Horner and California. Contenders? Anyone?

Velits. Levi Leipheimer impersonator?

Burning Tour of California question: Is Peter Velits gonna kick Chris Horner’s ass? Obvious answer — not likely.

Post TOC press conference we’re feeling all rhetorical. For instance, has Horner already won the Cali race without turning a pedal in anger or disinterest? We’re dealing with a Levi Void.

Let’s start mid-December of 2011. In the course of a three hour interview with Horner for Cycle Sport magazine, he said he didn’t fear anyone but Leipheimer in the Tour of California. That was before the old lady from Spain broke Levi’s fibula with a car. He’s one leg down and simple math says that qualifies as a significant handicap.

That’s where Omega Pharma-Quickstep Plan B Velits comes in. The Velits brothers are a sort of Brothers Schleck Lite. Just as skinny, not as famous or successful. Still, he has his moments of stage race fame — 2nd in the 2010 Vuelta a Espana after they crossed Mr. Mosquera off the list for masking agent boo-boo. Pete gonna get the job done in sunny California? Short answer, no, long answer, bigger no.

When you start running scenarios you can see why Horner is so damn confident. Chief nemesis Leipheimer gone. Which leaves the one other guy who has actually targeted the race: BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen. Last year he came in casually saying he was shooting for the win and the two old bald guys showed him how the game is played. He finished 5th and learned a few hard lessons, then later in the season Leipheimer smacked him in Colorado’s Pro Cycling Challenge just for good measure.

Van Garderen is smart and learns fast so he’s back with a new approach and a strong team and he wants to win. He’s got the ultimate road captain in Big George Hincapie to keep things calm and collected, a climber like Steve Morabito to pace him up Baldy and guys like two time Tour de France vet Brent Bookwalter to fight for positioning. It would be a shocker if Van Garderen didn’t make the podium but is he still a year or two away from victory? Horner ain’t worried.

Who else has the combination of team strength, form, commitment and sponsor expectation that are requirements for the win? That really only leaves Vincenzo Nibali, the lime green army, his American Cannondale sponsor and whatever is left of his smoking form from San Remo and Liege.

He came in 6th overall in the 2009 edition. It’s a mystery question in terms of his exact motivation. There’s a natural story line about a revenge battle between Nibali and Horner based on their 1-2 in Tirreno Adriatico but again, really? Teammate Peter Sagan is back in Cali and he’s won three stages in the last two years. Chances are he’ll deliver a win and Nibali can simply test his legs on Baldy and keep building for France.

Yo, Tommy D, step up. Last year Danielson has his Year of Magical Riding starting in California. He took 3rd overall and went on to a fantastic ninth place in Le Big Show in France. Now if you saw the recent US Pro Cycling video with the Stacy Lang and her super white teeth and baby voice, you know that Tom is a sweet guy who likes leaving love notes around the house for his wife. Has he written a note to leave in Horner’s room that says “I’m gonna kill you, mutha.” Me thinks not. A podium maybe.

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Thank God we had that video break because we spent it trying to locate anyone else who might bother a 40 year old man in his quest for a repeat victory. Horner is like Alberto Contador in the 2011 Giro; it’s him and some really hard working pretenders who are going to suffer a lot to no avail. Robert Gesink of Rabobank? — we snicker. Nicholas Roche of Frenchie squad AG2R? — bah non! Dave Zabriskie? — awesome in the time trial but not on the evil gradients of Mount Baldy. Rory Sutherland of UnitedHealthcare? — an astonishing week puts him in 3rd at best.

The only true meaningful, worth considering dark horse is Andrew Talansky. Just today in Santa Rosa at the opening press conference, Garmin-Barracuda argyle genius Jonathan Vaughters said they have a “surprise” rider and it’s the guy who almost beat Bradley Wiggins in the recent Tour of Romandie. Talent, Talansky, hmmm.

We are hoping for a few surprise in this year’s Tour of California. We see Horner and Van Garderen on the podium with Nibali and Talansky as the wild cards? Anybody else got a rabbit in their cycling cap? ‘Cause it ain’t Peter Velits.

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  • Ate Fokkinga

    Including Gesink isn’t really fair. He’s only now starting to completely get back to shape after a broken femur last fall. Maybe in a year. Nibali might just be able to stay with Horner depending on his form, if he is close, he might just go for the win, California is getting more important by the year…

    • I mention Gesink just because he’s with a top ProTour team and just to cover the bases. Nibali is a wild card — does he still she the form? It occurs to me that since his contract is still unresolved, a good result in TOC only heals his bargaining power but as another writer observed,is he really prepared to go deep to win when the much bigger objective is the tour? Hard to say and it will probably be a case of “if the opportunity presents itself. But thanks God he’s in the race. Matt