Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Palo Alto
Three years may not seem very 'old' for a cycling race, especially when Paris-Roubaix and the Tour have run 105 and 94 editions of their races, respectively. But in North America, where the half-life of major races is in question every year, three years of a race can make it look like a grizzled veteran. And with the third Tour of California bringing out some significant parcours changes, the comparison of 'old routes' versus 'new routes' seems justified; with all due respect to the spring classics, of course.
The new stages are the biggest news for this year's race, with a new prologue, a tough stage three course over Mt. Hamilton and the conversion of the final stage from a parade-like circuit race to a normal point-to-point stage. These more difficult routes, combined with the 'old standards' such as the run down the Pacific Coast Highway from Seaside to San Luis Obispo, will hopefully make for more exciting racing along California's beautiful coast - possibly resulting in more solo stage finishes to counterbalance the usual field sprints.
Cast of characters
Returning to defend his title, the first time this will be possible, is the current U.S. road champion Levi Leipheimer. And for the third time he comes with a new team, Astana. But the team may not be as new after first glance, as the team is made up of about half of the old Discovery Channel team, with Johan Bruyneel running the show. Leipheimer will have a strong supporting cast with him, including former Discovery riders Janez Brajkovic, Vladimir Goussev, José Luis Rubiera, as well as new team-mate Chris Horner.
"The Tour of California has grown exponentially in the first two years, probably setting an unprecedented rate of growth than any race in the world," Leipheimer told Cyclingnews at the team's training camp last month. "I've seen the affect it has had on my community, and it was a dream for me to win it last year. The only thing that could be as satisfying for me is to see a team-mate win. Astana is definitely sending a very strong team, and I've some hard training this year to be able to repeat, so we are ready."