The course for the 2010 Amgen Tour of California has been announced. The eight-stage event will once again start in northern California and take its tradition run south, but for 2010, the route will be substantially different.
Thanks to its move from February to May, the event will enjoy substantially improved weather that will allow the race to tackle some new challenges. For the first time in the race’s five-year history a stage will feature a mountain-top finish. The time trial will be moved to the urban streets of Los Angeles and the race’s final stage will take competitors over several climbs in the Santa Monica Mountains.
There has been a fair amount of speculation about how the race’s move to a later date in the calendar will affect attendance by European PROs. It’s true that you won’t see a single Italian GC rider at the Tour of California as they’ll all be at the Giro, but there are many riders who have traditionally taken a different approach in preparing for the Tour de France.
The Dauphiné Liberé and Tour de Suisse have been used as traditional build up races for those with ambitions for the general classification at the Tour de France. The Tour of California’s new position in the calendar will give riders yet another shorter stage race as they prepare for Dauphiné/Suisse double.
There are a couple of small problems, though. Even with a great position in the calendar, nothing will change two of the PROs’ biggest concerns: getting in an aluminum tube of a Petri dish and nine—yes nine—hours of jet lag.
Despite these obvious challenges, the organizers have announced four of the biggest names in American cycling will be in attendance at this year’s Tour of California: Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, George Hincapie and David Zabriskie. A May date and these eight legs will guarantee that every team present will bring their A-game. But how many European teams will that entice?
The Tour of California has an ace up its sleeve: The blessing of the Amaury Sport Organization. It’s safe to say that 18 of the teams that will compete at the 2010 Tour de France will come from the ProTour. They’ll leave out at least one team just to maintain their independence from the UCI and then pick a selection of wild card entries. The Tour of California could potentially serve as some teams’ last-ditch effort to impress the ASO and earn entry to the Tour. While the ASO has typically announced the wild cards in May, and the Tour of California could give them a nice platform to make the announcement for those teams on the bubble.
Yet detractors say we’ll never see a Boonen or Bettini or other Euro star here again. There is that chance. But if it happens, what harm is there? Boonen wasn’t mobbed when he was here this year and he rode anonymously. What if a lesser-known European rider were to come over and make a name for himself with a suicide breakaway the way Dominique Rollin did during the 2008 race? Rollin is no star in Europe, at least not yet, but his breakaway during stage 4 into San Luis Obispo won’t be forgotten; he has earned a permanent spot in the race’s lore.
While the racing is unlikely to be epic in the cold and rain sense, the better weather and with some dramatic new courses thrown into the mix, it seems unlikely anyone will come away from the event thinking it should have remained unchanged. We’ll know for sure when the sun sets on May 23.