The season-long US National Racing Calendar series starts with weekend in Merced, California with the two-day McLane Pacific.
The weekend starts with the Downtown Grand Prix, a criterium on an 0.8-mile loop in Merced and Saturday also sees a fundraising Foothill Century Ride to benefit the United Way.
But the criterium is very much a warm-up for Sunday's race, the 122-mile Foothills Road Race, a long, rolling course that is notorious for exposing riders to windy Spring weather.
Health Net's Mike Sayers is a veteran of the McLane Pacific having won here in 2000. But this year he'll be working for his team, even though he says he's in his best shape in five years. "I want to see the team win both days. Sure I'd like to take another shot at the win, but the team comes first," said Sayers.
Certainly Health Net has three strong contenders in Gord Fraser, Ivan Dominguez, and Greg Henderson, riders Sayers calls, "easily the three fastest in the American peloton". Fraser won both races in 2004 and took out the 2002 and 2003 editions of the Foothills Road Race too.
Other teams riding this year's McLane Pacific include Colavita, Symmetrics, Kodak Gallery/Sierra Nevada, Victory Brewing, ABG Endeavour, Jelly Belly, and Webcor. 2000 Olympic champion Marty Northstein of the Navigators Insurance team will make his debut appearance at McLane this year.
On the women's side, teams have entered from Quark, Ford-Basis, Webcor, and Velo Bella. Tina Pic, racing for Genesis Scuba, won the road race in 2004 but this year will be in New Zealand for the second round of the women's World Cup, leaving the field wide open.