The sixth edition of the race through the "Peach State" is continuing to evolve. After adding a day to the race last year, the 2008 race will see the introduction of a team time trial around a unique course – the 'Road Atlanta' track usually reserved for auto racing. This stage replaces the usual individual time trial and will be an interesting experiment: it could make the race up Brasstown Bald mountain more exciting if the time gaps after Road America are small, or a closed case if a strong team like Astana runs away with the GC.
Astana will, of course, come to the race with the desire to crush all competition and continue to demonstrate to the Tour de France organiser, ASO, that they've left one of the world's strongest teams out of this year's event.
2007 Tour de France podium finisher Levi Leipheimer will be back to try to take his first Tour de Georgia after his second consecutive victory at the Tour of California. He will have a strong supporting cast with the likes of Chris Horner and Chechu Rubiera, but last year's winner Janez Brajkovic will not be heading Stateside. The team's spokesman told Cyclingnews that Brajkovic was not riding at the level of last year, and has possibly overtrained. He has been given a period of rest by his trainers.
The Kazakh-backed team will not be without competition, as there will be several other strong contenders for the title, both from the ProTour ranks and increasingly from the domestic and continental squads.
Team CSC is sending a well-rounded team, with veteran American racer Bobby Julich and Bradley McGee as GC riders, while Juan Jose Haedo will be back to challenge for the sprint jersey. They'll also look to Jason McCartney to try to repeat his solo stage victory from 2004 when he flexed his muscles in Dahlonega.
It is interesting to note that Team High Road's George Hincapie was not named as a GC rider in the team's press release despite the South Carolina resident enjoying a strong spring classics campaign. The team will instead look to climbers Thomas Lövkvist and Kanstantsin Siutsou for the overall, with Hincapie as a valuable motor for the team time trial.
Gerolsteiner rounds out the ProTour teams with Robert Förster and Thomas Fothen back to enjoy the southern hospitality. A fifth ProTour team was slated to race, but Saunier Duval-Scott pulled out at the last minute, citing their plethora of injuries as the reason for not being able to make the trip across the pond.
This twist arose at a unique time. The American Rock Racing team had filed a court injunction against the race a week earlier, citing a verbal agreement between the team and race organizers Medalist Sports guaranteeing them a start. The day of the court hearing was the same day Saunier Duval-Scott made their announcement. This apparently provided a quick fix for both parties, as Rock Racing was given the open slot.
The team will be stacked with former Euro-pros, including Santiago Botero, Oscar Sevilla, Victor Hugo Pena and Freddie Rodriguez. Hamilton raced in Georgia last year with Tinkoff, but did not have his best outing. Botero, Hamilton and Sevilla were banned from racing in the Tour of California, with the promoter, AEG, citing their alleged involvement with Operación Puerto as rationale. The three will get their chance to show their stuff this time, and it could be something to behold, with Botero recently winning the Redlands Classic.
Slipstream-Chipotle-H3O is returning back Stateside after a largely successful spring campaign, including a fourth place in Paris-Roubaix and a near win in Circuit Cycliste Sarthe, where Christian Vande Velde won the time trial, and missed out on the overall victory by four seconds to Thomas Voeckler. Vande Velde saw himself in a GC battle up Brasstown Bald last year, hanging with the leaders until the final kilometres and held onto second overall behind eventual winner Janez Brajkovic. He will share team leadership duties with a recuperated Tom Danielson, who has proven time and again that he can handle the torturous Brasstown Bald climb, having won there in 2005 and 2006, and taken second to team-mate Levi Leipheimer last year.
The other U.S. Pro Continental team, BMC, is looking to continue strong racing in the major American races, with Scott Nydam riding strong in Tour of California. Health Net-Maxxis is set to represent with Rory Sutherland in the drivers seat, who also had an impressive and aggressive ride at the Tour of California. Rory will also be busy as one of the more popular Cyclingnews diarists. Toyota-United is putting Chris Baldwin in the number one slot, but also has a strong sprinting contingent in Dominique Rollin, Ivan Dominguez and Ivan Stevic.
Like Rock Racking, the Symmetrics team is also getting a chance to race after not being chosen for California. 2007 UCI Americas Tour winner Svein Tuft will lead the squad which is literally riding for its life. The team's budget had been slashed and is expected to only last until mid-June unless they can gain additional sponsorship.
All of these squads should be careful not to underestimate the presence of the GE-Marco Polo squad, which has some strong results under its belt overseas, and makes its debut in the U.S. in Georgia. Russian sprinter Serguei Koudentsov scored two stage wins in the Tour of Hainan this year, and two podium finishes each in the Tour of South China Sea and Jelajah Malaysia. The team will have former Discovery Channel rider and 2006 Tour of Thailand winner Fuyu Li and 2007 Tour of Siam winner Jai Crawford for the overall classification.
The parcours this year makes a noticeable shift back to the eastern shores of the state, with a starting prologue on Tybee Island off the coast of Savannah. From Savannah the race moves north and inland for the initial stages before the new team time trial on the Road Atlanta raceway. For the remaining stages, the races is back to more familiar grounds entering the northern Georgia mountains, with familiar climbs such as Hogpen Gap, Unicoi Gap and Woody Gap, along with a couple of newer climbs. And of course, no Tour de Georgia would be complete without the finish atop Brasstown Bald to decide the true champion.
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