Posted by Editoress on 02/22/09
Our coverage of the Amgen Tour of California made possible with the support of Shimano
Team Saxo Bank bookended the Amgen Tour of California, with Frank Schleck winning the final stage to go along with Fabian Cancellara's win in the Prologue nine days ago. Schleck and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) were the final survivors of a series of attacks over the four KoMs of the day, with Schleck outkicking Nibali for the win. Levi Leipheimer (Astana) hung onto his yellow jersey without too much difficulty, to record his third consecutive AToC title.
The aggression started early, with the first KoM only six kilometres into the stage. This just served to soften things up, and it was the 'King' climb of the race up Palomar that really split things up. At 18 kilometres, with an average grade of 7% and reaching 1560 metres (5120 feet), the climb was described by Leipheimer as "a real European climb, long and steady. Not what we are used to in California."
The climb isolated Leipheimer from his Astana team mates for the first time, with Saxo Bank's Jens Voigt setting a high tempo to set up Schleck, and see if they could put Leipheimer into difficulty. Approximately 10 riders crested the Palomar climb at the front, with a group of 20-plus less than two minutes back, including three Astana's - Armstrong, Popovych and Rubiera. In the front group were also second-placed Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) and third-placed Rogers (Team Columbia-Highroad), but they were just hanging on, and not in a position to attack Leipheimer.
The chase group rejoined the leaders on the descent, but four riders were able to get away - Schleck, Nibali, Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing) and Bauke Mollema (Rabobank). Schleck and Nibali were doing the majority of work in the group, taking it up to 1:15 through the valley between the third and fourth climbs, but once the Astana riders rejoined the chase it started to go down, eventually to 40 seconds by the finish, with George Hincapie (Team Columbia-Highroad) taking the sprint for third.
"This was a special win," commented Leipheimer. "The race was very hard this year, and the field was strong. To repeat each year ... I don't know how Lance won seven Tours!"
- Svein Tuft (Garmin-Slipstream) did not start, after waking with a headache after yesterday's crash. "He really got his bell rung," said one team member, while Cam Evans (Ouch) said "He went down hard, we were going 70 kilometres an hour at the time."
- Evans was another rider who did not finish the race, dropping out during the final stage - 13 in total dropped out, including Carlos Sastre (Cervelo), Tom Boonen (Quick Step), JJ Haedo (Saxo Bank) and Thor Hushovd (Cervelo). Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia - Highroad) was one of the only sprinters to finish, crediting team mate Michael Barry for shepherding him over the climbs. "Michael set a pace for me over all the climbs, so that I could finish."
- The top Canadian was Dom Rollin (Cervelo) in 33rd place, 19:15 down on Leipheimer, followed by Will Routley (Jelly Belly) in 50th at 35:13 and Barry in 65th at 47:00. 84 riders in total finished.