Details of the route for the 2010 Amgen Tour of California(ATOC) are leaking out bit by bit though the official announcement is scheduled for sometime next week (October 6?). As was announced earlier this year, the race will move from February to May with the 16th to the 23rd being the proposed dates.
It appears that the race will start in Sacramento, but unlike last year when the stage was a very short prologue, the course will most likely be a road race up into the Sierra foothills that begins and ends near the Capitol.
The next stage is rumoured to include Levi Leipheimer's home town of Santa Rosa.Given that Santa Rosa is over 100 miles from Sacramento, the stage will most likely finish in Levi's hood, a potential start city could again be Davis, the new home of the US Bicycling Hall of Fame.
It is not clear if the race will visit the San Francisco Bay Area, but what seems to be clear is that Yosemite Valley will be on the agenda. One proposed route could be from Merced to the Yosemite on Hiway 140 and then a return on Hiway 41 to a finish in Fresno or Clovis, where there was a stage finish last year.
The 2010 race route was supposed to be announced just before Interbike last week, however, last minute logistical hassles, mostly like dealing with the race entering Yosemite National Park, caused a postponement until next week.
The town of Bakersfield will host either a stage start or more likely a stage finish as the Rabobank Arena, owned by the race's third most important sponsor behind Amgen and Herbalife, is located there.
Another stage finish is scheduled for downtown LA at the Staples Center which is owned by AEG the owner the Amgen Tour of California and is the home of the LA Lakers.
The first ever mountain top finish for the Tour of California is penciled in for the village of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernadino Mountains. Sitting at 6000' above sea level, any route up to this ski resort town will include a major climb.
The usually decisive time trial stage will follow the finish in Big Bear Lake and is slated to be a 29-mile test in Venice, just west of LA, on the Pacific Coast.
The race is not scheduled to visit the San Diego area in 2010; the final stage will most likely end in Thousand Oaks the hometown of the race's primary sponsor Amgen.
So, there you have it. Mix speculation with rumour, add just a hint of fact and you have the route of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California. Well, maybe!?!?
A general lack of cooperation among the sprinter's teams allowed a group of seven riders to stay away to the finish, but the first rider across the line, Saxo Bank's Niki Sorensen didn't wait around to sprint with his breakmates. His solo attack in the closing kilometers brought Saxo Bank it's second stage win after Cancellara's victory in Monaco.
I was a day for opportunities as the AG2R-La Mondiale team had to spend most of day at the front riding for their man in yellow, Rinaldo Nocentini, as the sprinter's teams just couldn't coordinate a chase effort to bring back the breakaway. While Nocentini kept the jersey, it was a lost day for the Cavendish, Farrar, Hushovd, et. al. as the stage profile clearly called for a bunch finish. But, that's why they ride each day, just to see who has been reading all the journalists' prognostications.
Clearly, Mark Cavendish is the class of the sprinters and my guess is that the other teams with sprinters such as Garmin-Slipstream and Cervelo Test Team decided not to do any work at the front just so 'Cav' could get another win. With two riders in contention for the overall, I can see why Garmin-Slipstream might have chosen not to ride, but it is a bit of a pity as their fastman, Tyler Farrar, came oh, so close to winning yesterday. But, the third week of the Tour is, as Lance Armstrong put it 'sinister', and as we reach the Alps in just three days maybe all eyes are looking at the mountains.
Jens Voigt are you listening? This is your opportunity to go for stage win!
Nicolas Roche has some big shoes to fill being the son of Irishman Stephen Roche who won the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and the World Road Championship all in the same year, 1987. He is riding his first Tour, and sporting the jersey of the Irish National road champion, for AG2R-La Mondiale team who just happen to have the yellow jesey. I talked with him about his Tour experience.
Bruce: what is it like riding for Rinaldo in yellow?
Nicolas: for me it is a fantastic experience. It is my first Tour and straight away I have the opportunity to ride for the yellow jersey. Some riders never do that in their whole career. Of course, that puts a big stop on my own personal motivations, but it is my first Tour so everything is going all right. I had my chances in the first week in the sprints. Now there are two more weeks to go and lots of chances to get into the breakaways.
Bruce: What is the biggest thing you have learned so far?
Nicolas: I suppose that when you are riding the Tour you are either riding to be top ten in GC or the most important thing is to try and save you energy for the next day to give it a go in the breakaways. You can't win the sprint because of Cavendish and there are too many other good sprinters. If you wait for a mountain top finish there is Contador, Armstrong and so many others. There are not many possibilities to get a stage win which is the dream of everybody who comes to the Tour, I think.
While Serge Borlee is currently Cadel Evans' bodyguard, he has preformed the same duty for Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Alexandre Vinokourov. I thought there would be a bidding war for Serge's services when Lance announced his comeback, but it didn't happen. Hopefully, we are buddies now and he won't hurt me!
Bruce: what are your duties as a bodyguard?
Serge: Every morning I bring him to the start line for the sign in. I make sure nothing happens to him before the race starts.
Bruce: some people don't know your background. You are an ex-Belgian policeman.
Serge: I am not an ex, I am still a policeman. This is my holiday. I take my holiday to do the Tour de France.
