Today the race organizers of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California announced the list of ProTour teams who will be participating in the race. A number of US-based teams such as Garmin-Slipstream and Team Columbia Highroad were on the list as well as the squad of two-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer, Team Astana who will most likely bring his new teammate Lance Armstrong along with him. Team Saxo Bank, the new sponsor of the old Team CSC as well as Tom Boonen's Quick-Step squad also made the cut.
Not surprisingly, Rabobank and their ace climber Robert Gesink (that's Hesink to you) will be there. They recently signed on a a major co-sponsor of the event.Look for Gesink to be lighting it up on Bonny Doon Road during stage 2. Surprisingly, the French team Ag2r-La Mondial will be making their first appearance in California.
Even more surprisingly, Liquigas is also invited and that means the potential participation of Ivan Basso who rode alongside Levi at the Tour of California in 2007. Basso is returning from a drug suspension. There used to be a rule that any rider who is serving a drug suspension cannot ride for a ProTour team for an additional two years after the end of his sentence. When the UCI was questioned about this apparent breach of the ProTour rules, they responded that the additional two year suspension was part of a "code of ethics" agreed to by all the ProTour teams and not part of the UCI's official rules. Huh? What? Would the UCI look the other way if Floyd Landis signed with a ProTour team?
It is interesting to note that there will only be eight ProTour teams in 2009 down from nine in 2008. By UCI rules, that means that there can only be eight non-ProTour teams invited so, there will be two fewer teams(16) than in 2008(18). I hope this isn't a cost-cutting measure by the organizers of the race. But, the three-year old event has never made money and in this economic downturn it is unlikely to do so in 2009.
So, which non-ProTour teams will get the remaining eight spots? It seems like Ouch Medical, BMC Racing, Rock Racing, Bissel, Jelly Belly and Kelly Benefits have the inside track which leaves just two other slots open one of which might just go to the recently announced merger of Successful Living and Australia's Virgin Blue squads with the remaining spot going to Team Type 1.
Stay tuned to see which domestic pro squads secure a coveted berth in America's premier stage race. Anybody else got any ideas?
ps - one of last year's AToC ProTour teams, Saunier Duval-Scott, has been reborn as Fuji-Servetto. As Fuji is an American-based bicycle manufacturer it is not clear if they applied or were considered for one of the ProTour slots in the 2009 race. More as details become available.