Who are the racers on my watch list this year? Lets start with the top two from last year - Horner and Leipheimer, racing for different teams this year, will no doubt seek out that top spot on the podium. Horner has already had a good finish this year, taking 2nd at Tirreno-Adriatico, while Leipheimer is coming away from an unfortunate injury. You also have to throw Tom Danielson into the mix of top Americans as well; he finished third last year, and will be backed by a strong group of racers with Garmin-Barracuda. Look also for Tejay van Garderen, yet another promising American racer (5th last year), and who should be General Classification leader at Team BMC.
Robert Gesink will be leading the family favorite Rabobank Team, and will have some seriously strong support including Laurens Ten Dam, who finished 6th last year and is clearly capable of contending in his own right. Other candidates you can expect to find competing for the overall title include Vincenzo Nibali, leading the Liquigas-Cannondale squad, and Irishman Nicolas Roche of Team AG2R La Mondiale. Secretly, or not, I suppose I will be rooting for Mr. Roche; he has had a quiet year thus far, but should be one of the top contenders as he builds toward a top performance at the Tour de France. Finally, lets not forget Peter Sagan, who was such a major player in individual stages of last years race.
There will be plenty of strong men mixing it up on the flat stages including Marcel Kittel, Paul Martens, Matthew Busche, Heinrich Haussler, Tom Boonen, who has of course, already had an enviable year of success, and the veteran Robbie McEwen. Beyond these men, the domestic squads are full of powerful racers looking to leave their mark on the race. An unknown quantity (at least to me) and one I find myself unwilling to discount is the team of racers from Colombia, Colombia-Coldeportes, I have a feeling they will factor in at one point or another. Starting tomorrow, and for the next week, there is going to be a lot to look forward to here in California. It is going to be exciting.