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Levi Leipheimer has won three Tours of Californias in a row.
Queen stage to visit Big Bear
The 2010 Amgen Tour of California, May 16 to 23, was announced Thursday with the race consisting of eight stages across America's sunshine state. The race will begin in Nevada City and finish in the Agoura Hills and will take in more climbing than ever before, in what is widely believed to be the race's hardest ever route.
Stage distances are yet to be announced but race organizers have confirmed to Cyclingnews that the entire route will cover roughly 800 miles.
"At this point we're not going to discuss what's between the starts and finishes as we still have more work to do," said Andrew Messick, president of Tour of California organiser AEG. "We're not going to talk about climbs or specifics."
"I will say that the course and the route will be harder than it was in 2009," Messick added.
Unlike in 2009, when the race started with a 3.9km prologue in Sacramento, 2010's race will begin with a road stage from Nevada City to Sacramento, designed with a sprint finish in mind.
Stage two will start in Davis and finish in Santa Rosa - the hometown of three time winner and defending champion Levi Leipheimer - before the first mountainous test on stage 3 from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Both stage 2 and 3 are repeats from 2009 but will consists of one extra climb en route to the finish.
Stage 4 runs from San Jose to Modesto, and will most likely take the same route used in 2009 when Thor Hushovd claimed Cervelo Test Team's first ever win ahead of Oscar Friere (Rabobank) and Mark Renshaw (Columbia HTC).
The following stage will see the race visit two new locations, starting in Visalia and finishing in Bakersfield, in what will probably be the last chance for the sprinters.
Beware the grizzly Big Bear
Previously held in February and at the mercy of the Californian winter weather, the race will now include the climb to Big Bear Lake on stage 6. It will be the first time that the climb has been used in the race, and with a peak at 6,752 ft (2,058 m) it could be the toughest stage the race has seen.
"The move from February to May takes us out of what's generally perceived as the pre-season of cycling and puts us in a time position that's in-line with the middle of the season. From our perspective it allows us to showcase more of the Tour of California and ride into the mountains that we couldn't get to before."
"The stage to Big Bear is going to be a very big day. The final climb will be 25 kilometres long and with a few thousand vertical meters. It's a big one."
Similar to previous editions, there is still an individual time trial, which will be held on stage 7 with riders set to thrash it out in downtown Los Angeles over an undulating two-lap 30 mile course.
And just like last year, when the final stage included a tough climb up to Palomar Mountain, 2010's final stage won't be a walk in the park either, with a climb up to Decker Canyon Road and multiple circuits, before finishing in Westlake.
Teams and Riders
Team invites are still to be confirmed but RadioShack will be there, with Leipheimer looking to claim his fourth straight title. Whether his teammate Lance Armstrong will race is still unclear but from the hints he dropped at this year's Tour de France presentation it's a strong possibility.
"The teams are going to be fitter and the racing sharper. In terms of who will compete, the field will be half ProTour teams and the rest from Pro Continental and domestic outfits. We're assuming it will have similar mix as last year," said Messick. "As for Lance Armstrong, we continue to be hopeful."
The USA's other ProTour teams, Garmin-Slipstream and Columbia HTC, both will send strong squads with Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel set divide their interests between the Giro d'Italia and the Tour of California, and last year's podium finisher Michael Rogers yet to confirm his plans for 2010.
Garmin will be hoping that Dave Zabriskie can improve on his second place in 2009, while it's likely that Tyler Farrar will also race.
"The course is by far the most interesting and challenging it's ever been. I think it's ideally suited to Zabriskie, with the long gradual climb to Big Bear and the longer time trial. We'll be going to win, that's for certain," Garmin-Slipstream's Jonathan Vaughters told Cyclingnews.
As for Rabobank - co-sponsors of the event - they will likely send a strong squad with the route suited to Robert Gesink (8th last year).
Saxo Bank, Liquigas and Quick Step have all sent the likes of the Schlecks, Ivan Basso, Vincenzo Nibali and Tom Boonen in the past and can be expected to field strong line-ups again.
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Hasta la vista Giro d'Italia?
“We hope that doest happen, but it is a risk,” Messick told Cyclingnews when asked if the clash could harm California’s field next year.
However the signs already look good for the United States’ biggest event. Television air time in Europe has been secured and the race will be watched in over 100 countries; team owners of the calibre of Bob Stapleton already see it as a Grand Tour in its own right; even Arnie is working his biceps as he Twitters the new route.
Put perhaps the biggest guarantee in securing top riders is the route itself.
Messick admits, gladly, that it’s harder than ever before and there in lies the appeal. A Grand Tour like the Giro isn’t the ideal preparation for the Tour. It’s not for everyone. So a difficult week-long race appeals to those hoping to peak in July and their managers who want maximum expose at a global rate.