10. Stanford Prologue - Hey, Levi grabbed the jersey in the prologue last year and never let go, thanks to lots of flat finishes and some fuzzy math by the organizers. Now the prologue has moved to the safety of the suburbs (disclaimer: I know nothing about Palo Alto), so its effect is harder to gauge. But the stage has its own website. Can't rule it out.
9. Stage 3 Trinity Road - This stage made its debut last year and drew some concern, though it didn't have any impact on the overall, other than trashing a few of the sprinters.
8. Stage 4 - lulled to sleep? So here's the scenario: the race's postcard stage looks so overwhelmingly beautiful to the peloton, after months of bleak weather in the greyness of winter, that a daring escapist sneaks away unnoticed for a massive win! Ahem. Moving right along...
7. Long breakaway - As R Mc said, who's to say a group won't get away so convincingly that the peloton won't decide to spend the rest of the stage swapping files on their iPhones? My guess is stage 3, which finishes in hailing distance of Cupertino.
6. In the sprints - They give time bonuses, don't they? Despite the organizers' best efforts, most of the stages will likely end in sprints, and while the climbs will weed out the pure sprinter types (Cavendish, Boonen, etc.), perhaps Bettini can cobble together enough bonuses to separate from the field?
5. In a storm - Every year people write in to say that the weather in California in February isn't actually all that great, though every year the race is bathed in sunshine. Predictions are for more of the same... but their luck has to run out someday. And a big storm could send the race into chaos.
4. Balcom Canyon - The signature climb of stage 6, the penultimate day of the race. Each year Balcom Canyon has been a speed bump on the road to a bunch finish, but hey. I know if I were in the overall lead, I'd crack on this climb.
3. Sierra Road - As signature climbs go, this has been it for the entire race. Lots of guys have seen their overall hopes blow up here, including Ben Jacques-Mayne in 2006 and pretty much everyone save the top 25 last year. This time around, Sierra Road will occur after the massive hump over Mount Hamilton, meaning guys will be crawling up Sierra Road with a lot of hard meters in their legs already. But for the usual long run-out into San Jose, I'd wager the race would completely blow apart on this stage.
2. Solvang ITT - Conventional wisdom here. Last year the ITT moved from San Jose to Solvang, and Leipheimer put a minute or more into everyone save 8 riders. Not the hardest ITT of the year, but this is the one day where you can be assured of noticeable time gaps.
1. Angeles Crest - And the number one place to win the ToC this year... on the final day, in the climb up to 4900-foot Mill Creek Summit. Again, a long downhill and some finishing circuits may bring things all back together yet again, but if it's close, and one of the contenders grabs the time bonus on the way up or even cracks a few guys... well, this should be great, great fun.