Amgen Tour of California begins
The biggest cycling race in the United States has officially begun! The Amgen Tour of California, a 700-mile eight-stage event, began in Nevada City on May 16.
While Lance Armstrong helped bring some national interest to the Tour de France, odds are most Americans have never seen a different cycling race. Well, there's quite a few good reasons to check out this year's Amgen ToC. Here's the top 10.
- Lance! The man who won the hardest bike race in the world seven times, with only one testicle, is back, with a team of his own creation, Team Radio Shack. The greatest U.S. cyclist of all time will maybe only ride one more race between now and the Tour de France. This could be the public's last chance to see the champ compete competitively on home soil.
- Other Americans! Armstrong will be far from the only racer of the red, white, and blue to be on the road. Most notably is Levi Leipheimer - a San Jose native who is looking for his fourth straight Amgen ToC victory. But there are quite a few other Yankees to watch, including former Olympian David Zabriskie, Team BMC captain George Hincapie, as well as Thomas Danielson, Christopher Horner, and Steven Cozza.
- The future of the sport! The race also serves as a showcase for pro-stateside teams such as Team Type-I, Jelly Belly and Maxxis. Even Canadian team SpiderTech proved to have some scrappy riders in stage one. This is a bit like minor league teams getting to go toe to toe with the majors, and showing what they've got. Look for lots of ambitious up and comers striving to make a name for themselves.
- The top riders in the world! Many of the same teams, and cycling stars who will be going head to head. While the Americans on each team might be given more chance to shine, there's an undeniable draw to watching a race that involves the likes of Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, and Andy Schleck.
- The scenery of Americana! You can laugh about the glaring differences in the old European villages of the Tour de France, and the strip malls and fast food joints of places like the suburbs of Sacramento. On the upside for the riders the roads are a hell of a lot wider, and smoother.
- See the sights! Route one was on the boring side, until the ending laps on downtown Sacramento, when the blistering speed of the tight course sent cyclists tumbling. It will get better though. Stage two will show off the Napa Valley, while stage six, Palmdale to Big Bear Lake will be both scenic, and steep.
- Facing the City of Angels, solo! This year's individual time trial will take place in L.A., adding the unique challenges of smog and drive-by shooting to the signature stage.
- Team Columbia HTC! Leipheimer might be the returning champ, but it's HTC that can claim the true home field advantage, as the team based in San Luis Obisbo. These guys have only been competing for two years, and have risen to win more stage wins than anyone in the world. In stage one of the Amgen OtC the boys in white and yellow dominated the final few miles, as they catapulted their sprinter Mark Cavendish to a solid win. They will look to repeat that performance several times in the coming days.
- Flipping the bird! Mark "Cannonball" Cavendish won a sprint to the line in a leg of the recent Tour of Romandie, and celebrated by making a rude gesture of defiance as he crossed the line. Now that's the kind of cycling superstar Californian's can get behind! The gesture got him booted from the race, but once these cyclists encounter L.A. traffic such a gesture will probably come in handy, so there's hope we'll see it again.
- And the top reason to watch The Amgen ToC? It upends the paradigm of European dominance! The Giro de Italia started on May 8, and directly conflicts with the Amgen tour, and yet all these teams, and all these big names decided to come here. Viva the colonies!