Tour of California. Mancebo mans up.

;

Paco ready for podium in Cali?

Paco watch, part 1

Francisco Mancebo (5 Hour Energy) showed right from the first stage int he Tour of California that he has come to play. The Spaniard with the dark Operacion Puerto past is officially — according the the team website — shooting for a top ten but in reality he is going top 5 and hoping for a podium.

Mancebo got right to work in stage one, bridging up to Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) with 4 kilometers to go. Westra took the victory but Paco is thinking further down the line at the bigger prize. And no, it’s not a free tour of Levi Leipheimer’s house when the race ends in Santa Rosa.

In another year that would be considered crazy talk to put Paco on the podium — from here on out referred to as POP — but the completive situation is dramatically different this time around California.

The Spaniard has rededicated himself to training and it’s pretty much his last chance to show the WorldTour big boys that he is still a bad-ass, the kind that once scored a 4th overall in the Tour de France back in 2005.

He’s lean and mean and he’s also missing a few rivals which opens the door wide. The absence of previous winners Chris Horner (knee), Levi Leipheimer (no team post-doping admission) and Robert Gesink (riding the Giro) mean Paco is thinking big.

Factor in the tougher course this year with three summit finishes — that’s including the uphill San Jose time trial — and a top climber like Mancebo is ready to rock.

On the stage one Escondido road show, Paco’s team was aggressive from the gun, throwing James Stemper in the break. When the catch was made, off blasted Westra with Mancebo jumping after him.

Question is, did Paco show his hand — and his legs — too early? Stage two ends with a nasty climb on Tram Way road that hammers for 3.6 miles and averages 9% in grade. Yesterday the riders endured temperatures over 100 degrees and the forecast calls for a smoking hot high of 106. Misery compounded by dehydration and cramps.

Then again Paco is from Spain so you have to figure that unlike Thor Hushovd of Norway and World Champion Philippe Gilbert or Belgium, he doesn’t mind searing heat. The 37 year old has the diesel engine but also a climber’s kick.

We expect that race favorite and new father Tejay van Garderen (BMC) will be in good shape on the heat wave climb but it could be a shook to the system for other GC rivals like 2010 winner Michael Rogers (Saxo). His form is a bit of a mystery at this point in the season. He’s says he is feeling better and better but a hard climb in 106 degree weather will be a true test.

Twisted Spoke has it on strong scientific authority that podium contender Dave Zabriskie won’t be too bothered by the heat. Dr. Stacy Sims, who now runs the hydration company Osmo, told me that a few years back she helped Garmin riders with adaptation to high heat in the Tour de France by progressively longer sessions in a sauna. The rider who could stay in the longest? That would be Dave Z.

A strong ride today by Mancebo today could realistically put him up close to the final podium. The uphill finish in the San Jose time trail will suit him and the monster climb of Mt Diablo will be his defining moment as a stage racer in the United States.

Watch out for Paco.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email