After 9 challenging days of cycling through more than 750-miles of scenic California roads, and a thrilling fight to the finish, Levi Leipheimer (Astana) was crowned champion of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, making it a three-peat for the Santa Rosa resident.
“I’ve been trying to think about how to articulate this and it’s tough. To win it once, that was huge. To win it twice, that was almost a little bit of a surprise and almost felt like luck. But now, to have won the Amgen Tour of California three times, it’s the sweetest victory of all. It’s hard to describe, but to keep a streak like that going is difficult. I told Lance (Armstrong) that I don’t know how he won the Tour de France seven times in a row, because the pressure builds with each win. The expectations are higher. I think we proved that we were the best team in the race. There is no question about that.”
David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) finished in second place overall at 36 seconds behind Leipheimer, and Mick Rogers (Columbia-Highroad) finished third at 45 seconds behind.
The eighth and final stage was another hard fought one. The 96.8-mile route from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido included one sprint and four KOM climbs, including the Hors Categorie ascent of Palomar Mountain, the highest point ever reached in the Amgen Tour of California at 5,123 feet. The climb took over 11.7 miles and included 21 switchbacks at an average gradient of seven percent.
An early break of 9 riders disintegrated on the second KOM climb when Jason McCartney (Saxo Bank), Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) and Serge Pauwels (Cervélo) take a powder. The trio were joined by a few riders was caught in the climb up Palomar by a select chase group which included an isolated Leipheimer.
Stage winner Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) jumped away from the lead group at the top of Palomar and was soon joined by Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing) and Bauke Mollema (Rabobank). The four men set a furious pace ahead of the dwindling main field which included a re-grouped Astana team with Leipheimer.
And then they were two, as Schleck and Nibali surged forwards and rushed to the finish line for a two-way sprint.
At about 70 meters to the line, Schleck jumped away from Nibali to win the stage.
“Three days ago, the plan was to just to keep our energy early and just go for the last stage. Yesterday, I was in the break, but it was a very technical race and I was a bit disappointed. The riding was furious today and I said I’m just going to go for it again. The whole Saxo Bank team did a great job; the way we played it was great. I was really impressed with my brother (Andy Schleck) and Jason (McCartney) who have done really, really hard jobs the whole week. We put them out there and then I attacked from behind and we caught up. Without those guys, it never would have worked out.”
George Hincapie (Columbia-High Road) outsprinted Rory Sutherland (Ouch) for the third spot on the podium.
A tired Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad) retained the Herbalife Sprint Jersey and Rabobank’s Robert Gesink won the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey. Jason McCartney (Saxo Bank) held on to the climbing lead to take the California Travel Tourism Commission King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey. The overall team classification was won by Astana.
Finishing in thirteenth place overall, Rock Racing’s Oscar Sevilla was the highest-placed rider from a Continental team.