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Can Garmin-Sharp win the Amgen Tour of California?

SACRAMENTO (VN) — Amid the pre-race hype of the Amgen Tour of California, focused primarily on 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins and sprinters like Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, and John Degenkolb, one team has largely flown under the radar — Garmin-Sharp.

Over eight editions of the California race, the American team has had a love-hate relationship, never winning, but finishing second overall on four occasions.

Though the team does not have an outright favorite, Garmin came to Sacramento with several riders capable of a high GC ranking, including Americans Tom Danielson and Phil Gaimon, Colombian Janier Acevedo, and Australian Rohan Dennis.

None of these men appeared at Friday’s pre-race press conference, however; instead, Ben King, a 25-year-old domestique with a national road title to his name, represented Garmin-Sharp.

Acevedo wears the number 11, which might suggest that the Colombian climber will be the team’s protected leader, though it’s widely suspected that this year’s route may favor time trial specialists who can also climb, such as Dennis.

“It’s a lot like last year, or other years, the climbs aren’t so European, they’re not steep climbs,” Dennis said. “There are two climbs that will be hard, Diablo and Mountain High, but the route does suit us time-trial climbers a bit better. There are guys like Peter Stetina [BMC Racing], and Janier on our team, that will find the climbs a lot easier than I do when it gets steeper.”

Danielson, who has twice stood on the final podium at the Amgen Tour, in 2011 and 2012, has struggled throughout the spring. After a bad crash at Volta a Catalunya, he developed a staph infection, and was unable to finish at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. At Romandie, Danielson finished 61st overall, and did not finish inside the top 50 on any of the race’s six stages.

Acevedo, who won a climbing stage in Palm Springs last year and finished third overall, comes to Sacramento as a bit of an unknown. He abandoned the Tour de San Luis in January due to illness; his only other race has been the Volta a Catalunya, where he did not feature on any of the race’s major climbs, finishing 69th overall.

Gaimon, a first-year pro at the WorldTour level, finished second overall in San Luis behind Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, but has only finished mid-pack at European races this spring; he abandoned Catalunya on the final stage.

Without an outright favorite, the team will look to instead animate in the mountains, following Monday’s 20km time trial in Folsom, where either Wiggins or Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) is expected to win the stage and assume the race lead.

“We’ve got a strong team for climbing,” Dennis said. “Hopefully those guys can relate that to time trialing as well, and it plays into our hands. We’re hoping that the winds calm down, which will be important for the smaller guys to get around that fast course.”

The overall winner at last year’s inaugural Tour of Alberta, Dennis has finished second three times in time trials this year, at Criterium International, Circuit de la Sarthe, and most recently, the Tour de Romandie, where he finished four seconds behind Michal Kwiatkowski in the opening prologue.

“It is one of my targets to go well here,” Dennis said. “All I can say is that I knew my form was good in Romandie, and hopefully it’s carried on to here. You never know, after flying overseas, dealing with a bit of jet lag, it is always a bit of an unknown, but I believe [the form] is slightly better than in Romandie.”

Should Dennis stay close to Wiggins on the time trial, the 23-year-old Aussie could find himself fighting for an overall podium finish.

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