Three-time Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer made his intentions clear for the 2010 edition of the race on Thursday following the announcement of the race's host cities. "There's no doubt I want to win it again," he told Cyclingnews.
"It gets more and more difficult every year you come back as defending champion. I've won three times, and if that's all I win in my career, I'll be happy with that."
He will come to the race with a new team, but many familiar faces both on the bikes and in the team cars of the nascent RadioShack squad. "I'm really happy with this group. There are a lot of the same riders and staff as US Postal, Discovery Channel and Astana, so for me it's kind of like being on the same team with just a change of colors. It's also great to be back with a big American sponsor in RadioShack."
Leipheimer sees many benefits of having the race move from its previous time slot in February to the more desirable week in mid-May.
"You saw the weather last year when we came into Santa Rosa, it was just horrific, it was all about survival. Riding in that day after day really fatigues you, and fatigue can lead to crashes. So changing it to May with better weather will make it more enjoyable."
The winter dates largely precluded having high elevations, as roads can be choked by snow in February, but organisers will be able to include the race's first ever summit finish at Big Bear Lake, elevation 6,752 ft (2,058 m).
"I don't know the climb, but I've heard a lot about it. It's about a 6,000 foot difference from the bottom to the top - that's massive," said Leipheimer. "We don't even see that in the Tour. Maybe the Galibier or the Telegraph, but that kind of elevation gain is major. It's the first mountaintop finish of the Tour, and I'm really excited about it.
"They're saying it's going to have 13-14,000 feet of climbing on that stage, and that's serious. That's got me excited!"
Santa Rosa - bigger than ever
The race kicks off with a stage for the sprinters from Nevada City to Sacramento before heading into Leipheimer's home turf, Santa Rosa. It's the fifth year the race will see a stage finish in the town, and Leipheimer has big plans for the route.
"I personally worked pretty hard for that, and the community in Santa Rosa has put a lot of work into it every year. It means a lot to our community - it's one of the best cycling communities in the US, and this goes a long way to validating that.
"I think it's going to be a pretty tough stage, even harder than in years past. We could see a lot of action in the race on stage two.
"We're still working on the route, but we're trying to come up with something even more challenging that what we've seen in the past. I know the roads better than anyone, so if the race (organization) says they want it to come down to a small group, or provide a chance for someone to gain time, we can create that kind of course."
More climbs makes for good Tour preparation
Leipheimer sees the third stage as another chance for the race to splinter under the pressure of repetitive climbs. "I think we may even see one or two more climbs before we get to Bonny Doon," he said, recalling the place where he made his race-winning move in 2009.
"There are going to be a few stages for the sprinters - Sacramento, Modesto, and even Bakersfield. So we need to look to stage two and three to make it pretty challenging so that it will be a small group at the end."
"I think it's great preparation for the Tour. It goes back to the old formula of a one-week stage race leading up to the Tour. My plan is to do the Tour of California, then the Dauphiné [Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré], then the Tour. I think that's a great schedule to prepare for the Tour."
Leipheimer used the Giro d'Italia this year as a lead-up to the Tour de France, but wound up regretting that a bit after coming into the season hot in February.
Whether or not Tour contenders will choose California or the Giro d'Italia as their May event will depend, Leipheimer said.
"Last year I raced it for the overall classification and finished up pretty high, but I'm not sure that's the best way to go about preparing for the Tour - it's three weeks of really fatiguing yourself.
"If you ride it just for training and take a few days as easy as possible that's one thing, but to race it competitively, I don't think it's the best preparation for the Tour."
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.