Tour of California Preview: Garmin-Transitions

Dave Zabriskie (right) is looking to unseat defending champion Levi Leipheimer (left) at this years Tour of California.

Dave Zabriskie (right) is looking to unseat defending champion Levi Leipheimer (left) at this year's Tour of California.

Garmin-Transitions will be one of the most loved American teams at the Tour of California, with the “Argyle Nation” showing up in force every year to cheer on the hometown heroes. With five Americans on the roster, and a legitimate chance at both GC and stage wins, Garmin-Transitions is poised to make their dedicated fans very, very happy in California this year.

Fronting Garmin’s GC hopes again this year will be Salt Lake City, Utah native Dave Zabriskie. Zabriskie’s oh-so-close second place GC finish at last year’s tour didn’t surprise anyone, as Zabriskie has long been an established time trial and GC rider. Zabriskie is falling on top of lots of people’s lists for Tour of California winners, but he will have to be on point and deliver one of the best performances of his career to beat a notably stronger field this year than in 2009.

With the crucial individual time trial falling on stage seven of this year’s tour, Garmin will have to do everything they can to keep Zabriskie fresh in the mountains so he can shine during the ever-important individual time trial, which has traditionally been one of Zabriskie’s strongest points. Last year, Zabriske struggled to top eventual winner Levi Leipheimer (Radio Shack), falling third in the prologue behind Leipheimer and World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank.) Zabriskie again put in a valiant effort in the 2009 stage six time trial, but again fell short, finishing the stage just eight seconds behind Leipheimer for second place.

With so many strong time trial riders in this year’s field, Garmin may have to use the mountains to gain time for Zabriskie, although he will be closely marked by all the major teams. Zabriskie is a strong climber with an all-star support team, which leaves the door open to a decisive performance on one of the climbing stages. Even if Zabriskie isn’t the strongest rider in the field, perfectly executed team tactics could get him the win that he has been hunting for his whole career, and you couldn’t ask for a better team than Garmin-Transitions.

In the mountains, look for strong support from fellow Americans Steven Cozza and Tom Danielson, who have traditionally been crucial to Zabriskie’s strong performances. Also watch for Ryder Hesjedal to do some work for Zabriskie and the team. Many remember Hesjedal for his role in helping Christian Vande Velde to his fifth place finish in the 2008 Tour de France, marking him as a fiercely loyal team member of Garmin-Transitions.

While we expect Garmin to hedge their bets on Zabiskie in the GC, recent addition Robbie Hunter will probably be the team’s go to sprinter for stage wins on days where Zabriskie can’t gain any time. Hunter, who won a Tour de France stage in 2007, has been having a great season so far, taking two stage wins back to back in this year’s Tour of Murcia. Again, Hunter faces a field which will feature the best sprinters in the world, but if he can put himself in the right place at the right time, he has the speed and explosive power to at least make a podium appearance this year in California.

However, Hunter’s sprinting will most likely take a back seat to Zabriskie’s GC hopes for most of the tour. Garmin has the roster to win in California this year, but there will be no room for mistakes. If Zabriskie and Garmin can keep Leipheimer at bay, 2010 may be the year that Zabriskie finally finds himself on top of the podium at the end of the Tour of California, a feat many years in the making.

Garmin-Transitions Tour of California Roster:

Steven Cozza (USA)
Thomas Danielson (USA)
Ryder Hesjedal (CAN)
Robbie Hunter (RSA)
Thomas Peterson (USA)
Peter Stetina (USA)
Matthew Wilson (AUS)
David Zabriskie (USA)

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