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Five Reasons to Watch the Tour of California

So, the Giro still rules all, but there is a bike race in America that's worth watching. Here's why.

Harry How

Okay, guys, I admit it. I tried to make words about the Tour of California, but I'm so totally stuck in Giro love that it is proving quite hard to do. I mean, has there even been a stage that was only moderately exciting over in Italy? And, oh my, the DRAMA that is on the horizon with Team Sky and their Columbian lieutenants that look stronger than Wiggins... Meanwhile, the GC lineup in California is decidedly meh and the rest of the race threatens to become a one-man Peter Sagan show like last year. So yeah, it was hard to find a lot of good words about California, at least that flowed together well enough to make a story.

But, every afternoon at 5pm - as soon as live video starts - I go over to the Tour of California website and start watching the race. I'm not sure exactly why, as keeping up with the Giro on top of work and training and life in general is already time consuming enough. But, without fail, I'm there, watching a race I expected to be boring. Why? The more I think about it, the more reasons I can come up with. Here are my top four. You got others? List 'em in the comments section!

  1. Tejay van Garderen could finally get that elusive stage race win. He's been so close, hasn't he? Really, it seems hard to believe that he has yet to win a stage race as a professional rider with as hyped as he is. Plus, it seems crazy that someone who has finished fifth in the Tour de France at 23 years old has yet to rack up a victory somewhere else. Tejay has been close, no doubt, but has faltered at key moments in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Paris-Nice, and even California in the past. This year, partly by virtue of a lower standard of GC competition than in years past, Tejay is the clear favorite. He currently sits second overall after the first mountaintop finish on Monday. I will be watching to see how he deals with this status and if he can finally get that monkey off his back.

  2. Feisty riding by the domestic teams. One of the most enjoyable things about the grand tours is watching the wildcard invitations from the tour's host country. These smaller teams try to make the most of their invitation, going in all the early breakaways, trying to take an upset stage victory. In America, the same dynamic occurs whenever European teams come to town. This year, even the GC battle has domestic potential. United Healthcare has Philip Deignan, an Irishman who famously won a stage of the Vuelta á España while riding for the Cervelo Test Team. Just over a week ago, Deignan won the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico and he now sits in third on the overall classification after an aggressive ride on the first mountain stage. Leading the race is Janier Azevedo, a Colombian riding for the Jamis - Hagens Berman presented by Sutter Home team. With an individual time trial coming later in the race, I doubt they can hold on to beat Tejay, but it will be fun to watch them try.

    PS - the young Bontrager-Livestrong U-23 team is the most fun to watch. Those kids are quite precocious.

  3. Peter Sagan v. Gianni Meersman. Last year, Sagan won five stages. Yes, five - more than half the stages in the race. In part, Sagan's victories can be credited with his unique ability to make it through climb-heavy stages where normal sprinters end up in the autobus. And really, once the sprinters are gone, who can challenge the Slovakian wünderkid? Enter Gianni Meersman, the young Belgian on Omega Pharma - Quickstep who won two stages each of the Volta Catalunya and Tour of Romandie with his fast finish, even when the group sprinting for the win was a mere 40 riders strong thanks to a hilly parcours. On Stage 1, Sagan edged out Meersman in the bunch sprint for third... but just barely. This should be a fun set of battles to watch.

  4. Scenery. Yes, there is a lot of desert in the Tour of California, but that's mostly behind us. What's next, aside from a lot of manicured golf courses? Well, for one, lots of coastal roads, and those are terribly scenic. Really, it's almost a crime that people get to live there while others like yours truly are stuck in the Midwest. Plus, the race goes over the Golden Gate Bridge on Stage 8.

  5. Philippe Gilbert, Andy Schleck, and Tyler Farrar watch. Really, I don't envy these three riders this year - neither one can catch a break. Gilbert has been very good this spring but the reigning World Champion has yet to win a race or sniff the form he had in 2011. Younger Schleck? At least he is finishing races now. And poor Tyler Farrar - he hasn't seemed the same rider since his good friend Wouter Weylant died two years ago. Will they manage to pull anything out of their magicians hats this week, be it a stage win or a competition jersey? Gilbert suffered in the heat and was dropped on Stage 1, along with about half the peloton, on a stage that should have suited him. Schleck all but disappeared as soon as the road pointed upwards on the Tram Way finishing climb on Stage 2. But, as I am writing this, Andy is riding in the (doomed) breakaway and Garmin is chasing for Farrar. Maybe there is hope yet?