Lance Armstrong. Floyd Landis. Levi Leipheimer. The list goes on like an endless fountain spewing out cycling super talent.
It's the lineup for the 2009 Amgen Tour of California. It includes two Tour de France Champions (Armstrong and Carlos Sastre), 11 world champions (including Armstrong, Fabian Cancellera and Mark Cavendish) and 26 Olympians (including five-timer George Hincapie).
The best Americans (like Armstrong, Leipheimer, Hincapie and 2004 gold medalist Tyler Hamilton) will be joined by the top riders from around the world (like Sastre, Ivan Basso and Cancellera).
It's a star-studded Peloton like this country has never seen before and it is happening right in our backyards.
"We believe that the field of riders participating is the best field of professional riders ever assembled in the United States," Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, said at a press conference in Sacramento on Thursday.
While the race doesn't run through Lodi or Galt, the prologue will be in Downtown Sacramento on Saturday. Stage 1 will take off from Davis on Sunday. On Monday, Stage 2 will cross the Golden Gate Bridge and go through San Francisco. The finish line of Stage 3 will be set up in Modesto on Tuesday.
The remaining six stages will wind down to Southern California, ending 750 miles later in Escondido on Feb. 22.
With this field - whether you want to see Armstrong's comeback in person, Landis' first race after his two-year ban, Santa Rosa native Leipheimer go for a Tour of California three-peat or just be a spectator for a sport you may not have seen before - any of those short drives at the beginning of the race seem well worth seeing history in the making.
Best chances to catch a glimpsePrologue in Sacramento on Saturday
Start: 1:30 p.m. at Capitol Mall at 9th St.
Estimated finish: 4 p.m. at L St. at 11th St.
Why you should go: The route passes Sacramento landmarks including the State Capitol, the Capitol Mall and the Tower Bridge and should take about five minutes to complete. With the start and finish lines only blocks apart, spectators will not only enjoy the rare opportunity to see their favorite cyclists ride one at a time against the clock, but they can watch them start and finish.
Stage 1, Davis to Santa Rosa on Sunday
Start: Noon, C Street and 3rd Street in Davis.
Estimated finish: 3:56-5:01 p.m.
Why you should go: For a chance to see one of the greatest fields of cyclists ever assembled in the United States begin the race.
Stage 2, Sausalito to Santa Cruz on
Start: 8:30 a.m. at Spinnaker Dr. at Water St. in Sausalito
Estimated finish: 12:52-2:03 p.m.
Why you should go: For the first time in Tour of California history, the race will cross the Golden Gate Bridge. There will also be plenty of viewing opportunities as the cyclists ride in and out of San Francisco.
Stage 3, San Jose to Modesto on Tuesday
Start: Noon in San Jose
Estimated finish: 3:53-4:55 p.m. at I Street and 12th Street.
Why you should go: This is the best chance for area residents to see riders come cross the finish line. The hilly stage will conclude with two laps around downtrown Modesto.
Tour scheduleFeb. 14-22
Sacramento to Escondido (750 miles)
Feb. 14: Prologue in Sacramento, 2.4 miles
Feb. 15: Stage 1, Davis to Santa Rosa, 107.6 miles
Feb. 16: Stage 2, Sausalito to Santa Cruz, 115.9 miles
Feb. 17: Stage 3, San Jose to Modesto, 104.2 miles
Feb. 18: Stage 4, Merced to Clovis, 115.4 miles
Feb. 19: Stage 5, Visalia to Paso Robles, 134.3 miles
Feb. 20: Stage 6, Solvang Time Trial, 15 miles
Feb. 21: Stage 7, Santa Clarita to Pasadena, 88.9 miles
Feb. 22: Stage 8, Rancho Bernardo to Escondido, 96.8 miles
If you can't make it out, the fourth annual race will be broadcast live on VERSUS, as well as at http://www.amgentourofcalifornia.com">www.amgentourofcalifornia.com.
For Armstrong, who is making his return after three years in retirement, this is his first race back on American soil. Armstrong is hoping to add on to his seven Tour de France titles. The Tour of California is a good training ride to prepare him to get his eighth. The route is modeled after the Tour de France, with mountain and sprint stages as well as a time trial. It's just nine stages instead of 21.
Armstrong's also hoping to promote cancer awareness and unite people to fight the disease that kills eight millon people worldwide each year in his comeback.
Armstrong battled testicular, lung and brain cancer and battled critics that said he had to have doped to win an unprecedented amount of Tour de France titles. He even verbally battled a reporter on Thursday who, in a previous story, compared Armstrong to the cancer of cycling.
"You are not worth the chair you are sitting on with a statement like that, with a disease that touches everyone around the world," Armstrong said.
Please see Tour, Page 10
If Armstrong goes against his competitors with the vigor he went against that reporter, they could be in trouble. That's not Armstrong's aim, however.
He's riding as a lieutenant to Leipheimer, as both are on Team Astana. Leipheimer will be going for his third win and Armstrong's aiming to help him do it. Leipheimer's a team player, though, and said that if Armstrong or anyone else on Astana is looking stronger, they will take over the lead and go for the win.
With Armstrong, anything's possible. Especially since he feels taking a break from racing has made his mind fresh and able to focus more clearly.
"At 37 I feel just as good as I did at 27," he said.
Race organizers promise they are doing everything they can to assure a clean race. It's an effort to erase doping from cycling's image, give the sport a chance to be in the spotlight in America and maybe even help California.
Tourism will be up this week. People are staying in hotels and eating out. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said he expects the City of Sacramento alone to make $8.5 million.
Armstrong will have his plate full - continuing to mount his fight against cancer, trying to make a comeback in one of the most physically-challenging sports known to mankind and fulfill expectations of boosting California's economy.
But, if anyone can do it, it's the one who's already proven himself to be superhuman.