By Kirsten Robbins in Bend, Oregon
After claiming overall victory at the Cascade Cycling Classic on Sunday, Astana's Levi Leipheimer pointed to a little bit of history that he hopes may repeat itself next season. Leipheimer was referring to the 1998 Cascade Classic, won by Lance Armstrong during his comeback season from cancer, the year before Armstrong went on to take his first Tour de France title in 1999.
"I believe the year after Lance won Cascade, he won the Tour de France so maybe the same thing will happen to me," said Leipheimer, whose Astana team are likely to be invited back to the Tour in 2009.
Despite having to sit out this year's Tour, Leipheimer was delighted to take the final yellow jersey at Cascade. "To win this race is definitely something to be proud of," he said. "When I first started out as a professional this race was the thing to do and I'm proud to be on the list of people who have won it, like Lance Armstrong."
Leipheimer blazed into the lead on the stage three time trial and defended his advantage after strong support from team-mate Chris Horner on stage five. With just the two Astana riders present, Horner was forced to ride tempo for over half of the 83-mile stage in order to bring back a dangerous breakaway.
"I didn't have to worry about anything because Chris Horner is a master at this," said Leipheimer, who attributed his over all victory to his solitary team-mate. "It's a team sport and we were at the mercy of everyone once we moved into the lead. Chris and I have been doing this a long time and we know how to form alliances - it paid off."
The runner up spot was taken by BMC Racing's Jeff Louder, 2'30 behind Leipheimer and a further two seconds ahead of team-mate Darren Lill, while Successful Living's Ricardo Escuela claimed the final stage.