis which forced him to miss out on the Spring Classics.
"It's weird, it's one of those problems I don't know what caused it. I hadn't changed anything on the bike - maybe it was the really cold weather we raced in in Tirreno-Adriatico. It was the only thing I can really pinpoint as a cause.
"I had good training in the off season in South Africa, and the idea was to have a good pre-season up until the Classics," he said, but added that there is still plenty of racing left in the season.
"People look back and all the Classics have come and gone and try to balance out who's been good and bad and put the numbers on the board, but if you look forward there is still a long part of the season left. There's still the Tour, and we're not even a quarter of the way through the Giro yet. There's a lot still to come and there are a lot of guys who still want to get results."
Hunter is in California to help support his teammate and general classification contender David Zabriskie, but will have his own ambitions for the sprint stages. The first one comes with the 168km first stage into Sacramento, which is virtually guaranteed to be a bunch sprint. The victor will get the spoils of the first leader's jersey as well, something Hunter said he'd like to win.
"I'm feeling pretty good. I just got thru Tour de Romandie. The condition is good. Our objective is obviously to get Zabriskie into the position to maybe take the jersey on the last day, but I've got some objectives in the sprint as well. We'll have to see the first two days. There are about 20-30 guys trying to do the same thing the first day, so we'll see."
Hunter had some close calls at the Tour de Romandie, including the second stage where ace HTC-Columbia sprinter Mark Cavendish was left behind on the hills and Hunter was part of a 100-strong peloton fighting for the bunch sprint.
"I would have liked to have walked away with a victory there. I was probably the fastest guy on the stage when Sagan won, but I made a mistake in the last kilometre, so I wound up maybe sixth. I ran third when Cavendish won [on stage two], but it was kind of a disappointing finish. Whoever was on Cav's wheel sat up and by the time we got around, Cav was already away."
At the Tour of California, Hunter knows that the peloton will contain the best group of sprinters assembled so far this season, so he knows a stage win will be a tall order.
"The guys who are going to be fighting on Cav's wheel here aren't going to make those mistakes, so the first two days are not going to be easy.
"Cav's got a really good lead-out, and most wait for him to go, but when he's going really well it's almost impossible to get over him. But that goes for anybody - if you have [Thor] Hushovd or [Tom] Boonen, when they're really firing it's the same. You just have to go at the right time, and at the end of the day really, anybody can be beaten."