Last year at that this time minus one day teammates Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer rode away from everybody and crossed the line together hand in hand like best buds in a beer commercial.
Little did we know that was a charade. Later the ugly truth came out that Leipheimer was irritated Horner went full gas on Sierra Road and destroyed his chances of winning. He didn’t want to be caught in that situation again and jumped to Omega Pharma Quickstep.
Well, shit fire things have sure changed. Horner finds himself down almost two and a half minutes to rival and superb climber Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing). That’s our first question: Does 40 year old Horner have any chance of making up that kind of time on Van Garderen? Those odds ain’t great but perhaps a podium spot is still available if he does everything perfect on Baldy. But this feels like a sad fourth to us.
Second question: who is the top dog, plan A, high potential winner of the Tour of California at Garmin. It is Tour of Romandie revelation Andrew Talansky who is currently 48 seconds away from the top spot or last year’s third place finisher Tom Danielson who sits another 22 seconds back in seventh. Based on past performance Danielson is the better climber but as they used to say in the National Football League — “on any given Sunday” meaning the young Talansky could be the guy to rockets to first place.
Question three: is R0bert Gesink for real? Twisted Spoke callously wrote off his chances but a fantastic ride in the Bakersfield time trial vaulted him into third overall 39 seconds from glory. Can the oft-injured Rabobank rider deliver the goods on Baldy? Well, we voted against him once so we’ll just continue our consistent folly. Answer, close but just off the podium, shrugging shoulder with Horner.
Question four: Can Omega Pharma Quickstep’s Plan B Peter Velits keep the momentum going and make the podium? Slotted in at fourth and just 45 seconds back, the skinny Slovakian, the Andy Schleck lite of the peloton, is poised to deliver a huge result. We’ll ponder that and get back to you in a few paragraphs.
Will Rory Sutherland of UnitedHealthcare do better than two seventh places in a row in California? Last year Sutherland came into the race in even better shape but a harder course and meaner competition kept him in the same place on GC. This year, he came into the race in even better shape and as usual is the highest ranked non ProTour team guy on GC. He faded on Baldy last year but perhaps his increased European race schedule has hardened him up that much more. We’re guessing he improves his ranking — there are five climbers ahead of him on GC with Horner behind. One of them will fail and Sutherland has a shot at the top five. A terrific result for the Tasmanian.
Question five: will Levi Leipheimer crack the top 10? That’s a huge accomplishment for a guy who broke his fibula six weeks ago. Correction — it was some Spanish lady who broke it using her Spanish car. Still, he’s getting stronger by the day and he’s in 14th right now. It seems reasonable that the little guy will do pretty well on Baldy and so we’ll hand out a chapeau — God knows he needs a hat with that shiny dome — the extra height is good, too.
Question six: how far will the number two ranked rider in the world, Vincenzo Nibali go? Does he care, is he interested, did he bring his climbing legs from Italy? After a mundane time trail, the Italian for Liquigas Cannondale is back in 15th place and 1:52 away from champagne and sexy girls. A few years ago he managed a sixth overall in Cali but that seems like a long shot this year. Will he crawl up to the top ten with Levi?
Bonus obvious question: what about Zabriskie. Not on Baldy.
Final podium: Tejay Van Garderen, Tom Danielson and his junior buddy Andrew Talansky. No Horner, no possum but as the cliche goes, that’s bike racing and sand bagging.