A big question has loomed over the Amgen Tour of California bike race that starts on Sunday: Is 3-time winner Levi Leipheimer well enough to compete in the 8-stage race?
Leipheimer, who suffered a fractured fibula when he was struck from behind by a car in early April, finally answered that question on Friday.
The 38-year-old cyclist will roll across the start line in his hometown of Santa Rosa on Sunday with the rest of his Omega Pharma-Quickstep teammates, but he won’t be contending for the championship.
He told a press conference on Friday that his training after the crash had not been going well, and he still had pain in his ribs and hip, according to CyclingNews.com. He wanted to compete at the Tour, but didn’t want to be a burden on his team.
“We’re sitting here before the race and nobody really knows, but I have to be realistic, my leg is broken. The bone was apart – you can see the X-ray – I’ve only been training for two weeks and it hasn’t gone that great…. It’s taken me a lot of hard work just to be able to take the start and I don’t think you should count on me for the overall.”
With that issue resolved, now we can deal with the next issue — Who will win the Tour of California?
For starters, defending champion Chris Horner is returning to compete with RadioShack Nissan. You got to like his chances.
Also, there’s Tejay Van Garderen, who won the best young rider’s jersey last year. He returns with BMC Racing and will be supported by veteran George Hincapie.
Tom Danielson finished in third place at last year’s Tour of California. He returns with the Garmin-Barracuda team, which boasts six cyclists from the US — Danielson, Alex Howes, Thomas Peterson, Jacob Rathe, Andrew Talansky and David Zabriskie.
There’s also a chance the title could go to a non-US cyclist this year. It happened before when Michael Rogers won in 2010.
In that case, check out Italian cyclist Vincenzo Nibali. He’s foregoing the Giro d’Italia to compete in California with the Liquigas-Cannondale team. He’s already won the Tirreno-Adriatico this year and finished 2nd at the Giro last year.
Also Belgium’s Tom Boonen may to free to fly with OmegaPharma Quickstep now that Leipheimer has taken himself out of serious contention.
If you watch the race unfold live on TV, you’ll know who’s going to win.
The Amgen Tour of California is bringing back the TourTracker, featuring live video and GPS tracking.
Also, NBC Sports (formerly VS.) is televising live. Here’s the live TV schedule from NBC:
NBC Sports Network
Sunday, May 13: 2 p.m. PDT, 5 p.m. EDT — Santa Rosa
Monday, May 14: 2 p.m. PDT, 5 p.m. EDT — San Francisco to Santa Cruz County
Tuesday, May 15: 2 p.m. PDT, 5 p.m. EDT — San Jose to Livermore
Wednesday, May 16: 2 p.m. PDT, 5 p.m. EDT — Sonora to Clovis
Thursday, May 17: 2 p.m. PDT, 5 p.m. EDT — Bakersfield
Friday, May 18: 2 p.m. PDT, 5 p.m. EDT — Palmdale to Big Bear Lake
Saturday, May 19: 4 p.m. PDT, 7 p.m. EDT — Ontario to Mt. Baldy
Sunday, May 20: 10 a.m. PDT, 1 p.m. EST — Beverly Hills to Los Angeles
See also: “Route disclosed for Tour of California”