Levi Leipheimer leads 2008 Tour of California
After completing one of the most challenging and defining stages of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California, which included the brutal Mt. Hamilton (Hors Category) and Sierra Road (Cat. 1) climbs, cycling?s new generation shined again as 21-year-old Robert Gesink (NED) of Rabobank took the stage win. While Santa Rosa California resident Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Team Astana was outsprinted by Gesink for the stage win, the defending champion none-the-less gained the event?s overall lead. As the one of most difficult stages in the 2008 Amgen Tour of California, the 103-mile Stage 3 course from Modesto to San Jose featured 165 turns and two critical climbs that separated the pack.
?This win is really great for me because the field of riders is very competitive in the Amgen Tour of California,? said Gesink. ?Today was a really big win for our team; we were strong as a team today.?
After struggling early on due to a stomach virus, Tyler Farrar (USA) of Slipstream Chipotle Presented by H30, who won the Amgen Leader Jersey the day before in Sacramento, abandoned the race after the second climb. The guys here at Roadcycling.com all wish him a speedy recovery.
Early in the race, there was a breakaway that consisted of three riders, including Scott Nydam (USA) of Team BMC, Paul Martens (GER) of Rabobank and Cyril Lemoine (FRA) of Credit Agricole, which was eventually joined by Steven Cozza (USA) of Slipstream Chipotle Presented by H30. This foursome built up a sizable gap of six minutes and took three of the stage?s mountains together. But the fourth climb, Mt. Hamilton, which earned the ?Beyond Category? designation due to its height and severity, would shatter the break. During this ascent Team Astana, driven by Jose Luis Rubiera Vigil (ESP), applied the hard pressure. They retrieved all four riders and whittled the field down to just 15 riders.
As the riders crested the top of Mt. Hamilton, George Hincapie (USA) of Team High Road made a daring attack on the descent, attempting to go for the stage win. ?My plan was to get away and to get the stage win,? said Hincapie. ?I made a break for it today, which was risky.?
Directly following Mt. Hamilton the riders were faced with the steep grade of Sierra Road, which is positioned just 20 miles from the finish in San Jose. The group of 14 riders retrieved Hincapie and was eventually boiled down to an elite four: Gesink, Leipheimer, Chris Horner (USA) of Astana and David Zabriskie (USA) of Slipstream Chipotle Presented by H30. As they neared the top, Gesink applied more pressure and pulled away.
As the breakaway group went over the top, with only 17 miles to go, they only had a minute advantage over the peloton. As they bottomed out onto the streets of San Jose, they learned a large chase group was charging hard to catch them. In that group rode Zabriskie, who has won time trial stages in the Tour de France and two national championships; his Slipstream Chipotle Presented by H30 teammate David Milllar (GBR), a former world time trial champion; and reigning world champion Fabian Cancellara (SUI) of Team CSC.
Despite the ferocious charge from the chasers, Leipheimer held a 19-second lead when he hit the line on the wheel of Gesink. Jurgen Vandewalle (BEL) of QuickStep took the bunch sprint to place third. After tabulating the times, Cancellara stood in second overall, just 13 seconds behind Leipheimer. The stage also propelled Gesink, who was the overall best young rider in the 2007 Amgen Tour of California, into third overall, just 15 seconds behind Leipheimer.
?We knew that today was going to be important,? said Leipheimer. ?I think this stage was the hardest stage in the three-year history of the Amgen Tour of California. It was a day with a few tough, but really beautiful, climbs. The Mt. Hamilton climb turned out to be really hard, and our team had something to prove today.?
In addition to the stage win, Gesink also took the Union Bank of California Best Young Rider Jersey. Today's California Travel and Tourism King of the Mountain Jersey was awarded to Nydam. Heinrich Haussler (GER) of Gerolsteiner took the Herballife Sprint Leader Jersey. Hincapie was awarded the Tachyon Most Aggressive Rider.
Eight riders failed to cross the finish line within the qualifying time and were eliminated from the race.
?Today was a major test for the riders. Even this early in the racing season, this incredibly high level of competition here at the Amgen Tour of California, not only inspired the tremendous crowds, they inspired the entire peloton,? said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, presenter of the race. ?What?s truly exciting is that with four days of competition still to come, no fewer than ten riders could win the race this Sunday in Pasadena.?
Title sponsor Amgen is continuing its complementary Breakaway from Cancer? initiative in 2008.
?For more than 25 years, Amgen has tapped the power of pioneering science and innovation to discover and develop vital medicines to help in the fight against cancer and other serious illnesses,? said David Lacey, senior vice president of Discovery Research, Amgen. ?That?s why Amgen is proud to sponsor the Amgen Tour of California again in its third year as a vehicle to further empower cancer patients and their families with education and hope through the Breakaway from Cancer initiative.?
Be sure to check out our audio interview with Team High Road star George Hincapie - and do visit and support out sponsors.