First off, teams are rolling deep for this event. Astana, Saxobank, Columbia, and Garmin have TDF quality teams on the line. Liquigas has Basso. Cervelo has Sastre and Thor. Even AG2R has a TDF quality squad. Rabo and Quickstep didn't slack with Boonen, Friere, and Gesnick. Rock has the deepest selection of back from the grave riders, but with Sevilla, Mancebo, Hamilton, and Pena they can't be counted out. Six of the top twelve from the 08 tour will be here (Sastre, CVV,Schlecksx2,Valdjavec, and Kirchen). 3 (** or 2) former TDF winners, plus a couple of podium placers are in attendance. Vuelta and Giro winners are represented as well. This is not an early season training race.
Hard to see a pure climber pulling it off. There is plenty of climbing, but no decisive mountain top finish. All the stages seem to end with 10-30 miles of descending or flats. That tips the scale to the strong teams. Like CSC, if Voigt or Cancellara can get over the hills and then motor a Schleck in to the finish, it will be hard for the smaller teams to compete. You can an envision a similar scenario with Columbia, Garmin, or Astana as each have 2-3 strong domestiques in the mix. Winning margins will be tight and the TT will be a factor for sure.
I am leaning towards CSC or Garmin for the win, but the Astana Leiphemer/Armstrong show should be in full effect. CSC has a track record of dominating one week tours.
The Prologue will most liekly be a Zabriskie vs Cancellara hype fest, but it is short enough that a sprinter could challenge the TT guys. Early chance for a small team to snatch some glory. Can't forget how well Floyd rode in the 06 TDF prologue-would have won it if he started on time. Should be good.
Stage One. The battle to be king of the mountains would favor a breakaway, but with the big teams fully stacked, one of the big four will most likely take charge.
Stage Two. If the leaders are content, the battle of the KOM should be on. Long down hill run in could help someone upset the GC, but it's doubtful. This stage is right along the coast so maybe wind and weather pitch in.
Stage Three. Starts off with the mega Sierra Road climb, but the flattish final 50 miles will probably have the sprinters teams ready to get it all back together.
Stage Four. Will sort out the KOM competition and might make for some breakaway fireworks, but any break has to contest with a 25 mile flattish run in to the finish.
Stage Five is long and flat with some hills near the end. Sprinters teams will have to work hard to keep it under control.
Stage Six ITT will be especially important if the big teams have been controlling the GC. This may be the only chance to open up time gaps if the leaders are all evenly matched(which seems likely). But it is only 15 miles, so the damage can't be that great(barring a major implosion from a favorite).
Stage Seven has a big climb, but finishes with 5 five mile circuits. Maybe a chance for some of the smaller teams to make something happen for a stage win?
Stage Eight wraps it up with a bang. Lots of climbing. If the TT shakes up the overall, this could also reshuffle the deck. Should keep it close right up until the end and is a really good way to end the race.
Schleck, Leipheimer, and Mike Rogers for the podium. Vandevelde and Floyd lurking in the top five. I think Basso will use this to build towards the Giro and won't challenge for the overall. I am going to regret picking Rogers over Kirchen! It would not be that hard for one of the big four teams to put 2 guys on the podium. Look at that, I didn't even mention Lance.
Should be tactical in a good way not the "negative racing" way.