The field for this year's Amgen Tour of California boasts 11 reigning national champions, seven world champions and one former winner of the Tour de France, race organizers announced Friday.
But some of the cyclists who made it the biggest race in North America won't be at the starting line Sunday when the eight-day race begins in Escondido. Missing from the 128-rider field is 2011 winner Chris Horner, who is injured. Also gone are Tyler Hamilton, George Hincappie, Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer, popular riders whose careers were tarnished because of drug scandals.
The roster includes only one past winner -- Australia's Michael Rogers, a three-time world time-trial champion who also is linked to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's investigation of Lance Armstrong.
The 750-mile tour finishes a week from Sunday in downtown Santa Rosa after two blockbuster stages in the Bay Area -- the individual time trial next Friday in San Jose and a finish atop Mount Diablo the next day.
The event doesn't draw every elite cyclist because it coincides with the prestigious Giro d'Italia, which started this week. But the California tour has attracted enough big names to keep it interesting.
Luxembourg's Andy Schleck has the best credentials after winning the Tour de France in 2010 and finishing second in 2009 and '11. But Schleck has struggled so much this spring many doubt he can challenge for the overall title in California.
The favorite might be Montana's Tejay van Garderen, who was fifth at last year's Tour de France. Van Garderen rides for the strong BMC Racing team and has finished on the podium this year at the Tour de San Luis and Criterium International.
Another strong contender is David Zabriskie of Garmin-Sharp, one of tour's best in the time trial. Race organizers created the most difficult time-trial course in the event's eight-year history. The 19.8-mile route travels through South San Jose and finishes with a 1,000-foot climb on Metcalf Road.
A good showing in San Jose might be enough to win the event. But Zabriskie will have to watch Rogers, another exceptional time trialist who is expected to contend for Saxo-Tinkoff. Spaniard Francisco Mancebo of 5-Hour Energy-Kenda also could work his way into contention.
The competition for early sprint victories should involve Slovakian champion Peter Sagan of Canondale Pro Cycling, who won five stages in California a year ago. He will have to fend off reigning world road champion Philippe Gilbert of BMC and American star Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Sharp.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.