Professional bike riders are attracted to sunshine, or at least warmer weather than in Europe at this time of year. Witness the growing popularity of early season races like the Tour Down Under, Tour of Qatar, Challenge Mallorca, and most recently, the Tour of California. The first three tours have already been and gone, while the ToC is gearing up for its second staging, starting this Sunday, February 18th and finishing the following Sunday.
In true American style, this race is bigger than ever. It's got some big name riders, a big prize purse, and some big team names. In two years, it looks like leapfrogging the more established Tour de Georgia in these categories. It just goes to show that "of" is better than "de" when naming races in English-speaking countries.
Let's throw a few facts around (we're journalists, after all) to back up this bold claim of leapfrogging.
Discovery Channel has a very impressive roster with Ivan Basso, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Tom Danielson, Tomas Vaitkus and three very handy domestiques. There are a few major contendahs in there. They're matched by CSC, with Fabian Cancellara, JJ Haedo, Stuart O'Grady, Bobby Julich, Jens Voigt and Dave Zabriskie. And we have a reigning world champion in Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step), a triple world TT champ in Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) and a Tour green jersey winner in Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole). All in California at the same time. With this lot, you don't even need a free set of steak knives thrown in.
Admittedly, not all of the riders will be in tip-top condition, but you can expect some quality competition for the overall win. Last year showed that.
Referring to long team names, there are a few big ones on the startlist. Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team (34 characters) is nothing compared to the protracted Colavita/Sutter Home Presented By Cooking Light Team (52 characters). A close second is Priority Health Cycling Team Presented By Bissell (49 characters), followed by Health Net Pro Cycling Team Presented By Maxxis (47 characters). I still don't get the whole "presented by" thing. Forgive me for my minor obsession with this, but I have processed a lot of results in my time. Short is good.
Procycling's Gary Boulanger will be covering the Tour of California for us all week. Roll on sunny Sunday!