A top cast will take the road in the Sierras on Sunday for the kickoff to the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, headlined by three-time champion Levi Leipheimer and world champion Thor Hushovd.
Leipheimer (RadioShack), Christian Vande Velde and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervélo), Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) and Linus Gerdemann (Leopard-Trek) are among the GC heavyweights to take the start in Lake Tahoe.
Leipheimer will look to return to the winner’s step after finishing third behind Michael Rogers and Garmin’s David Zabriskie in 2010. With two mountaintop finishes, in stages 4 atop Sierra Road and 7 at Mount Baldy, the sixth edition of the tour will see the most impressive GC contest in its history.
Garmin brings one of the strongest squads for the overall with Zabriskie, Daniel Martin and Andrew Talansky, while Van Garderen will ride with the support of Peter Velits and Bernhard Eisel, among the HTC starters.
With Andy Schleck and Jacob Fuglsang coming off a post-classics break, Gerdemann is motivated and will head Leopard’s GC hopes. It is unclear how Wouter Weylandt’s death at the Giro d’Italia on Monday will affect his team’s plans for California.
Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare), seventh overall in 2010, leads a stable of outside contenders that includes Steve Morabito (BMC Racing) and Ben Day (Kenda-5-hour Energy).
Rabobank and HTC bring two of the stronger squads for the two potential sprint finishes in stages 2 and 3. The Dutch team includes three-time world champion Oscar Freire, as well as Lars Boom, Martin Tjallingii and U23 world champion Michael Matthews. HTC will mass ahead of Milan-San Remo winner Matthew Goss with Eisel, Leigh Howard and Bert Grabsch.
Team Sky will be missing their defending champ Rogers and will pin their sprint hopes on Tour de Romandie stage winner Ben Swift and Greg Henderson. J.J. and Sebastian Haedo will also be in the mix for Saxo Bank-Sungard.
Thor Hushovd will hunt stage wins in his rainbow jersey for Garmin, while 2010 double stage winner Peter Sagan is back for Liquigas-Cannondale.