The rosters for the sixteen teams participating in the Amgen Tour of California (AToC) have been released, and the Pro Tour teams have definitely sent some strong competition.
At the top of the list is Team RadioShack's Levi Leipheimer, who has won the race the past three years and has openly stated that win number four is a big goal for 2010. With a new (American) sponsor in RadioShack, winning on home soil is even more important. Lance Armstrong is probably not far enough along in his Tour de France preparation to be considered a contender for the overall. Look for Lance to be riding in support of Levi.
Two challengers lead the list of those who could take down Leipheimer. Team Saxo Bank's Andy Schleck finished second in last year's Tour de France, which automatically puts him on the list. Unfortunately, this race doesn't really have any mountaintop finishes, meaning it will come down to the time trial. While Schleck's time trialing has been improving, Levi can expect to take about a minute out of the Luxembourger in Los Angeles during Stage 7.
Team Garmin-Transitions rider Dave Zabriskie is most likely the second best time trialist among the overall contenders. If he can hang with Levi on the climbs then Zabriskie could give Leipheimer a handful. Zabriskie has twice finished second on the general classification (GC) at the AToC and won the Tour of Missouri in similar fashion last year.
Michael Rogers of HTC-Columbia is a three-time World Time Trial Champion and has seemed to regain some of the form which has been lacking in the past few years. If Rogers is riding at top fitness he, too, could challenge Leipheimer. He has been close in the past, but needs to be riding very well to contend.
One wildcard could be Saxo Bank's Fabian Cancellara. The reigning World Time Trail Champion and Beijing Olympic Gold medalist is the best time trialist at the race. Normally, he would be ruled out of an event like the AToC, but he has been on a tear this spring and it must be remembered that he won the hilly Tour of Switzerland last year. If Cancellara is given the green light to contend and not just ride in support of teammate Andy Schleck it could get very interesting.
Team RadioShack has several other potential contenders in Jani Brajkovic and Chris Horner. Jani won the last Tour de Georgia and Horner recently triumphed at the week-long Tour of the Basque Country. They will most likely be riding in support of teammate Leipheimer, but if something happens to Levi they need to be high up on the overall to be able to move into the team leader role.
With Mark Cavendish forgoing the Giro to ride in California, look for the Manx man to be the fastest finisher in the sprints. Tom Boonen has found some form this season and could be a contender, especially if he can get over the climbs and Cav can't. Theo Bos and Heinrich Haussler, both of the Cervelo TestTeam, are also good field sprinters and should be at the head of affairs in the bunch kicks.
Bruce Hildenbrand is a freelance journalist covering cycling and a host of other outdoor-related sports. Find the latest news, rumors and more on his Active Expert blog. He splits his time between Mountain View, California, Boulder, Colorado, and Europe.