With the start of the Tour of California just days away, Columbia-Highroad is determined to leave no stone unturned as they prepare to do battle for one of their key targets for the season. Riders and staff have recently checked out three potentially key stages in this year’s nine-day race – stages two, six and eight.

“The guys who’ve been doing wind tunnel tests here in San Diego rode the entire final stage one day – barring the first small climb of Highland Valley Road. It’s a really tough stage.” reports team manager Rolf Aldag. “This year’s California is kind of like a mini-Tour de France 2009. The Tour has the Ventoux at the end of its route, and in California the hardest climbs come right at the end. Anybody who wants to win this race will have to calculate how much strength to leave for the last stage very carefully.”

“The whole squad has checked out the  time trial course in Solvang, which was close to our training camp in the build-up for California. It’s basically the same course as in 2008 and 2007, so we know it already. But in previous years we haven’t  done as well in that time trial as we could have, and we want to be sure we’re on top of our game.”

Rolf went to check out the final climb on stage two into Santa Cruz. The former pro rode his bike up the six kilometre climb to Bonny Doon Road and then tackled the long descent down to the finish. “More than the ascent itself, we think the descent may be important because it comes immediately before the finish and I wanted to see it in person. Nobody in the team knew it, and by  riding the bike myself I can get a good first-hand opinion, estimate how dangerous it could be, and relay that information back to the riders.”

Aldag describes the Columbia-Highroad squad for the 2009 Tour of  California  as “well-balanced, covering all the bases.  We’ve got four guys – Hincapie, Kirchen, Lovkvist and Rogers – who will be focusing specifically on the general classification and keeping a sharp eye-out on all the key breakaways. On top of that, of course, we’ve got Mark Cavendish for the sprints. He did a good prologue in last year’s race, too, so on Saturday we’ll see what he can do this time round.”

Team Columbia-Highroad for the Amgen Tour of California [Feb 14th-22nd]: Michael Barry (Can); Mark Cavendish (GB); Adam Hansen (Aus), George Hincapie (USA); Kim Kirchen (Lux);  Thomas Lövkvist (Swe); Mark Renshaw (Aus) and Michael Rogers (Aus).