LEIPHEIMER WINS TOUR OF CALIFORNIA
Levi Leipheimer gave the Discovery Channel a much needed boost as they search for a new sponsor by winning the Tour of California stage race that ended in Long Beach on Sunday.
Cuban sprinter Ivan Dominguez (Toyota-United) surprised the big-name ProTour sprinters by taking the final circuit stage on the Long Beach seafront. He beat Australia’s Graeme Brown and German talent Gerald Ciolek (T-Mobile) to give his team a big win after a hard week of racing. CSC lost the battle with rivals Discovery Channel for overall victory but won the team prize after winning three stages.
Russell Downing (Healthnet) was boxed-in in the final sprint and finished out of the top ten. However he raced hard on every stage and impressed his new US team. He will stay in the US until the end of April before the team travels to Europe for a block of racing.
Leipheimer finished 21 seconds ahead of Jens Voigt after leading the weeklong race from start to finish. He won the prologue time trial on the streets of San Francisco last Sunday and then thanks to a winning ride in the stage five time trial and some hard work by his team mates, he took what is arguably the biggest win of his career.
“This is one of the most satisfying victories because CSC put on the pressure and we stood up to them. There was blood sweat and tears because we lost Allan Davis and George and even the third placed rider overall (Jason McCartney) had to work hard.
It’s difficult to compare this race to the Dauphine Libere because it has a 70 or 80-year history, has been won by some great champions and include some of the great climbs of the Tour de France. To be fair I don’t think it’s my biggest win but I have a room with all my jerseys on the wall and this jersey is going up there.”
Even though Leipheimer sealed victory by winning the stage five-time trial, he explained that the hilly third stage to San Jose was the decisive moment of the race.
“I think the key climb was Sierra Road because I had to make the most effort to catch up to Jens. It was challenging because it was a long way to the finish. I tried to stay clear last year with Floyd but this year we made it. Maybe we could do it once and then finish at the top….”
Race organisers Shawn Hunter announced that the 2008 Tour of California will almost certainly last ten days with new cities and a possible uphill finish to please the climbers. He also joked about benefiting from the ProTour war between the major European organisers and the UCI.
“We had close to 1.6 millions fans along the race and the hardest part will be picking stage towns for next year. The earliest we can get a place in the ProTour is 2009 but we want to grow this race and make it as important as the Tour de France some day. At AEG we have a saying: “The world is in chaos and the situation is excellent.”