ESCONDIDO (February 22, 2009)
After nine challenging and epic days of cycling through more than 750-miles of scenic California roads, and a thrilling fight to the finish, Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Astana was crowned champion of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, solidifying a three-peat for the California resident. With a week-long total time of 31 hours, 28 minutes and 21 seconds, Leipheimer accepted the highly coveted title of race champion in front of massive cheering crowds in Escondido, which brought the race total to 2 million fans along the race route from Sacramento to Escondido. In a nine-day battle against the best field ever assembled to compete in the United States, which included Tour de France winners, Olympic medalists and World Champions, Frank Schleck (LUX) of Saxo Bank claimed the Stage 8 win.
"I've been trying to think about how to articulate this and it's tough," said Leipheimer. "To win it once, that was huge. To win it twice, that was almost a little bit of a surprise and almost felt like luck. But now, to have won the Amgen Tour of California three times, it's the sweetest victory of all. I think we proved that we were the best team in the race. There is no question about that."
David Zabriskie (USA) of Garmin-Slipstream finished in second place overall at 36 seconds behind Leipheimer, and Michael Rogers (AUS) of Team Columbia-Highroad finished third at 45 seconds behind.
In one of the most difficult stages of the 2009 race, the 96.8-mile route from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido included one sprint and four King of the Mountain (KOM) climbs, including the 'above categorization' ascent of Palomar Mountain, the highest point ever reached in the Amgen Tour of California at 5,123 feet. The ascent unfolded over 11.7 miles and included 21 switchbacks at an average gradient of seven percent.
The Queen stage of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California began with an early breakaway of nine riders, which was split up a half hour later. Soon after, a second breakaway formed, which included Schleck and inaugural Amgen Tour of California winner Floyd Landis (USA) of Ouch Presented by Maxxis. Chased and eventually caught by the top-three riders in the general classification, Leipheimer, Rogers and Zabriskie, the breakaway included most of the top riders in the peloton.
Lined with fans, some of which had camped out for two nights to secure their spot to watch the cyclists compete in the final day of the race, Mount Palomar made the final stage of the race an extremely challenging course. Schleck opened up a gap on the descent, but was then joined by three additional riders to make a group of four. With Lance Armstrong (USA) of Astana setting a fast pace at the front of the field, the gap began to close. After riding in the breakaway for most of the day, Schleck battled Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) of Liquigas up to the finish line to take the final stage with the roar of cheering fans in Escondido in the background.
"The riding was furious today and I said, 'I'm just going to go for it again'," said Schleck. "On Palomar, that is where I attacked and got up to Andy (Schleck), and then he set a really hard pace. Really, for a guy like me, it took a big effort today for sure."
Today's stage brought a close to the competition for the Amgen Tour of California jerseys. The Amgen Leader Jersey was awarded to Leipheimer for the third consecutive year. In addition to winning the final stage of the race, Schleck claimed Amgen's Breakaway from Cancer™ Most Courageous Rider Jersey. Mark Cavendish (GBR) of Team Columbia-Highroad retained the Herbalife Sprint Jersey and Rabobank's Robert Gesink (NED) the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey. Jason McCartney (USA) of Saxo Bank held onto the climbing lead to take the California Travel & Tourism Commission King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey. With a celebratory champagne fight on the awards stage, Astana claimed the overall team classification for the first time.
In addition to increased programming on VERSUS, the Amgen Tour of California Web site saw a significant increase in traffic during the 2009 race. Total visitors to the Web site topped 1.3 million in the month of February, compared to 777,000 in February 2008, and total page impressions for this month exceeded 5.1 million.
"We are enormously satisfied with the race," said Andrew Messick, president, AEG Sports, presenter of the race. "We've had some epic racing, beautiful terrain and enormous crowds. The ratings for our television broadcast were up about 70 percent, we were broadcasting for twice as many hours and we were broadcast live all over the world. I think people have gotten a much closer and better perspective of the race and we hope they will return as fans next year."
San Diego cancer survivor Gary Miller was honored and celebrated today at the final Breakaway Mile, a one-mile honorary bicycle ride that crossed the finish line prior to the professional race conclusion. During the event, Miller was joined by his support team of family members and close friends, as well as Joe Miletich, Amgen's senior vice president of Research & Development, who plays a crucial role in developing innovate medicines to treat cancer and other serious illnesses.
"When my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer it happened at a time when our health insurance was in transition and we were required to go on COBRA for several months," explained Karen Miller, spouse of Breakaway Mile rider Gary Miller. "My first call was to Patient Advocate Foundation and they were an immediate source of support and expertise. They guided me through the maze and I felt a sense of relief and hope."
Breakaway from Cancer™ nonprofit partners play leading roles in every aspect of cancer care to help people affected by the disease. The Escondido Breakaway Mile highlighted the Patient Advocate Foundation, which was established in 1996 as a national 501(c)3 organization with a mission of safeguarding patients with chronic, life threatening, and/or debilitating illnesses assuring access to care, maintenance of employment and preservation of their financial stability.
"Breakaway from Cancer is an initiative that captures the essence of every cancer patient's commitment as they face their fears and race to conquer cancer," said Nancy Davenport-Ennis, founder and CEO, Patient Advocate Foundation. "We are so very honored to be a partner in this event with our fellow nonprofit colleagues and to join the survivors and their caregivers in celebrating with professional cyclists the thrill of victory as their ride calls out the importance of cancer research and survivorship for all patients and their loved ones in the United States."
The Breakaway from Cancer initiative is designed to increase awareness of the important resources available to cancer patients from prevention to education, and patient care to advocacy and financial support. For the latest information on Breakaway from Cancer and ways to support those living with the illness, visit breakawayfromcancer.com.
"Amgen is proud of our sponsorship of the Amgen Tour of California, a spectacular race that again this year saw the world's best cyclists battle it out along California's beautiful landscape," said Miletich. In addition to riding in today's Breakaway Mile, Miletich also presented the final Amgen Leader Jersey to 2009 Amgen Tour of California winner Leipheimer.
"As a company dedicated to tapping the power of pioneering science to fight serious illness, Amgen is passionate about helping people who are battling cancer, and Breakaway from Cancer is one of the ways that Amgen is fighting cancer on multiple fronts. The 17,000 staff members at Amgen come to work every day motivated by the chance to make a dramatic difference in the lives of people suffering from cancer and other life threatening illnesses."
For full results, archived footage, team information and more, please visit the official race Web site at www.amgentourofcalifornia.com