Competition will be stiff for Leipheimer 

A strong international field made up of sprinters and climbers, combined with a new place on the cycling calendar, could make this year’s Amgen Tour of California the most-challenging edition for three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer.

A strong international field made up of sprinters and climbers, combined with a new place on the cycling calendar, could make this year’s Amgen Tour of California the most-challenging edition for three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer.

In the past, the Santa Rosa resident has benefited from two main advantages. Being a local, he has personal knowledge of the California course, and the traditional February start date of the Amgen Tour has also played to his strengths, since most cyclists are just getting into shape while Leipheimer, who prioritizes winning the event every year, is usually in peak condition.

Those edges will be whittled away this year, with many cyclists more familiar with the course after competing in the 2009 Amgen Tour, and the mid-May start date ensuring that every cyclist is in peak form, rather than shedding the winter rust.

Leipheimer will get his stiffest challenges from Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara, who looked strong this year in capturing the Tour of Flanders, and Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, who finished second in last year’s Tour de France.

Amgen Tour veteran Jens Voigt of Germany will also be a key contender, as will David Zabriskie, an American who narrowly lost to Leipheimer in last year’s race.

Belgium’s Tom Boonen, who was the world’s top cyclist in 2005, has set his sights on the Amgen Tour title, and American George Hincapie, a cyclist most known for his supporting roles, is fully capable of pulling out an overall victory.

The wild card could be Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France champion and teammate of Leipheimer. While he has long been his team’s featured rider, Armstrong has made it clear that he seems content to play wingman for Leipheimer, in exchange for the latter’s cooperation in the Tour de France.

Other contenders include Australian Michael Rogers and American Tejay Van Garderen.

The champions


Winners of the first four Amgen Tour of California races:

Year Winner Runner-up Margin
2006 Floyd Landis David Zabriskie
29 seconds
2007 Levi Leipheimer Jens Voigt 21 seconds
2008 Levi Leipheimer David Millar
49 seconds
2009 Levi Leipheimer David Zabriskie 36 seconds

Source: Amgen Tour of California

Top contenders


Ten riders who are likely to be in the thick of the battle for the yellow jersey during the Amgen Tour of California (listed alphabetically):

Lance Armstrong
Team:
RadioShack
Nationality: American
Highlights: Seven-time Tour de France champion

Fabian Cancellara
Team:
Saxo Bank
Nationality: Swiss
Highlight: Won this year’s Tour of Flanders

Mark Cavendish
Team:
HTC-Columbia
Nationality: British
Highlights: Won six stages at 2009 Tour de France

George Hincapie
Team:
BMC Racing
Nationality: American
Highlight: Part of eight winning teams in the Tour de France

Levi Leipheimer
Team:
RadioShack
Nationality: American
Highlight: Three-time Amgen Tour of California winner

Michael Rogers
Team:
HTC-Columbia
Nationality: Australian
Highlight: Won this year’s Vuelta a Andalucia

Andy Schleck
Team:
Saxo Bank
Nationality: Belgian
Highlight: Second place at 2009 Tour de France

Tejay Van Garderen
Team:
HTC-Columbia
Nationality: American
Highlight: Second place at this year’s Tour of Turkey

Jens Voigt
Team:
Saxo Bank
Nationality: German
Highlight: Fourth place at 2009 Amgen Tour of California

David Zabriskie
Team:
Garmin-Transitions
Nationality: American
Highlight: Second place at 2009 Amgen Tour of California

About The Author

Will Reisman

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