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California, let’s get it on

The biggest race in the United States starts now

By Ben Delaney

Astana is just one of many teams arriving in California firing on all cylinders.

Astana is just one of many teams arriving in California firing on all cylinders.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Most American sports wait until the end of the season for The Big One. The Super Bowl, The Final Four, the World Series – all of these come at the conclusion of many months of competition. For American cycling, it doesn’t get any bigger than the Amgen Tour of California, which begins Saturday with the best riders in the world throwing down on the streets of Sacramento.

There’s been much debate about whether this is the best field ever assembled on U.S. soil. My take is simple: I have never seen deeper rosters at any American race I’ve attended. I don’t know who rolls up to the start of your local events, but I would guess it doesn’t include many winners of the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix or world championships.

Here in Sacramento it’s a who’s who of professional road cycling. We have reigning Tour champ Carlos Sastre, Olympic TT champ Fabian Cancellara, four-time Tour stage winner Mark Cavendish, and former world and Paris-Roubaix champ Tom Boonen.

We have Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Carlos Sastre, Stuart O’Grady, George Hincapie, Michael Rogers, Christian Vande Velde, the Schleck brothers, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso. These are just a few of the big names — for our season opener. Are you kidding me?

Basso is ready to roll.

Basso is ready to roll.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Beyond the marquee names, many of the big squads have brought full-on Tour de France crews. Just take a quick peek at the line-ups for Columbia-Highroad, Saxo Bank, Garmin-Slipstream or Astana. Armstrong? He’s here for support.

Hats off to the AEG crew and the state of California for making it happen. When the concept of the California stage race was announced a few years back, I laughed. Shutting down PCH for a bike race? It will never happen. Turns out Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger felt differently.

Rain is the forecast, and that’s fine by me. Rude weather can make for epic battles on the bike. Disagree? Let’s see a quick show of hands for all those who prefer watching Paris-Roubaix in dry, sunny conditions to a stormy, bare-knuckled brawl over the cobbles in the mud and the rain.

Veteran racer Tim Johnson of Floyd Landis’ OUCH squad weighed in earlier this week about the course, the conditions and the massive strength of the field. Keep in mind this is a guy who prefers foul conditions when he’s racing cyclocross. His prognosis: “It’s going to be friggin’ brutal.”

Sounds good to me. Let’s get it on.
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