By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Savannah, Georgia
The sixth edition of the race through the "Peach State" is continuing to evolve. After adding a day to the race last year, the 2008 race will see the introduction of a team time trial around a unique course – the 'Road Atlanta' track usually reserved for auto racing. This stage replaces the usual individual time trial and will be an interesting experiment: it could make the race up Brasstown Bald mountain more exciting if the time gaps after Road America are small, or a closed case if a strong team like Astana runs away with the GC.
Astana will, of course, come to the race with the desire to crush all competition and continue to demonstrate to the Tour de France organiser, ASO, that they've left one of the world's strongest teams out of this year's event.
2007 Tour de France podium finisher Levi Leipheimer will be back to try to take his first Tour de Georgia after his second consecutive victory at the Tour of California. He will have a strong supporting cast with the likes of Chris Horner and Chechu Rubiera, but last year's winner Janez Brajkovic will not be heading Stateside. The team's spokesman told Cyclingnews that Brajkovic was not riding at the level of last year, and has possibly over-trained. He has been given a period of rest by his trainers.
The Kazakh-backed team will not be without competition, as there will be several other strong contenders for the title, both from the ProTour ranks and increasingly from the domestic and continental squads.
Team CSC is sending a well-rounded team, with veteran American racer Bobby Julich and Bradley McGee as GC riders, while Juan Jose Haedo will be back to challenge for the sprint jersey. They'll also look to Jason McCartney to try to repeat his solo stage victory from 2004 when he flexed his muscles in Dahlonega.
It is interesting to note that Team High Road's George Hincapie was not named as a GC rider in the team's press release despite the South Carolina resident enjoying a strong spring classics campaign. The team will instead look to climbers Thomas Lövkvist and Kanstantsin Siutsou for the overall, with Hincapie as a valuable motor for the team time trial.
Gerolsteiner rounds out the ProTour teams with Robert Förster and Thomas Fothen back to enjoy the southern hospitality. A fifth ProTour team was slated to race, but Saunier Duval-Scott pulled out at the last minute, citing their plethora of injuries as the reason for not being able to make the trip across the pond.
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