Here's what we've learned about this year's Tour of California at the mid-point:
- The race is excellent, and the organizers just keep hitting home runs. More on this next week.
- The Hamilton-Sierra Road combo was worthy of the race's upgrading to 2.HC from 2.1. Matteo Tosatto, 17th in the stage, led the peloton home...4.20 after the stage leaders. So, of the 120 finishers, 104 of them have no chance of winning the overall. This includes some big names like Kim Kirchen, Jens Voigt, Janez Brajkovic, George Hincapie, Tom Danielson, Bobby Julich, etc.
- Stage 2's climbing, meanwhile, was only enough to shake out a handful of guys and nobody with realistic designs on the overall. And the remaining climbing stages on Saturday and Sunday look a lot more like stage 2 than anything else. And today's a piano stage. That leaves the Solvang Time Trial.
- Fabian Cancellara, the Patron of the time trial, is on reasonably good form, and is second overall, setting a rather high bar for anyone who hopes to win. Unless you can find a way to ditch Cance on a climb someplace, a task which entails outwitting the whole CSC team on the long run-ins to the stage finish (translation: fuggedaboutit), then your way to victory is to beat him in the Solvang ITT.
- If this were any time from April forward, entertaining visions of beating Cancellara in a time trial would border on hallucination. But, it's February, and while he looks good, he hasn't powered up the big engine for more than short spells, so I wouldn't salt this one away just yet. Moreover, the remaining contenders include most of the race's top chronomen: David Zabriskie (US ITT champion), David Millar (British ITT champion), Gustav Larsson (Swedish ITT champion). Christian Vandevelde was only 20 seconds behind Cancellara on the same course last year, and Chris Horner or Alex Moos could get a decent result as well. But all of them have to beat the World Champion at what he does better than anyone in a long time.
- With one exception: Levi Leipheimer, who only needs to lose to Tony Montana by 12 seconds or less. Not the happiest prospect, but he did exactly that in Solvang last year, even winning the stage on the way to overall victory. Leipheimer's status as one of the world's top chronomen was further cemented in the epic penultimate stage of the Tour de France last July. And he's here to win.
Translation: it's definitely a very tight, very exciting two-man race, or if you want to be generous a six-man race. And it all comes down to tomorrow.