Tales from the peloton, February 24, 2009
There's no doubt that this year's Tour of California was a huge success. From the Olympic champion storming to the first leader's jersey in Sacramento to Levi Leipheimer claiming his third consecutive overall win; we've seen some of the most thrilling racing on American soil in years. And it's been a big week too, with an estimated two million fans flocking to the roadsides for America's biggest cycling race.
Of course we were in for a show right from the get-go, with a start list jam-packed with enough glitz and glamour to give the Academy Awards a run for its money. Armstrong, Leipheimer, Sastre, Landis, Basso, the Schlecks, Cavendish and Boonen made up the finest cast the race had ever seen.
There was an improved route, too. We saw the peloton face climb after climb - albeit mainly in the middle of stages - but with so many riders brushing away their winter cobwebs, it was gripping viewing as to who could last the pace. Many couldn't, but it only helped build the suspense. First Sastre and Landis dropped out of the running, while surprise-package Mancebo made use of the bad conditions and lack of radio communications to ride to an old-school style win. There were more surprises just around the corner when a fresh-faced Thomas Peterson took stage two, while Leipheimer played his cards early, but to perfection, with what turned out to be the race-winning attack.
There was room for the sprinters to showcase their talents as well. Cavendish and Boonen raced last month at the Tour Qatar, but this was different - the world was now watching as the Manxman stole the show with back-to-back wins. If there was ever any doubt as to who the fastest rider in the world is, it's surely been dispelled now.
We also had a race-deciding time trial, and while the race provided little in the way of shocks there after, everyone was still tuning in to see if Astana could handle the pressure and attacks unleashed on them, as first Rinaldo Nocentini, and then Frank Schleck won from breakaways.
As the curtain falls on the fourth edition of the race, we've put together this highlights package of images. It's been a great race and it's been even greater having you with us. Enjoy!