February 13, 2009 (Sacramento, CA) – Kicking off the festivities for the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, the venue changed but not the elegance. In a room filled with VIPs and the strongest line up in AToC and American cycling history, this epic auditorium underlined just how deep the cycling talent pool has become in four years with many of the European teams showing up with their top stars including Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Michael Rogers (Team)- all multiple world champions.
With everyone in the house from Lance Armstrong (Astana) to last years TdF winner, Carlos Sastre (CervÃ©lo TestTeam), the only one missing was the first winner of AToC, Floyd Landis (Ouch p/b Maxxis), who crashed on his bike earlier today in training, but his team reports he should be ready to race on Saturday, Feb. 14.
Canada’s Michael Barry (Columbia) symbolized the night, smiling and very relaxed as Paul Sherwin did a fine job as MC, bringing out history and anecdotes of this Tour comparing it to the Grand tours.
Right before the Gala night celebrations, the AToC press conference earlier in the day focused on Armstrong, his comeback and his detractors. Armstrong was pensive and persuasive, more interested in talking about cancer and launching team mate, Levi Leipheimer, for a three-peat, to which Leipheimer smiled and assured he was training as hard as the past two years he’s won the AToC stage race – now one-day longer.
“I think we’ve made it very clear from the beginning that there are two parts to my comeback. One is the race – the reason we’ll be on the start line on Saturday – but more important really is the thought and the idea and the initiative to take Livestrong around the world,” said Armstrong. He noted that he feels stronger now at 37 years old than he did at 27 – and even Leipheimer admitted that “this guy on my right (Lance) could beat me in Solvang during the Individual Time Trial.”
About the upcoming AToC Armstrong added, “California is prime cycling territory, and back in the 80s and 90s, I raced all over. It also is a mythical place for a lot of people; everyone knows about California – people sing about California, there are movies about California, they dream about Highway 1. California holds a lot of mystique, so for AEG to put together an event that starts in Northern California and ends in Southern California is great and provides a good prep for the season. I’m looking forward to being on a bike for these nine days. In just a few short years, the Amgen Tour of California has become a marquee event.”
Should Landis have no problems following his crash, fans will witness what star-packed 30-something such as he and Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton (Rock Racing) and others who’ve been out of the game for a few years are made of against many younger strong riders.
“I am really excited to be here,” said Hamilton. “We just finished training camp yesterday outside of Los Angeles. We had a great training camp and the new riders are fitting incredibly well; we’re already like a family. I can’t tell you how excited we are to be here at the Amgen Tour of California, one of the biggest races in the world.”
Friday is the easy ride and rest day for the 17 teams competing with the 2009 AToC beginning on Saturday with a short Prologue in Sacramento.
Stay tuned for more coverage from pedalmag.com.