Bruce: Cadel is a bit different this year than last year. He is more friendly.
Serge: Last year they put too much pressure on him to make him win the Tour de France and it was too stressful for him. But, this year I think he is in better shape than last year and he's looking good.
Bruce: have you ever had to take somebody down while protecting a rider?
Serge: In 2005 I got in a fight with the police in Paris when I was protecting Lance. Put my name in YouTube and you will see.
Bruce: of all the riders you have worked with, who was the best to work for?
Serge: Cadel. It is less stressful. He's a nice guy.
Last time I talked with Rabobank Director Sportif (DS) Erik Breukink was in Rome during the final TT of the Giro. The team was on a definite high as they were just hours away from wining the Giro D'Italia. Here at the Tour, their luck has been going in the opposite direction. As I predicted, I didn't think Menchov could recover from the Giro and he hasn't. The their hope for the white jersey and possibly the overall, Robert Gesink(pronounced Hesink, just like Houda not Gouda cheese) crashed and had to retire with a broken wrist.
Bruce: with Gesink out and Menchov apparently not recovered from the Giro are you looking to stage wins?
Erik: a stage win is important, for sure. Gesink for the mountains was our guy. Menchov is getting a litle bit better, but it is difficult for him to move up on GC because he is so far behind. Stage wins are important now.
The 100th anniversary Giro d'Italia finished today with a 15km(9-mile) individual time trail around the streets of central Rome. The course passed a number of Rome's most famous landmarks including the Colosseum, Saint Peter's Basilica and Circus Circus. In the end, Denis Menchov's overall victory appeared to be a relatively easy affair, but that was far from the case.
It was a drama-filled final stage as the organizers seemed to try to heap additional difficulties on the riders by running the race on just about every poorly-cobbled street in central Rome. In fact, almost 7 miles of the 9-mile course was on cobbles and bad ones at that. It was a bumpy ride for all the contenders and with rain falling on and off, the outcome was far from certain.
Many riders not in contention for a high placing chose to ride a regular road bikes so as to have more control on the twisty, turny route which also included significant ups and downs. Also, riders looking to the Tour de France like Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer decided not to take any chances on the slick cobblestones and definitely rode within themselves.
The drama was provided by the rain which caused race leader Denis Menchov to crash in the final turn, but he was up quickly and lost little time. In the end Menchov was a deserving winner. He gained the bulk of his time in the race's 61km Cinque Terra time trial, but he rode consistently in the mountains, avoiding a single bad day, to keep his margin all the way to Rome.
Here are some photos. Race leader Denis Menchov(Rabobank) with 1.5 miles to go.
Danilo Di Luca(LPR Brakes), who finished second overall, negotiates a turn in the first kilometer.
Carlos Sastre(Cervelo Test Team) win two hard mountain stages and finished fourth overall. Look for him to be a factor in the Tour de France.
Lance Armstrong took it easy in the final TT. He will head to a high altitude training camp in the USA in the next few days.
The Roman Colosseum was the backdrop for both the start and finish of the stage.
ps - I shot a lot of photos and did a bunch of interviews. Look for them to be popping up once I get back to the states.
It was announced yesterday that Rabobank, a Dutch-based bank, will become a major sponsor of the Amgen Tour of California(AToC). If you follow professional cycling you know that Rabobank also sponsors a highly successful European cycling team. Levi Leipheimer rode for the Rabobank squad for three season from 2002-2004. Luckily, for us Californians and Americans in general, the Dutch bank is looking to expand across the pond into the USA.
What makes Rabobank's sponsorship even more noteworthy is the fact that, even before the current economic crisis, money was flowing out of the sport. Sponsors like Credit Agricole and Gerlosteiner in Europe and Health Net, Toyota and Jittery Joes in the US all said 'adios' to cycling in 2008. That left a lot of riders looking for work. And without races for them to ride, the riders and their teams would be in even more serious trouble.
The AToC has a reported budget of roughly $8,000,000 which works out to about $1,000,000 per stage. In it's three-year history the race has yet to turn a profit, but if any major bicycle race in the US has a chance of running in black ink, it is the Amgen Tour of California. Last year, with the inclusion of Rock Racing both the number of spectators and the desired demographic were up sharply. Add to that the number one-ranked team, Team CSC, America's favorite team, Slipstream-Chipotle(now Garmin-Chipotle) and California son Levi Leipheimer and his Astana squad and you had all the right ingredients for a successful event.
In 2009, the race will keep its mid-February dates, but expand from eight to nine days with the final stage in the San Diego Area. Clearly, the race organizers are trying to find the correct formula to make the AToC profitable. Hopefully it is just a matter of time. With Rabobank on board, the organizers have done just that, given themselves more time to prove to all of us that the AToC is one of the best events going on the entire planet.
ps - As a bit of an education into the Dutch culture, Rabobank's up and coming star and the winner of last year's AToC stage three into San Jose is Robert Gesink. In Dutch, the "G" is pronounced like an "H", the phonetic pronunciation of Robert's last name is "Hesink". Also, for those of you who like Gouda cheese, named after a small town in western Holland, the correct pronunciation is "Houda".