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It’s mettle to the pedal as race begins

Auburn ready with warm welcome for Amgen teams
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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There are no guarantees in sports and the Amgen Tour of California is no exception. The beauty of today’s opening stage of the eight-day race is no one knows exactly what to expect over the 104 miles of road between Nevada City and Sacramento. As the 128 riders make their way west through Auburn, there could be a long line of cyclists zooming by one by one. There may be a breakaway pack pushing the pace ahead of the peloton or a giant throng of riders cruising through town like a spandex-clad motorcycle gang. But there are a few theories floating out there. The stage zig-zags through the heart of Auburn, where some riders expect some exciting action. “By the time we get to Auburn, I’m guessing there will be some type of breakaway,” said Auburn rider Chris Jones, who will be competing in his second Tour of California. “I think the pack might get tighter after we get through town as teams get ready for the climb.” The first bonus sprint takes place in Meadow Vista and there is another on Lincoln Way in Downtown Auburn. Then after a scenic, speedy trip over the Foresthill Bridge and down Old Foresthill Road, a demanding climb up Highway 49 toward Cool will see the race’s first King of the Mountain crowned. The riders will head down Salmon Falls Road, eventually crossing Highway 50 and turning onto Highway 16, which they will take into downtown Sacramento. The stage is expected to end between 3:30 and 4 p.m. in front of the Capitol. One trend that is likely to continue is the presence of Levi Leipheimer at or near the front of the pack. The Santa Rosa native has won the past three Tour of California individual crowns. This year he’s riding for the Radio Shack team founded by Lance Armstrong and featuring fellow American veteran Chris Horner. Even with an impressive list of international stars in the field, Leipheimer is clearly the man to beat this week. “This is his Super Bowl,” Armstrong said of Leipheimer at Friday’s press conference in Sacramento. “He’s Mr. California. (Our team) certainly goes in focused on supporting (Leipheimer). No one has any other agenda.” Leipheimer believes he’s up to the task. “I’m here to win,” he said. Estimates on the crowds in Auburn have ranged from hundreds to tens of thousands. The town has stepped up to accommodate the fans. Old town Auburn will be decked out for the occasion and Auburn’s new city square will feature a big screen TV showing the race live. The Tour of California organizers are hoping for eight days of sunshine after moving the event from February, when it was held the past four years. Though clear skies are expected today, rain is in the forecast for Monday’s Stage 2 from Davis to Santa Rosa. Aside from the weather factors, the move to May was made with the idea of making the Tour of California more of a presence in international racing. This year’s race is going head to head with the Tour of Italy — one of the top stage races in Europe. Still, many of the top teams in the world elected to compete in the Golden State. “It was a big gamble to move away from February,” said Phil Liggett, who will announce the race on Versus TV. “But it’s paid off. Riders and the big teams have always come to this race. And this year they’ve hurt the field for the Tour of Italy. This bike race is now on par with the top tours.” The Tour of California will conclude one week from today near Thousand Oaks — the home base for the Tour’s main sponsor. Amgen has backed the race from the beginning. The company focuses on biotechnology to discover and develop medicines for patients with grievous illnesses. The Breakaway from Cancer initiative was founded in 2005 in partnership with the Tour of California. The initiative’s goal is to raise awareness of non-profit groups and other resources available for those affected by cancer. Breakaway from Cancer will have tents set up at stage finishes throughout the Tour this week. For more information, including streaming video of the Tour of California, visit www.amgentourofcalifornia.com. See Monday’s Journal for extensive coverage of the first stage.