Van Garderen highlights Tour of California field
ESCONDIDO, Calif. (AP) - Tejay van Garderen, the leading American finisher in the 2012 Tour de France, and Peter Sagan of Slovakia, the world's No. 2 cyclist, will be among the field of 128 riders competing beginning Sunday in the Tour of California.
Time trial specialist Dave Zabriskie of Salt Lake City, a four-time Tour of California overall runner-up, Michael Rogers of Australia, the 2010 race winner, and former Tour de France winner Andy Schleck of Luxembourg are also among the 16 teams of eight riders each.
The eight-day, estimated 727-mile race will begin with a 102.7-mile Escondido road race that will feature two climbs. The second stage Monday, the 124.1 mile road stage 2 from Murrieta to Palms Springs that ends with a 4-mile finishing climb.
For the first time since its debut in 2006, the route will follow a south-to-north route and conclude May 19 with an 80.7-mile road race from San Francisco to Santa Rosa.
Van Garderen, the 24-year-old from Bozeman, Mont., who finished fourth overall last year and fifth in 2012 Tour de France, will lead the California-based BMC team that also features current world road titlist Philippe Gilbert of Belgium.
Defending race titlist Robert Gesink (Blanco) of the Netherlands is currently competing in the Tour of Italy. Gesink rode a dominating stage 7 mountain stage win last year en route to his over 46-secont title over Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp).
Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard-Trek) of Bend, Ore., who won the Tour of California in 2011, and Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quicstep) of Belgium, the 2012 Paris-Roubaix winner and former world road titlist, withdrew earlier this week because of lingering injuries.
"There are some guys who aren't at the Tour of Italy or taking a bit of break, but it's bike racing and there are always surprises,'' said van Garderen, who joined Greg LeMond and Andy Hamspten as the only Americans to win the best young rider designation at the Tour de France. "They'll be plenty of guys riding for GC (overall) title.''
Van Garderen, who finished second overall at the Tour de San Luis, third at Criterium International and fourth at Paris-Nice this season, is seeking his first pro stage race title.
"I'm starting to learn, if you want it too bad, it will never come,'' said van Garderen. "Sometimes, you have to loosen your grip a little bit and let it come naturally. It's not something that's weighing on my mind and keeping me up at night. I still sleep like a baby every night.''
Sagan, 23, who rides for the Italian-based Cannondale team, won five stages of the Tour of California last year and has eight wins so this year.
"It's going to be harder this year,'' said Sagan, who won three Tour de France stages last year and has nearly 50 wins in his four-year pro career.
Schleck (RadioShack Leopard-Trek), 27, was awarded the 2010 Tour de France title following the post-race disqualification of Alberto Contador of Spain. Schleck has also finished second overall twice in the Tour de France but has struggled this season with injuries.
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