The Garmin-Transitions team passed the first critical stage of the Amgen Tour of California on Monday with all its general classification contenders intact.
With David Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and outside hopefuls Ryder Hesjedal and Peter Stetina also making a 27-rider split that finished well ahead of the rest of the field, the team is now second only to Radioshack in the number of riders from the team still in contention for the win.
Team director Jonathan Vaughters said the riders who made the front group were the ones who were strongest up the finishing climb, Trinity Road, in the final 35km.
"At the top the group was down to 12 guys after [Radioshack riders] Jani Brajkovic and Chechu Rubiera set a hard tempo on the climb," said Vaughters.
"Radioshack had five, we had four, [Michael] Rogers was there and a couple more - if you look at the group it was all the strongest guys on the climb. Those are the same guys who will be fighting on the climbs tomorrow."
Going up against Radioshack's Levi Leipheimer, Lance Armstrong and Chris Horner on the coming stages will test the team's mettle, but Vaughters hopes for either a superb performance from Zabriskie in the Los Angeles time trial this Saturday or a bit of miscalculation on Radioshack's part to get the edge.
"This is Radioshack's race - they have their strongest team here because they aren't doing the Giro d'Italia, so we're not as strong as a unit as they are," said Vaughters.
"The time trial is, however, suited to Zabriskie even more so than [last year's race] in Solvang, so if he has an incredible day or if Radioshack gets overly focused on him and makes a mistake, then we can break their hold on the race."
Vaughters' riders will have to keep watch for attacks not only from Radioshack and Ruta del Sol winner Rogers, but also Saxo Bank's Jens Voigt who he considers perhaps a bigger threat than Andy Schleck. He noted that his team will be ready for the infamous Bonny Doon climb which Leipheimer used as a launching pad for his victory last year.
"That climb is more a test of strength than it is of tactics, and I expect the guys who were strong today to be up there tomorrow. The early climbs will certainly take something out of the favourites, too."
Tuesday's third stage leaves San Francisco and heads south for a sinuous 182.3 kilometres before dropping down to the coast for a finish in Santa Cruz.
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