After finishing the Amgen Tour of California in the runner-up spot for the past three years, Garmin-Cervélo aims to break that streak by fielding a roster that, on paper, is the deepest in the race.
In last year’s runner-up David Zabriskie, fifth-place finisher Ryder Hesjedal and 2008 podium finisher Christian Vande Velde, the team brings proven GC contenders.
Zabriskie comes to the race fresh off a time-trial stage win at the Tour of Romandie. Vande Velde and Hesjedal each come off lackluster performances at the Ardennes classics, where Hesjedal was stricken with a stomach bug and Vande Velde was overtrained.
Younger GC hopefuls Andrew Talansky and Dan Martin are additional cards for the team to play. Talansky rode an impressive Romandie debut, finishing ninth overall as best young rider, with a sixth-place finish in the time trial. Martin finished third overall at the Tour of Catalonia in March, behind Alberto Contador and Michele Scarponi, but suffered a sore elbow following a crash at La Fleche Wallonne.
Tom Danielson, a two-time top-10 finisher in California, could shine on the summit finishes of Sierra Road and Mount Baldy. World champion Thor Hushovd, a California stage winner in 2009, will contend the field sprints, and Paris-Roubaix champion Johan Van Summeren will support both the team’s stage and GC ambitions.
“We’ve won the team classification every year (in 2008 and 2010), and finished second on GC several times, so the only way to improve is to win the race. And we’re coming with a team that can do that,” Vaughters said. “We’ve got several guys capable of winning.”
With three second-place finishes, Zabriskie will be the team’s protected leader.
“For some reason Zabriskie always climbs well at the Tour of California,” Vaughters said. “He proved that last year. And I think the Solvang time trial course will suit him better than the (2010) course in Los Angeles. Last year the course was flat but it had so many corners, and that’s where he lost it to Mick Rogers. Solvang is better for him, but it’s also better for (three-time California champion) Levi Leipheimer.
“Ryder will be looking for revenge after not having the classics campaign he wanted. Dan Martin is the wildcard for mountaintop finishes. You never know, sometimes he can race somewhat anonymously, and other times he wins or comes close to winning and there’s usually not too much in between. And then there’s Andrew Talansky; I think people are starting to be aware of just how talented he is.”
Vande Velde downplayed his own chances, saying he was “too ambitious” in his training between Catalonia and the Tour of the Basque Country, and was “overdone” at the Ardennes Classics.
“I’m not expecting to be the GC leader of the team,” he said. “If everything works out, then great, but DZ deserves to be looked after, and that’s what we’re planning on doing. He knows every nook and cranny of the course. And with Dan Martin, if he decides to go fast, there are not too many people in the world that can climb with him. Right here in the USA, the Amgen Tour of California is one of the top three races of the year, and we’re going to send the best, most motivated guys we’ve got.”
Asked if he’s grown frustrated with the race after finishing second three times, Zabriskie was nonchalant.
Top Amgen Tour finishes for Garmin riders
David Zabriskie: 2nd in 2006 (with CSC); 2nd in 2009; 2nd in 2010; 6th in 2008
Christian Vande Velde: 3rd in 2008; 9th in 2006 (with CSC)
Ryder Hesjedal: 5th in 2010; 10th in 2007 (with Health Net-Maxxis)
Tom Danielson: 8th in 2006 (with Discovery Channel); 9th in 2009
David Millar 2nd in 2008*
(*not at 2011 Amgen Tour)
“Last year was the most frustrating, because I was pretty close (nine seconds), and I really wanted to win it,” he said. “It is frustrating to be second; I’d like to win it. But finishing second is not too bad. It kind of sucks, but it’s not the worst.”
In order for Zabriskie to win, he knows he’ll have to conquer the steep final kilometers of Mount Baldy on stage 7. He rode the mass-participation L’Etape du California last weekend for a first look, and came away with a healthy respect for the summit finish.
“It’s gonna be a difficult stage. Seeing the downhill (lead-in to the final climb) was just as important as seeing the uphill, to know what to expect,” Zabriskie said. “It’s gonna be interesting. There will either be someone really strong that rides away from everyone, or there will be staggered, big gaps. The time gaps could be in minutes on that stage. There’s no real place it lets up. It goes straight up, even on the switchbacks there’s no recovery — they’re even steeper than the rest of the climb.”
Last year’s winner, Michael Rogers, will not be returning to defend his title. Prompted to name the riders he would be watching the most, Zabriskie named Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek), RadioShack’s Leipheimer and Chris Horner, Tejay van Garderen (HTC-Highroad), and his teammate, Andrew Talansky.
“Talansky is a pretty good bike racer,” Zabriskie said. “We’re bringing a really strong team.”
It’s a fact Vaughters said the team would use to its advantage on every stage.
“The interesting thing for our team is its depth,” Vaughters said. “We can play several cards, and maneuver things like we did at Paris-Roubaix, instead of having guys focused on just one thing. Christian Vande Velde can win, Dan Martin can win, Andrew Talansky can win, Tom Danielson can win. Technically our best guy is Dave Zabriskie, but we will have a lot of options. We’ll be trying to make it a race and not a dead-on drag race with guys like Levi and Schleck. You can cover Zabriskie or Vande Velde, but we have six guys that can win, and if they have a 40- or 50-second head start from a breakaway, that will be enough to win the race.”
Garmin-Cervélo for 2011 Amgen Tour of California: David Zabriskie (USA), Tom Danielson (USA), Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Thor Hushovd (Nor), Dan Martin (Irl), Andrew Talanksy (USA), Johan Van Summeren (B), Christian Vande Velde (USA)