By Kirsten Robbins in California
Less than a week before the start of the Tour of California, Saxo Bank wrapped up its two-week training camp, held on the outskirts of Los Angeles in the Agoura Hills. California's ‘mini Tour de France' is set to begin on February 14 in Sacramento. Bjarne Riis promised a tough fight from his star cast in the week-long event.
"We want to go for everything at the Tour of California, jerseys and stage wins, but we also need to be realistic that to win the overall might be difficult," Riis told Cyclingnews. "We will see how the race goes forward and we will be ready, as always, to do a strong performance. We have a strong team, no doubt about it, so we need to see how we can play our cards – we may surprise."
Saxo Bank gives California a chance to see its Tour de France roster in action. The team includes powerful GC contenders, brothers Fränk and Andy Schleck, along with former world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara, Gustav Larsson, Stuart O'Grady, JJ Haedo, Jason McCartney and Jens Voigt.
"We have one of the strongest teams here. Obviously Astana is going to be good and Levi [Leipheimer] is probably flying as always. But those are things we need to deal with and we can't give up before the race. That would be wrong."
Even though Riis considers the Tour of California an important event on the Saxo Bank calendar, the overall focus is still on the Spring Classics and the Tour de France. "Our riders have not trained specifically for this race," Riis said. "Some of them are going to be good now, but not too good. This is an important race for us which is why we brought a very good team. We take it seriously and you can see that the peloton is like a mini Tour de France. It is going to be an interesting event this year."
The organisers have incorporated at least one KOM summit in each of the eight road stages. The eighth and final stage stretches nearly 160 kilometres from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido and features four KOM summits. It is marked as the 'Queen' stage because it includes a 19-kilometre climb up the Palomar Mountain range, reaching 1,561m (5,123 feet) through 21 switchbacks.
"I think that the outcome of the race depends on where the climbs are located within each stage," Riis continued. "It looks difficult this year but I still believe the GC will be decided at the time trial. The last day is very hard and that can make a difference."