How 'bout some more previewz? I begin to be excited about this Tour of California thing. This time around, I have less to say about each team and rider. Because the time, it runs short. I'm also counting on you, the fabulous people of the Cafe, to help me out and add all the stuff I'm almost certainly going to leave out. Blame CONI for breaking the Valverde story this week. Or, blame Gav for not writing her previews ahead of time. Because really, what was I doing last week? I blame the cat.
Jelly Belly has ridden each edition of the Tour of California. They aren't the biggest team on the start list, but they always show themselves somewhere along the line. One of my enduring memories of Jelly Belly and the Tour of California came during the first year on the stage into Santa Barbara. There was Jens Voigt off the front doing his Jens Voigt thing. And on his wheel, riding his heart out was a rider from Jelly Belly, determined not to get dropped from the break. That's bike racing at its best.
This year, Jelly Belly will have Brad Huff sprinting for them. Huff wins consistently throughout the U.S. season in the crits and flatter road races. He can win from a break or a bunch sprint and is a former national champion on the track. In last year's Tour of Missouri, he went up against Mark Cavendish and finished consistently second or third. The addition of Boonen and Freire to the mix will likely not help Huff's chances. I would expect to see him placing consistently in the sprints, though probably not quite winning. If he gets in the right break, he could bring home a stage win. There are more chances for breakaways built into this year's course, but getting in the one that stays away, well, that's no easy task.
Look for Jelly Belly to animate the early breaks and show the flag daily. They will not be anonymous. But the results will likely be few and far between this time around. No worries, there, they have a season of wins ahead of them yet to come.
Rock brings a well-balanced team to the California party. They contenders for the general classification in both U.S. National Champion Tyler Hamilton and former Tour de France white jersey Oscar Sevilla. And if those two aren't enough, Rock Racing brought Francisco Mancebo to the team during the off-season. That's quite a collection of talent, though none of these riders has seen the front of a major European race in some time. Still, expect them to ride hard and try to score the upset. Together with Floyd Landis of Ouch, Rock Racing will play the role of talented opportunists, hoping to take advantage of the rivalries among the big teams to make off with the win. Like Landis, the Rock Racing trio has the talent to do it, given half a chance. I'll take Rock Racing as a wild card pick for the overall, though please don't ask me which rider will prove the ace.
In addition to their contenders for the classification, Rock is also bringing Freddy Rodriguez for the sprints. Rodriguez will be largely on his own here, free-lancing his way through the last kilometer. Finding the front won't be easy, though he's familiar with fast company. A win's not out of the question, but I wouldn't bet the house on it.
Rock Racing should ride well next week. The question is how well. What opportunities can they make for themselves? That will be the key to their success as Astana tries to control the race for repeat winner Levi Leipheimer.
BMC Racing Team
Don't let the plain wrap jersey fool you. BMC has assembled a very intriguing Swiss-American roster. Pop quiz: Who is the current Swiss National Champion on the road? No, no guesses? I'll give you a hint, it's not Fabian Cancellara. Stumped, huh? Markus Zberg comes to BMC from Gerolsteiner and last year won the Swiss National Championship on the road for the second time in his career. He also has stage wins at the Vuelta a España, the Tour de Suisse, Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie, and Tirreno-Adriatico to his credit. Among his one day race wins, he counts Milano-Torino and a podium placing at the Amstel Gold Race. He certainly rates notice as a possible stage winner at this Tour of California, but he'll need a little luck. Winner make their own luck.
For the general classification, BMC brings last year's tenth place finisher Alexandre Moos and last year's eighteenth place finisher Jeff Louder. Moos is also a former Swiss National Champion on the road. He will be looking for a high finish in the general, and is already on flying form. Can he better last year's top ten? It's not out of the question, though it will take a big ride to do it. Louder, meanwhile, won the queen stage and general classification in last year's Tour of Utah. He climbs and time trials well and makes consistent results throughout the season in the American races. The top ten in the general classification looks mighty crowded in this race, but a good ride from Louder could bring him closer to that magic tenth place line. A rider to watch if he makes the break.
Thomas Frei is currently 24 years old and a former U23 National Champion in Switzerland. He'll be riding for experience and playing a supporting role. Likewise for 22 year old Swiss talent Mattias Frank. Also, riding support is Scott Nydam, though certainly he can get a result from a break if the opportunity comes his way. Ian McKissick and Jonathan Garcia will join him on the early breakway-support the team leaders program.
A good race for BMC would place Moos or Louder in the top ten and perhaps score a stage win from an early break that survives to the line. Like Jelly Belly, they will show themselves daily in the early breaks, and maybe just maybe, those efforts will bring them a stage win or a few days of leadership in the Points of KOM classifications. An interesting team that could surprise.
Team Type 1Team Type 1 seeks to win races and raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes. They bring two riders with Type 1 to this year's Tour of California, team founder Phil Southerland and Australian Fabio Calabria. In a recent interview, Southerland said, "The team is ready. For me, I've never raced at that level and caliber. My teammates that have done the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France have told me how hard of a race this is going to be so I don't know but I feel that I've done the training." Southerland is hoping to get himself and his team in front of the cameras at their biggest race yet.
