The Amgen Tour of California route will not be announced until October 7 but already speculation has mounted that the race will climb up Mount Baldy for the first time, while race organisers have not ruled out Lance Armstrong taking part in the event.
What is certain is that the race will be held over eight days with an individual time trial and seven road stages. There will be no prologue, however, or as rumoured, a team time trial.
"We'll go to ascents we've never been to before, high mountains, and we'll continue to take the race to places we couldn't do in late February," Andrew Messick, AEG president, told Cyclingnews.
Although he would not confirm the race visiting Mount Baldy, he did add, "We'll have our first legitimate mountaintop finish and we think it will be the hardest final 10 miles that we've ever done. We think that it will be an extraordinary opportunity for both the riders and the fans who want a real Alpe d'Huez experience. The mountaintop finish will be in Southern California. We'll come back to some familiar places and cover some new ground also."
With the 2011 Tour de France set to hold a team time trial, Messick had considered replicating a similar stage in order to attract as many Tour contenders as possible. However, the decision was made to keep just the individual time trial. "We considered it but ultimately we went against it. Having a team and individual time trial was probably a bit more than what we wanted in a race that's only eight stages and we didn't want to eliminate a lot of riders from winning either."
The Amgen Tour of California boasted it's strongest field on record in 2010, with Lance Armstrong, Andy Schleck, Michael Rogers, Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer all taking part. The American stage race runs concurrently with the Giro d'Italia and thus competes for the sport's top stars. Messick is well aware that a high quality field is key for the American race, and he believes those aiming for success at the Tour de France will recognize the Amgen Tour of California as their best preparation option.
"We want to be a race where people hoping to perform well at the Tour de France want to go. We had three guys in the top ten of the Tour this year and we continue to think that we're a great preparation race for July."
With many claiming that this year's Giro was too hard, evidenced by Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans both failing to repeat their Giro form at the Tour, Messick is already keen on attracting the sport's top star for next year.
"Alberto Contador, we'd love to have him. I think our race is great for the Tour. By all accounts his focus next year will be the Tour and the Vuelta and with that I think our race would be excellent preparation."
Messick's wish could conceivably become a reality. With Contador moving to Bjarne Riis's Saxo Bank squad, the Spaniard will find himself at a team where previous riders like Andy Schleck and Fabian Cancellara both made the transatlantic trip as part of their Tour build-up.
"Bjarne's had good experience with our race and his riders have enjoyed it in the past. You saw how well Fabian Cancellara and Andy Schleck went at the Tour this year. It would be a wonderful thing for American cycling fans to see Alberto with their own eyes."
While Messick hopes to attract the top riders in the world to California in 2011, he has also been in discussions with Lance Armstrong about the possibility of the seven-time Tour de France winner competing. Armstrong retired from the sport in July this year but only ruled out racing in Europe, leaving the door open for possible racing opportunities elsewhere. However, any plans to race could be affected by the ongoing investigation led by Jeff Novitzky in the US.
"Has Lance said he's not going to race? He's said he's not going to race in Europe," said Messick. "I've not talked to him recently but it's possible. We'd welcome him and he needs to decide if he wants to do any racing at all, but I don't think it's accurate to say he's not going to do the race next year. There have been discussions with him, it being the last chance to see him ride a bike in a race. I think everything depends on what happens in the next 12 weeks.