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Tour de Georgia - 2.HC
USA, April 18-23, 2006
Danielson tries to be first repeat winner
By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
The fourth edition of the Tour de Georgia moves up a notch to become the only hors category stage race in North America. And with a new category comes a new sponsor -- Ford Motor Corporation. While a certain American racing legend will be absent from this year's race, one of the strongest fields of ProTour and continental teams will battle through the north Georgia mountains, including the feared ascent to the top of Brasstown Bald mountain. Leading the way, possibly up Brasstown Bald again, is Discovery Channel's Tom Danielson, who secured his victory last year by beating everyone to the top amidst the wind and snow and taking the leader's jersey from Phonak's Floyd Landis.
But Landis is having a good 2006 season so far -- a very good season, with strong wins at the inaugural Tour of California and Paris-Nice. Landis will be looking to wear the leader's jersey again and better his third place in the 2005 race. Team CSC is back on American soil with its usual strong team but without American Bobby Julich. Dave Zabriskie will be the lone American hope on the team with his strength in the time trial, but any member of the team is dangerous for a stage win, including last year's epic stage 4 winner Brian Vandborg.
Quickstep-Innergetic, Davitamon-Lotto and Saunier Duval-Prodir are the other teams representing the ProTour. Inaugural race winner Chris Horner is not slotted as the GC man for Davitamon-Lotto's team, but a fast team is still assembled for sprint and stage wins with Aussie Henk Vogels and American Fred Rodriguez leading the charge.
On the domestic side, Health Net-Maxxis will be looking to tune their team before heading over for their first European campaign. Nathan O'Neill will be looking for better luck than he found at the Tour of California where he suffered a costly fall in the prologue. The current and multiple Australian time trial champion will have his eyes set on the new ITT going over Lookout Mountain, while teammates Gord Fraser and Greg Henderson will be looking for more stage wins and another sprint jersey.
Navigators Insurance are currently splitting their squads with a European racing schedule that could help their chances against the ProTour teams. Phil Zajicek is the only American slated for the team, and is looking for better luck after crashing out of the final stage of the Tour of California. Colombian Cesar Grajales knows this race well, particularly the Brasstown Bald stage where he blew the competition away in 2004 racing for Jittery Joe's.
The Jittery Joe's-Zero Gravity team is the local squad with an international line-up, including new GC contender Trent Wilson who comes with experience from two Giro d'Italia's. New domestic entry Toyota-United Pro has already made a mark on the racing scene and will look to continue that trend behind sprinter Juan Jose Haedo. But a high GC placing is something that was missing with USPRO champion Chris Wherry out in the early season due to sickness. TIAA-CREF brings a younger team to the race, but one that includes Brad Huff who pulled of the team's first European win at the Tour de Normandie and will be coming in from the Track World Championships.
Menu for the week
The majority of the stages are very similar to the stages from past years, with only one noticeable departure... from the state! The stage three individual time trial will climb Lookout Mountain before crossing the state line into Chattanooga, Tennessee. This is the first time the Tour de Georgia will venture outside its borders.
It all starts on Tuesday in Augusta traveling to Macon for a mirror image of last year's first stage. Stage two travels to Rome with it's usual tough and technical circuit finish. For the first time in four years, Rome will not be the host to the individual time trial. After the time trial, the race will travel into the mountains for it's third consecutive trip from Dalton to Dahlonega. Last year's stage was soaked by dangerous thunderstorms, and the forecast for Friday is for thunderstorms again.
Speaking of weather, last year's race was unseasonably cold, with snow falling on top of Brasstown Bald mountain -- compared to the year before with temperatures well in the 90s throughout the race. The general forecast seems to be leaning warm early in the week with temperatures cooling as the week progresses, and with rain possible throughout.
Saturday is the queen stage of the race, featuring the only hors category climb to the top of Brasstown Bald mountain -- the highest point in Georgia and the stage finish. The parcours for this third year of Brasstown Bald is once again slightly different in the approach -- a little shorter but still with two intermediate sprints and two nasty ascents over Hogpen and Unicoi gaps before the final climb.
The race finishes again Alpharetta, but with what hopes to be a more interesting route than in previous years before the finishing circuit. Although it runs around an office park it does feature a curving, uphill sprint which has resulted in some fireworks as sprinters battle for the stage win and the overall sprint jersey.
Be sure to follow all the twists and turns of this year's race on Cyclingnews' live coverage!