The 2012 Amgen Tour of California - It's not too early to start guessing
With six months until the 2012 Amgen Tour of California it's time to weigh in on who will win.
on the streets of Bakersfield, the peloton shifts into smaller gears for the San Gabriel Mountains. Stage 6 finishes in Big Bear and there's no reason to believe that the route will change too much from when the race first tackled that region in 2010. That year the race summited the mountain followed by a rolling ten miles across its spine to finish in the parking lot of the Big Bear ski station. Not a true mountain top finish, but enough to further widen time gaps.
Once again the Queen stage has to be Mount Baldy. I'm originally from near that area and the climb is a slice of hell. The gradient varies from steep to "oh my God this is terrible" steep. In 2011 Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer made it look like a RadioShack training ride and dropped Andy Schleck. As we saw just months later Schleck was able to return the favor in the Tour, but that's a whole different story left for another time ... There's not a whole lot of options to end the stage if Baldy is on the menu so don't expect any major tweaks from the 2011 version.
I like the decision to end the Amgen Tour of California in the City of Angels. The local media from all the major networks will be out in full force, which is what race organizers AEG really want. Sure it's important that the cycling media is there, but we don't hit all the important demographics the advertisers want. L.A. is a major television market with millions of potential eyeballs tuning in to watch. Let's hope it gets better ratings than it did this year. With Lance Armstrong retired compounded by the ongoing doping investigation, cycling's Golden Boy might have left a damper on the sport which could take years to overcome.
So who will show up in the Golden State next May? If Contador escapes from his possible ban (and I expect that he will) look for the Spaniard to be there with his Saxo Bank boys. They ride Specialized bikes whose HQ is also located there. Another Specialized bike team is the Quick Step squad which will be led by three-time Amgen Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer. Second place this year means he's motivated to move up one step. With the RadioShack team split this will cause an interesting dynamic. That said, Horner might be playing second fiddle to his new teammate Andy Schleck. But if history shows us anything, the Schlecks are here to build their form so they can ride into Paris in second place. Again. Also motivated is third place finisher Tom Danielson of Garmin-Cervelo. His ninth place in the Tour de France has got him thinking of bigger and better things. Let me put a possible scenario into your head - Tommy D rides well again in California and then makes the move in France finishing top five. Crazy? I don't think so. All it takes is that one break through year and 2011 was his. One person who I