By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
The Tour de Leelanau in northern Michigan stepped up to UCI (1.2) level last year, after three years as an up-and-coming one day race. But its date in September conflicted with the larger, yet first year, Tour of Missouri. This tapped the bulk of the top domestic men's squads so the race moved its date for 2008, landing on the American holiday weekend of Memorial Day. This has allowed for an increase in the quality of the field, though the month of May becoming quite a busy race month in North America is still keeping the men's and women's fields from becoming fully elite.
In the men's race, defending champion Garrett Peltonen (Bissell) is back with a strong team working for him, including Ben Jacques-Maynes who finished third and Teddy King who finished fourth last week at the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic. The team's sponsor is based in the state of Michigan and them is hoping for a home field result.
The other top domestic team, the continental professional outfit Team BMC, is led by veteran racer Tony Cruz. South African Darren Lill finished second at Mt. Hood last week and will also be a top contender. The Successful Living team is coming from Mt. Hood too, with riders like Charles Dionne and Alessandro Bazzana. Team RACE will be racing looking for one of its first major results in North America, especially before the upcoming Philly week of races and Canada's Tour de Beauce. Former Canadian champion Mark Walters will captain the squad.
Many smaller pro and elite teams will also be using this race for a possible upset win to make their season.
The women's race is also UCI rated though its field is affected by another factor - too many races. The new UCI rating for the women's Mt. Hood race last week became a priority for the women's peloton - and with the combination of the Montreal world cup and Le Tour du Grand Montréal next week, some teams are choosing to take the week off to rest.
Defending champion Tina Pic (Colavita-Sutter Home) comes into the race with two tough stage wins at Mt. Hood last week, and a strong team around her, including Pan American track champion Dotsie Bausch and top ten at Mt. Hood Tiffany Cromwell
Pic edged out Cheerwine's Laura Van Gilder last year, and the Cheerwine team will be looking to even the score this year. Leigh Hobson, top ten and Queen of the Mountains winner at Mt. Hood, and former Canadian champion Anne Samplonious, sixth at Mt. Hood, round out the team. Team TIBCO welcomes Brooke Miller back to the States after racing in the Tour de l'Aude, as well as two Mt. Hood top ten placers in Kiwi Joanne Kiesanowski and England's Rachel Heal.
But the real story should be the course, with five KOMs and six sprints for the men in the rolling hills of northern Michigan. Last year nearly half the field either abandoned or was time cut. Cyclingnews will have full reports and photos of both them men's and women's races.