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Tour of California 2008 - 'California Dreamin'
By Andy McGrath
Date: 2/17/2008
Tour of California 2008 - 'California Dreamin'

Tour of California 2008 - 'California Dreamin'
A look at the big names going for the overall 'California Gold' as well as the wealth of sprint talent and promising young riders on show.

Levi Leipheimer/Janez Brajkovic (Astana)
It’s a course that looks tailor-made for either of these riders: two time-trials and a bagful of tough climbs. Not only is Leipheimer defending his title and racing on home soil, but he’ll also be super-motiv ated and positively fuming after the recent contentious decisions to exclude the squad from both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. Astana will feel they have something to prove, and whether it’s Leipheimer, Brajkovic or even Gusev, they will be wanting to stamp their mark defiantly all over this race.

Jens Voigt (Team CSC)
CSC have a habit of roaring out of the starting gate in February and March; last year, they had four riders in the top six the Tour of California. Now 36 years old, Voigt has shown he’s lost none of his zip climbing or against the clock. He’ll also be ably supported by Fabian Cancellara, a sure-fire contender for the time-trials.

There are questions about Voigt’s condition after a recent crash, but you can be sure Americans Bobby Julich (he’s been a tad quiet recently) and Jason McCartney will be hoping to better their top-ten performances of last year.

George Hincapie (High Road)
In this clash of the professional cycling superpowers, High Road will be hoping to get in the first blow.

Fourth in 2006, Hincapie will be tapering his form for the cobbled Classics after a frustrating last season. If that goes belly up, there’s always Kim Kirchen as another option, or youngsters Ciolek, Cavendish or Hagen for the sprints. For strength-in-depth, you simply cannot better this line-up, and it would be a shock if they didn’t win a stage.

Tom Danielson (Slipstream-Chipotle)
Slipstream already have their fair share of good publicity, but they would really love a Danielson win in the biggest race in America. Finally able to lead the team fully after years in the shadows, the former Tour of Langkawi winner will be hungry to prove the critics wrong.

Look out for Vandevelde, Millar and Zabriskie too; if the latter can stay with the best over the climbs, a good time-trial in Solvang could grab him some glory. At the very least, a stage win will be the goal for the team leading the anti-doping crusade.

Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner)
One of those strong riders who is still waiting for that deserved big result. The German champion will be leading a young team, and this event should be good preparation for the Ardennes Classics. Moreover, in a small bunch sprint, his finishing speed will make him very dangerous. As for the overall, his ability against the clock will let him down, when compared to the likes of Leipheimer, Voigt and company.

David Canada (Saunier Duval-Scott)
His surname may be Canada , but this Spaniard really likes racing in America; last year he was fourth in the Tour of Missouri and third in the Tour of Georgia. Don’t be surprised if the former Volta a Catalunya winner nabs a stage, though, like Wegmann, his time-trial ability will damage his chances of the overall prize.

The Sprinters
Look at all these established names from the world of sprinting: Tom Boonen, Oscar Freire, Paolo Bettini, Mark Cavendish, Gerald Ciolek, Stuart O’Grady, Mark Renshaw, Juan Jose Haedo, Luciano Pagliarini…add American-based pros like Ivan Dominguez and Tyler Farrar into the mix and it is clear that even the bunch gallops are going to be fiercely-contested treats.

And let’s not forget one man: Mario Cipollini.
He’s been “off the bike” for two years, but with some persuasion from Michael Ball, “Il Re Leone” is back for the Tour of California. It would be incredible to see the sprint legend grab another win, but, logically and realistically, he will find the racing very tough. But still, Cipo will go about it in his own rugged, fashionable and endearing way.

The Young Guns
Is this the year th one of cycling’s hottest prospects, Robert Gesink, chooses to fulfill his potential? A bad time-trial let him down last year, so you can bet the young Rabobank rider will be wanting to improve this time round. Young men like Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner) and Thomas Lovkvist (High Road) could also perform well. Tom Peterson (Slipstream) is another hope tipped for the top, and will be relishing this challenge to show his worth on home soil.

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