SAN FRANCISCO -- Reigning world road race champion Philippe Gilbert and the BMC Racing Team are among 16 squads that have accepted invitations to the Tour of California in May.
Organizers of North America's largest cycling event announced Thursday that the Belgian rider will headline the team that's based in Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County town where the eight-stage tour will end May 19. Tyler Farrar will lead Team Garmin-Sharp of Denver, which has topped the team standings the last three years, a race record.
Chris Horner, the 2011 Tour of California champion, will race for RadioShack Leopard Trek. Sprinter Peter Sagan, who won five stages last year, will race with Cannondale Pro Cycling.
The other teams in the field are Omega Pharma-Quick-Step Cycling Team; Orica Greenedge; Team Saxo-Tinkoff; Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team; Champion System Pro Cycling Team; Team NetApp-Endura; UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team; 5-hr Energy presented by Kenda Racing Team; Bissell Pro Cycling; Bontrager Cycling Team; Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies; and Team Jamis.
Full rosters will be announced at a later date.
The event features eight of the world's top-ranked Pro Teams along with UCI Pro Continental and Continental squads, representing nine countries. Dutchman Robert Gesink won the event last year.
"With our eighth edition this year, we are honored to again host one of the top fields ever assembled in a spectacular showcase for cycling fans in California and around the world," said Kristin Bachochin, executive director of the race and senior vice president of AEG Sports.
The race serves as a preview of other key contests, including the Tour de France, cycling's showcase event. The Tour of California begins May 12 in Escondido in San Diego County and will cover more than 750 miles, taking riders through Santa Barbara, San Jose and San Francisco before ending in Santa Rosa.
For the first time in its history, the route will go north instead of south.
The final stage starts in San Francisco, goes over the Golden Gate Bridge and through wine country before finishing in front of fans expected to squeeze into Santa Rosa's downtown.
"It's not very often that we get to race in front of a home crowd," said Tejay van Garderen of the BMC Racing Team. "So I'm really going to relish that. If we can go into the hometown of the BMC Racing Team on the last day in the leader's jersey, that would be a special feeling. I'd love to be able to do that and to pay back the team for the support it's given to me. To get the reception of the crowd in a situation like that would definitely be a career highlight."