SACRAMENTO — While the pre-race focus at the Amgen Tour of California has been on Lance Armstrong and his comeback, Armstrong is an unlikely overall winner.
Veteran cycling commentator Phil Liggett considers the field to be the strongest in the U.S. outside of a world championship. Staff writer Diane Pucin looks at some riders worth watching.
Levi Leipheimer, Astana -- Two-time defending champion, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist and four-time top-10 finisher at Tour de France. Stage 1 ends in Leipheimer's hometown, Santa Rosa.
Carlos Sastre, Cervelo Test Team -- Spaniard who won 2008 Tour de France is making his Tour of California debut.
Floyd Landis, OUCH -- Hasn't raced for 2 1/2 years, after a doping suspension cost him the 2006 Tour de France championship. His team isn't licensed to race overseas, so this is Landis' biggest race of the year and his training has pointed to this event. Title sponsor is the Temecula-based OUCH Sports Medical Center.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, February 19, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
Cycling: In Saturday's Sports section, a map detailing the Tour of California route indicated that Stage 5 is a time trial in Solvang and Stage 6 goes from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita. However, Stage 5 goes from Visalia to Paso Robles and Stage 6 is the time trial in Solvang. There is no stage this year between Santa Barbara and Santa Clarita. A corrected map can be found in today's Sports section.
Christian Vande Velde, Garmin-Slipstream -- Had perhaps the best 2008 among American cyclists. Finished fourth at the Tour de France and won the Tour of Missouri.
Kim Kirchen, Columbia-Highroad -- Native of Luxembourg led last year's Tour de France for four days.
George Hincapie, Columbia-Highroad -- Two-time stage winner at Tour de France and two-time U.S. road race national champion.
Ivan Basso, Liquigas -- Italian won the 2006 Giro d'Italia and has a Tour de France stage win.
JJ Haedo, Saxo Bank -- 2006 Tour of California sprint champion won a stage at a major season-opening race in Argentina.
Mark Cavendish, Columbia-Highroad -- Twenty-four-year-old earned 14 victories at major stage races last year, including four at the Tour de France.
Tom Boonen, Quick Step -- Belgian was the 2005 world sprint champion and won six stages at the 2007 Tour de France.
Fabian Cancellara, Saxo Bank -- Won the prologue in this race last year as well as Olympic gold in the time trial.
Andy Schleck, Saxo Bank -- Chosen best young rider at last year's Tour de France.
Tom Danielson, Garmin-Slipstream -- Made his name in cycling by winning hilly stages at Tour of Georgia.
Scott Nydam, BMC Racing Team -- Defending Tour of California King of Mountains winner.
Look for Lance
Stage 6, Solvang, individual time trial -- Called the "race of truth" among cyclists because riders go single file, racing only against the clock, it has historically been a favorite of Armstrong's. This is a 15-mile course that includes a steep, intense climb at Ballard Canyon.
Stage 8, Rancho Bernardo to Escondido -- The 96.8-mile finishing stage includes four King of the Mountain point-earning chances as well as a trip up Mount Palomar to 5,123 feet -- the highest point in race history. It is an 11.7-mile ascent with 21 switchbacks, a mini L'Alpe d'Huez, and the kind of route where Armstrong often leaves opponents in his rear-view mirror.