Enthusiasm for Team Astana's yellow jersey
Thousands of enthusiastic fans welcomed Levi Leipheimer and his Astana Cycling Team-mates at the end of the Amgen Tour of California in Pasadena. The team held control over the 7th and last stage of the race helping Levi Leipheimer win his second consecutive overall victory in the Tour of California, and the third for the 2008 squad. Over the 8 days and 1065 km (662 miles) of racing, Levi Leipheimer was 49 seconds faster than British rider David Millar, and 1:08 faster than Christian Vandevelde. The US champion layed the foundation for his final victory in the 5th stage, the individual time trial in Solvang, which he won in convincing fashion.
Despite batttling flu-like symptoms, Chris Horner finished 7th in the final GC. Horner was not the only Team Astana rider who helped Leipheimer finish on the podium’s top step. From stage 3 (over Mt Hamilton) on, when Leipheimer took the yellow jersey, the race was very demanding for the team. In stages 4, 6 and 7, the Team had to chase every breakaway. The front of the peloton was continuously led by yellow and blue Team Astana jerseys.
“Without my teammates Brajkovic, Gusev, Horner, Ivanov, Kemps, Mizourov and Rubiera, I would never have succeeded”, told a delighted leader of Astana Cycling Team after the finish in front of Pasadena’s Rose Bowl. “They were upfront in the most miserable, horrific weather conditions. It is a job really nobody wants to do. We proved that the Astana Cycling Team is definitely the best team in the world.”
Because of the weather conditions, as well as the caliber of teams competing (with big names including Millar, Vandevelde, Bettini, Freire, Cipollini and Cancellara), the third edition of the Amgen Tour of California proved to be the most difficult. “You are only so good as the competitors are”, continued Levi Leipheimer.
“The level of the opponents made this victory so special for me. To win this race was really unbelievable. It was my first objective of the season; we succeeded. The Tour of California is constantly growing. The level of the organization and of the race itself is already higher than these from some European races. The Amgen Tour of California definitely has its place on the cycling calendar. For some riders, the race seems too hard so early on the season. However, you cannot make a race easier because it is organized in February.”
Levi Leipheimer regrets that the team is not welcome in all races, but is very happy that he accomplished his first goal of the season. The Team will continue to race in Europe and look forward to returning to the US in April for the Tour de Georgia. The blue and yellow Team Astana jerseys will be missed in the 2008 Tour de France.