Levi Leipheimer, the golden leader's jersey firmly on his shoulders, and his Astana team-mates rolled into a rainy Pasadena, at the end of the Amgen Tour of California. The team was able to control Leipheimer's closest competitors in the last stage of the race, helping the American win his second consecutive overall victory in California. It was the team's third victory of the season. Leipheimer defended his 49-second lead, which he established by once again winning the individual time trial, over British rider David Millar. Slipstream's Christian Vande Velde finished in third.
Chris Horner, despite battling flu-like symptoms and more concerned to help his team leader Leipheimer win the overall, finished a strong seventh in the final GC. From stage 3 on, going over Mt Hamilton, when Leipheimer took the leader's jersey, the team had its work cut out, going after breakaways every single day.
It didn't go unnoticed by the captain. "Without my team-mates Brajkovic, Gusev, Horner, Ivanov, Kemps, Mizourov and Rubiera, I would never have succeeded", said a delighted leader of the Astana Cycling Team after the finish in front of Pasadena's Rose Bowl. "They were up front in the most miserable, horrific weather conditions. It is a job really nobody wants to do. We proved that Astana Cycling Team is definitely the best team in the world."
Because of the weather conditions, as well as the caliber of teams competing (with big names including Millar, Boonen, Vande Velde, Bettini, Freire, Cipollini and Cancellara), the third edition of the Amgen Tour of California proved to be the most difficult one so far. "You are only so good as the competitors are," continued Levi Leipheimer. "The level of the opponents made this victory so special for me. To win this race was really unbelievable. It was my first objective of the season; we succeeded. The Tour of California is constantly growing. The level of the organization and of the race itself is already higher than these from some European races. The Amgen Tour of California definitely has its place on the cycling calendar." Leipheimer acknowledged that "For some riders, the race seems too hard so early in the season," but stated that "you cannot make a race easier because it is organised in February."
Concerning the controversy around Astana's race invitations, Leipheimer regrets that the team is not welcomed in all races, but is very happy that he accomplished his first goal of the season. The Team will continue to race in Europe and look forward to returning to the US in April for the Tour de Georgia.
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