SANTA ROSA, California (VN) — With their teammates currently leading the Giro d’Italia, eight Garmin-Barracuda riders head to the start of the Amgen Tour of California on Sunday aiming to claim a leader’s jersey of their own.
The Amgen Tour has historically been an important race for the American squad with an American sponsor, and in Americans Tom Danielson and Andrew Talansky, the team has a pair of potent GC threats.
Talansky recently finished second overall to Bradley Wiggins at the Tour de Romandie, where he rode superbly in the mountains and finished second only to Wiggins in the time trial.
Danielson last raced at the Vuelta al País Vasco, where he finished 20th overall. At last year’s Amgen Tour of California he finished third while building toward a top-10 finish at his first Tour de France.
In Dave Zabriskie the team brings a three-time California podium finisher, although those results came on less hilly routes in 2006, 2009 and 2010. Last year, the first to feature the steep Mount Baldy summit finish, Zabriskie won the time trial in Solvang, but a relentless pace from RadioShack’s Matthew Busche dropped enigmatic American the next day. This year’s race features a new, 18.4-mile time trial course in Bakersfield on stage 5, which should suit Zabriskie well.
Riding support for Garmin in the mountains are young Americans Tom Peterson, Jacob Rathe and Alex Howes.
Peterson was a California stage winner in Santa Cruz in 2009, while Howes is fresh off an impressive classics debut, where he finished sixth at Brabantse Pijl and rode in the breakaway at the Amstel Gold Race until the final 15km.
To contest the sprints the team is bringing Australian Heinrich Haussler, who is backed by a compatriot, strongman Nathan Haas.
Asked if Garmin’s Amgen Tour squad takes additional motivation from watching their teammates win the team time trial and protect the maglia rosa in Italy, Howes answered without hesitation.
“Absolutely,” Howes said. “You see all nine of your teammates on the podium at the Giro, and you want a piece of that. You don’t want people to forget about the California team. This has always been an important race for this team. It’s one of the biggest races in the U.S., and we focus on it. I think we’ve shown that this year by sending guys on top form. Tommy D been training his ass off, and Talansky is obviously flying after finishing second to Wiggo at Romandie.”
With three-time California winner Levi Leipheimer questionable due to his April 1 training incident with an automobile, Howes said the most likely obstacles between a Garmin jersey and the top step of the podium in Los Angeles are Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and defending champion Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan).
“Horner will be going well, but I’m not sure how well after the Ardennes classics,” Howes said. “His season seemed to have a little bit of a shaky start, but he’s Chris Horner so you can never count him out.”
As for his own objectives in California, Howes said he would ride in support of riders who can win — namely Talanksy, Danielson and Haussler.
“My role at this race is to help the guys who we think can win,” Howes said. “I’m going in a supportive role, both for GC and for Heinrich and Haas in the sprints. That’s the kind of rider I am — a multi-purpose rider. I struggle in the time trial, so I don’t see myself being up there in the GC. But the type of rider I think I am, I think I could do well at the USA Cycling National Championships the week after the Amgen Tour. That’s just one day, throw all the cards on the table, and that’s the kind of rider I am.”
To deliver a stage and overall win in California, Howes and company will be gambling every day. That’s the kind of riders they are.