Defending champion Levi Leipheimer takes second consecutive overall win
After eight challenging days of cycling through 650-miles of scenic highways, roadways and coastline drives, Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Team Astana was crowned as champion of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California for the second consecutive year, with a weeklong total time of 29 hours, 24 minutes and 32 seconds of cycling across California, USA. A resident of Santa Rosa, California, Leipheimer battled against the best field ever assembled to compete in the United States, which included Olympic medalists and World Champions, among others. George Hincapie (USA) of Team High Road won the final stage.
Despite rainy weather on the race’s final day, fans turned out in record numbers to cheer on the cyclists throughout the week, bringing the overall total attendance for the duration of the race to more than 1.6 million.
“I think this win is more special now because of the caliber of the field,” said Leipheimer. “For me, this win is unbelievable because of the amount of cycling stars that we had here in California. Winning the Amgen Tour of California has been a goal of mine from the beginning. This has always been a top priority for me.”
Tens of thousands of spectators awaited the arrival of the cyclists in Pasadena to see the final 30 miles of the 650-mile stage race. The race’s final day, which included the highest elevation ever reached by the Amgen Tour of California on the towering Millcreek Summit (4,906 feet), would prove to be full of excitement for the fans and cyclists alike, with Hincapie winning an all-out sprint tot the finish.
The third annual Amgen tour of California featured a new generation of American cyclists. Although still in the shadows of their Lance Armstrong-era veterans, this crop showcased young, hungry new talent.
This became evident during the final stage, as right from the gun, a wet squall of attacks broke out with Michael Creed (USA) and Doug Ollerenshaw (USA), both of Rock Racing, at the front. This battle drew the attention of Hincapie. Having crashed at nearly 40 mph on Stage 1; attacking both climbs on Stage 3, the most difficult stage of the race; and then riding a 90-mile breakaway in the epic rain and wind of the race’s longest stage, only to finish second to Dominique Rollin (CAN) of Toyota-United Pro Cycling, Hincapie roared across the gap and hit the break.
They rode hard for 50 miles as a break, but as they closed in on Pasadena, Tom Zirbel (USA) of Bissell Pro Cycling launched a solo break. In just his second year as a professional cyclist, Zirbel, known as a powerful time trialist, broke loose and carried a 15-second lead into the final six circuits on the five-mile loop around the Rose Bowl.
“You could see on the hills we would get close, but he kept going,” said Hincapie. “He was really tough. He had a very aggressive ride.”
As the end of the race drew near, Hincapie powered across the gap and caught Zirbel. Rory Sutherland (AUS) of HealthNet Presented by Maxxis soon followed. Others would join the breakaway as well, including Jason McCartney (USA) of Team CSC and Creed, but it would prove to be Hincapie’s stage. He blasted out of the sprint to score a huge win for Team High Road.
“As soon as we came into the circuits, everyone was attacking; the majority of the work that the breakaway did fell to me,” said Hincapie. “The last 30 kilometers was really difficult; I’m glad it worked out for me. As soon as we hit the circuit laps, the race was on and things got aggressive, so we warmed up pretty quick.”
“This has been a tremendous experience for all of us,” said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, presenter of the race. “The support from the 12 host cities, the record number of fans, local organizing committees and the athletes has been extraordinary. We feel like we’ve been embraced by the people that care about cycling, and it seems like more and more people discover cycling each year. From the athlete performance perspective, we’ve seen some outstanding performances.”
Today’s stage brought a close to the competition for the Amgen Tour of California jerseys. The Tachyon Most Aggressive Rider Jersey was awarded to the entire BMC Racing Team. Scott Nydam (USA) from Team BMC claimed the California Travel and Tourism King of the Mountains Jersey. Dominique Rollin of Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team retained the Herbalife Sprint Leader Jersey. Robert Gesink (NED) of Rabobank held onto the Union Bank of California Best Young Rider Jersey. Team Slipstream/Chipotle Presented by H30 took the team classification. Congrats to all of you.
Be sure to check out our recent audio interview with stage winner George Hincapie.
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