On the eve of the fifth Amgen Tour of California, a pair of American overall favorites — three-time winner Levi Leipheimer and two-time runner-up Dave Zabriskie — spoke with VeloNews, assessing the riders most likely to win America’s biggest race.
Earlier this year Leipheimer pointed to Zabriskie as the man he was most worried about, particularly given Zabriskie’s overall win at last September’s Tour of Missouri. However the two riders squared off two weeks ago at the SRAM Tour of the Gila, where Leipheimer, the overall winner, was stronger in both the time trial and on the climbs.
Below, each rider shares his view on pre-race favorites Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia), Andy Schleck and Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), each other — and weighs his own chances.
Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia)
Previous ATOC results: 2007, 7th overall; 2009, 3rd overall
2010 results: 1st overall, Vuelta a Andalucia; 2nd overall Criterium International; 3rd, Monte Paschi Strade Bianche; 6th overall, Tirrenno-Adriatico
Zabriskie: He’s having a very good year. Probably the best I’ve seen in a long time. I think he’s coming to take care of business. He’ll be good.
Leipheimer: He’s a huge threat. He’s riding very well this year. He’s won some races. He led the Tour of Romandie. I’m watching his results and I know he’s going to be motivated. He’s a great guy, I get along with him very well, and I was proud to be on the podium with him last year. I know he’s motivated and he’s coming here to win.
Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
Previous ATOC results: 32nd overall, 4th best young rider in 2009
2010 results: 6th, Liège-Bastogne-Liège; 9th Fleche Wallonne
Zabriskie: He’s having an up-and-down season, but he’s always good. He can be a threat. He’s a crafty little dude. He knows how to race his bike.
Leipheimer: I’ve thought about him. Before I saw the Big Bear stage I thought, ‘maybe he’s my Robert Gesink for this year, the guy that I can get away with on the climb, and we work together and he gets the stage win and I get some time.’ Of course he would never do that with Cancellara as his teammate. I am presuming that I can beat him in the time trial, but I don’t know how his form will be. He’s young, and he’s kind of unpredictable with his form. He could be the best in the world, because he’s that talented, and if he’s that good, I’m in trouble on the uphill. But again, I don’t know if he would ever work for me, because a guy like Cancellara or Jens Voigt could give me a run for my money in the time trial.
Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)
Previous ATOC results: 1st prologue, 2008 (4th overall); 1st prologue 2009 (DNF)
2010 results: 1st, Paris-Roubaix; 1st, Tour of Flanders; 1st Tour of Oman; 1st Prijs Vlaaderen
Zabriskie: He could possibly hang on those climbs. He could have some trouble on the steeper ones, Bonny Doon could work (to drop him.) I don’t know if the Big Bear stage will be hard enough to drop him. It just depends on how light he is. If he’s lightweight enough, he can climb. We’ll just have to wait and see what he’s up to. I wouldn’t count him out.
Leipheimer: If we haven’t gotten rid of Cancellara before the stage 7 time trial, then we have something on our hands.
Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions)
Previous ATOC results: 2nd overall, 2006 and 2009; 6th overall, 2008; 2nd n 2006 stage 3 time trial
2010 results: 3rd overall, SRAM Tour of the Gila, 3rd on stage 3 time trial.
Zabriskie: I haven’t felt super this year. Hopefully the Tour of the Gila gave me the last little build up I needed to do well. It would be a dream to win California. I’ve come close a couple times. It would be the biggest win of my life. I could tell my grandkids about it. It’s an important race for Garmin, and we’re bringing a strong team. We come to the race very serious.
Leipheimer: When I said he was my favorite, I was judging off of Missouri last year. And he rode a great Tour de France, too. He’s getting better (this year); we saw that at Gila. And he will be very motivated to win the time trial on home roads in Los Angeles.
Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack)
Previous ATOC results: 1st overall-2007, 2008, 2009. 4 stage wins
2010 results: 1st overall, 2 stage wins, SRAM Tour of the Gila; 2nd, 3rd, stage 3 Tour of Algarve; 3rd, prologue Paris-Nice.
Zabriskie: He’s the defending champ. Obviously, he wants to win. He’s the favorite.
Leipheimer: I’ve been training extremely hard the last month. My plan was to race in Europe, do some hard races like Catalunya and Paris-Nice, and get that big load under my legs. Then come back and take a good break, a good eight days of barely riding the bike. I started up again and my energy was great. The main thing for me is to get to the race and know that I’ve done everything I can to win. And if that’s the case and everything is going well, I’ll push myself as hard as I can. And, in my opinion, that’s a pretty dangerous combination — as well as having the strongest, most dangerous team as any of the favorites.