Team Astana’s Levi Leipheimer Becomes Three-Time Amgen Tour of California Champion
Team Astana’s Levi Leipheimer captured his third consecutive Amgen Tour of California title. The victory comes on the same day that teammate Alberto Contador won the Tour of Algarve, giving Team Astana four total victories in the early part of 2009. Over the 9 days and 1256 km (780 miles) of racing, Levi Leipheimer was 36 seconds faster than Garmin-Slipstream’s Dave Zabriskie and 45 seconds faster than Columbia’s Michael Rogers. Leipheimer laid the foundation for his final victory during the 2nd stage’s Bonny Doon mountain, and in the individual time trial in Solvang, which he won in convincing fashion.
Leipheimer led a strong group of Team Astana riders which won the overall team classification with three riders in the top ten. Making his return to professional road cycling in the United States Lance Armstrong finished 7th overall and Jose Luis Rubiera rounded out the top ten.
“It gets sweeter and sweeter to win”, told the delighted leader of the Astana Cycling Team. Once was awesome, twice was like “wow”, but three times, is an exclamation point. It was an honor to have Lance Armstrong as a domestique for me and I hope to pay him back in future races. Also without my other teammates Brajkovic, Horner, Morabito, Popovych, Rast and Rubiera, I would never have succeeded. They were upfront the whole week, including the first days in the most miserable, horrific weather conditions. I needed them today in that tough last stage over the Palomar, a climb of Tour de France caliber, a kind of hors category.”
“Levi is amazing”, said Team Manager Johan Bruyneel and added that “Levi is the kind of guy that when he really knows when he is going to lead, everyone on the team knows he’s ready. Levi always delivers. That is what it takes to be a team leader; to give 100 percent. We saw that this week and last year; he was ready physically. He works very hard. Even when he knows he is one of the fastest time trialists in the peloton, he still went back to fine tune his position. Although he has maybe the most ideal time trial position on the bike, he still went twice to the wind tunnel last winter to improve that position. The people of Trek and Giro, as well as aerodynamics specialist Steve Hed did an excellent job. Everyone has seen that he was focused on the goal, and that is an ability a team leader needs to have. The guys ultimately have to suffer for him, but he’ll deliver. When he has to be there, he always delivers. It’s not easy to do this three times in a row. It becomes harder and more difficult and you have to be able to deal with that pressure, but he has always been there when expected.”
Lance Armstrong was delighted with Leipheimer’s and the Team’s victory. “I saw Levi a couple of times this winter, and then of course at training camp, so I knew he was focused and motivated. Nobody came in here with any expectation to ride for Levi. As long as I can continue to achieve my goals from the cancer perspective, if I ride all year as a domestique, it’s still a win-win for me. It might be good for me personally too. I’ve spent 15 years sitting on people’s wheels, so it felt good to be up front and pulling weight. I was just excited to be here. We don’t mind working for Levi; there was no doubt in our minds that he was going to be strong.”
Armstrong was also pleased with his performance, though recognizes that improvements can be made. “I cannot complain about the results and how I feel on the bike, but I still have to work on my bike position. To improve in the mountains, I surely have to lose weight. I am already strong enough, but I need to get lighter,” Armstrong commented. Yes, everything's cool as long as he's getting thinner .
Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer will head now to Europe to participate in the 2009 Paris-Nice and the Vueta a Castilla y León.