Southerland's best chance for a result is to sneak into the right break. He missed much of last season with an injury, but otherwise finishes consistently in the field at the U.S. races. A placing along the way to San Diego would be nice, but for Southerland, a finish and good press is a victory for his team's message.
South African Darren Lill will represent Team Type 1 in the hot battle for the general classification. Lill has won the climber's circuit race, Tour of Nevada City. The 26 year old South African also has an affinity for the hilly Mount Hood Classic stage race, where he has won several stages. Reportedly, Lill has put in serious work on his crono during the off-season and has prepared carefully for this Tour of California. A top ten in the general classification would be a great finish for the young rider, a top 20 is probably more realistic.
Team Type 1 can also look to the experienced Australian Matt Wilson to find the right break for a stage win. Wilson is a past Australian National Champion on the road, has finished the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France. He counts assorted stage wins in the U.S. and Europe among his results. The 31 year old Australian knows his way around a bike race, and offers Team Type 1 a good chance to show themselves next week.
Ricardo Escuela, the 25 year old from Argentina, is handy in a sprint and can win from a break. Already he has a race win to his credit at the Poor Kids Road Race in Los Olivos, though he beat out mostly local teams on that occasion. A past stage winner at the Baby Giro, Escuela has plenty of placings in American races, mostly in the flat road races and crits. Look for him to contest the bunch sprints and look for a likely break.
Mexican climber Moises Aldape Chavez comes to Team Type 1 from Panaria-Navigare, where he rode and finished the Giro d'Italia in 2006. He won a climbing stage last year at the Mt. Hood Classic during his first season with Team Type 1. With no real mountain top finishes at this race, Aldape Chavez won't have too many chances for a stage win. He's a good pick to chase mountain points, though, and that would bring Team Type 1 just the kind of attention they would like to have. Look for him to find the breaks and look for points.
NorCali cross and road racer Chris Jones and Ukrainian Valery Kobzarenko will be looking for the early breaks. Fabio Calabria, the 21 year old from Australia, will ride for experience.
Fly V Australia p/b Successful Living Foundation Team
The Fly V Australia p/b Successful Living Foundation Team is not exactly local. They're registered in Australia, last I checked. But we won't stand on ceremony. You kids can surf my break any time. Fly V Australia is a team for the breaks, in the main, with a chance in the bunch sprints with Canadian Charles Dionne. They may also chase the KOM or the Points during the early days of the race. Good publicity, there.
Australian Ben Day won his first race of the season, which is never a bad way to start things off. Racing in the snow outside San Diego, Day won the Boulevard Road Race in a field that included Floyd Landis and his team. The Tour of California is likely to encounter more cold, wet weather before it reaches San Diego. Clearly, Day knows what to do with it. The 30 year old Australian has won the overall at the Canadian stage race Tour de Beauce and has assorted stage wins in the U.S. and Australia. He has also made the podium in the Australian National Championship crono. Day is Fly V's best chance for a result in the general classification. Clearly, he's done his homework, since Boulevard is no easy win.
The team also has an outside chance at a high finish in the general classification from climber-stage racer Phil Zajicek. Zajicek has produced consistent results in the hillier stage races on the U.S. circuit, like Mount Hood and the Cascade Classic. Zajicek can also do a good crono on his day, but is a better bet to chase KOM points. Look for him to go early and often in pursuit of the mountains prize.
David Kemp also finished third at Boulevard. The 24 year old Kemp is a former Junior National Champion on the road from Australia. His result so far have come from stage wins in Australia. Look for him to ride for experience this time around.
Canadian Charles Dionne will be looking for the breakaways, and if he finds the right one, is a good bet for a stage win. The Canadian hardman has a fast finish and isn't afraid ride hard in the wind. Bad weather will only encourage him. Dionne's career has slowed over the last few seasons due to injuries, but he has numerous stages wins in the U.S. to his credit. He also won the difficult San Francisco Grand Prix twice. (Could we bring that race back?) Dionne is a two-time Canadian National Champion in the criterium. Did I mention he has a fast finish? He'll have a chance to place in the bunch sprints, but his best chance for a win is a long day out. He is a late addition to the Fly V Australia squad for this race, so he may be a little behind it for this race.
Scott Davis comes to Fly V Australia from Team Columbia-High Road, where he consistently finished both the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España, experience that will serve him well in Cali. The 29 year old is more of an all-arounder than his brother sprinter Allan Davis, and his best bet for a result is a breakaway. He's an experienced support rider, which should help Day's GC chances.
Jonathan Cantwell, Michael Grabinger, and Bernard Sulzberger will be looking for similar opportunities. All three have earned their results in the flat road races and crits. If Charles Dionne wants to have a go at the bunch sprints, he will have three very speedy set-up guys. Whether they have the speed to compete with QuickStep and Columbia-High Road is an open question.
Look for the Fly V's in the breaks and to wear a KOM or Points jersey early in the race. Ben Day gives them an outside chance for a high finish in the general classification. He's no slouch against the watch and should hold his own in the climbs.