Levi Leipheimer (Astana) sealed his second consecutive victory in the rain-soaked Tour of California on Sunday.
The 34 year-old American based his entire winter on his home race and was rarely in difficulty during the eight days of intense racing. He finished 49 seconds ahead of Britain?s David Millar (Slipstream) and 1-08 ahead of Christian Vande Velde (Slipstream).
Leipheimer gained time on his rivals in the tough hilly stage to San Jose on Wednesday and then gained further vital seconds in the 24km Solvang time trial. Heavy rain reduced the final stages to a battle of survival and meant Millar and Vande Velde had little chance of pulling back time.
Sunday?s final 150km stage was won by George Hincapie (High Road). The big American had been the most aggressive rider of the entire race and he finally got his rewards. He was part of the long break that went clear in the hills midway through the stage and then chased down all the attacks on the finishing circuits before dominating the five-rider sprint outside the Pasadena Rose Bowl. Rory Sunderland (Health Net) was second, with Jason McCartney (CSC) third.
Mark Cavendish (High Road) won the bunch sprint; 12 seconds after Hincapie but with the sprinters? teams seemed to sit up in the rain and Astana lead the bunch until the final kilometre. Bradley Wiggins (High Road) did not start Sunday?s final stage due to illness.
Levi Leipheimer celebrated on the winner?s podium and was very proud to have won the biggest race in the US for a second consecutive year.
?To win is unbelievable. The reason that this so special for me and the Astana team is that the competitors were so great. You?re only as good as your competitors and I think the peloton made it a very special race,? said.
?The theme of this year?s Tour of California was the calibre of peloton and the number of stars in race, people like Cipollini, Millar, Vandevelde and world champions like Bettini, Boonen, Freire and Cancellara.?
?I don?t know what?s going on with the team and other races. It?s out of my control. This race was a goal of mine no matter which races I ride. I?m proud to have won and just want to enjoy this win. I have to really thank my team mates. They did an amazing amount of work up front in the most miserable and horrific conditions for miles and miles and hours and hours. They did it and did it well and proved they?re strong. They proved that Astana is one of best teams in world.?
George Hincapie deserved his stage win after crashing heavily in Santa Rosa on stage one and after finishing second on Thursday after being in the break in the rain for seven hours.
?I knew that Rory (Sutherland) and Joan (McCartney) were the strongest so I knew that if we kept them and lone attacker Tom Zerbel under control I had a chance. The last 30km were really difficult and so I?m just really glad it worked out for me.?
I was definitely struggling after my crash and had a headache for three days. Second in San Luis Obispo was tough because we really wanted to win in Bob (Stapleton?s) hometown. We played a big part in the race and I?m really proud of our performance. I think Mark (Cavendish) deserved to win on Saturday and so I think we won two stages. We won the final stage and the ended the race as great as we could have.?
George Hincapie takes the final, rain-soaked stage of the 2008 Tour of California. Photos: ISPA
1 George Hincapie (USA) High Road 150km in 3-50-57
2 Rory Sutherland (Aus) Health Net
3 Jason Mccartney (USA) Team CSC
4 Michael Creed (USA) Rock Racing
5 Tom Zirbel (USA) Bissell Pro Cycling
6 Mark Cavendish (GBr) High Road 12secs
7 Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Team CSC
8 Dominique Rollin (Can) Toyota
9 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
10 Mario Cipollini (Ita) Rock Racing all same time
30 David Millar (GBr) Slipstream at same time
Final Overall Standings
1 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 29-24-32
2 David Millar (GBr) Slipstream 49secs
3 Christian Vandevelde (USA) Slipstream 1-08
4 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC 1-18
5 Gustav Larsson (Swe) Team CSC 1-19
6 David Zabriskie (USA) Slipstream 1-36
7 Christopher Horner (USA) Astana 2-07
8 Jurgen Vandewalle (Bel) Quick Step 2-11
9 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 2-18
10 Alexandre Moos (Swi) BMC Racing Team 2-27
55 Mark Cavendish (GBr) High Road at 33-37
|TOUR OF CALIFORNIA: STAGE REPORTS|
Stage seven: Leiphemier wins Tour of California
Stage six: Cavendish wins, then gets disqualified
Stage five: Leipheimer sets up victory
Stage four: wind and rain lash race
Stage three: Leipheimer takes the lead
Stage two: Boonen wins in the rain
Stage one: Haedo wins sprint
Prologue: Cancellara wins
|TOUR OF CALIFORNIA: VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS|
Millar happy with second in Tour of California
Stage six video interviews
Cavendish angry about disqualification
Stage five video interviews
Millar: “We won’t let Leipheimer win it”
Stage four video interviews
Stage three video interviews
Millar picks Cancellara as favourite for California TT
Cancellara and Millar to challenge Leipheimer
Tour of California: photo gallery
Cipollini: “Third here is worth a hundred other victories”
Stage two: Cavendish angry after sprint mix-up
Cancellara angry with Hamilton, Sevilla, Botero protests
Cancellara: “I always have to win prologues”
Wiggins and Millar unhappy with prologue rides
Tour of California: preview