Like a heavyweight prizefighter, Michael Rogers took shot after shot on Sunday. Each time, the resilient Australian cyclist was able to fend them off.
Consistently fighting off heroic attacks by Levi Leipheimer and David Zabriskie, Rogers displayed grace under pressure to maintain his lead throughout the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California to take home the overall title of the eight-day event.
Rogers, who entered the final day nine seconds ahead of Zabriskie, and 25 seconds ahead of Leipheimer, finished Stage 8 in eighth place, tied with his two chief rivals. Ryder Hesjedal of team Garmin-Transition, won the 83.5-mile stage in a time 3 hours, 21 minutes and 56 seconds, beating out George Hincapie, the defending champ in the U.S. road race event, in a sprint to the finish.
Rogers, Zabriskie, and Leipheimer finished 28 seconds off the pace, cementing their spots on the podium at first, second and third places respectively.
Rogers, who has come back triumphantly from an unlucky spate of injuries and illnesses, claimed his second tour title of the year with his victory on Sunday. He is the third winner in the five-year history of the Amgen Tour, joining Floyd Landis and Leipheimer in the winner’s circle.
Traditionally, the last day of a major event like the Amgen Tour is just a symbolic parade for the first-place cyclist to officially sew up his title. Sunday couldn’t have been further away from the scenario. During the closing 10 miles, both Leipheimer and Zabriskie made spirited runs on hill climbs, desperate to put distance from themselves and Rogers. However, the Australian cyclist, who competed for most of the day without help from his HTC Columbia teammates, would not let his rivals pull away.
Leipheimer, the three-time defending champ of the Amgen Tour who entered this year’s race as the prohibitive favorite, could never get a step ahead of his chief rivals, Zabriskie and Rogers. Although the Santa Rosa native compiled four different top-four stage finishes, he faltered during the crucial time trial stage — an event he won in the three previous years — losing 11 seconds in the individual race to Rogers to fall 25 seconds of the leader’s pace heading into Sunday’s finale.
The closing stage to the eight-day Amgen Tour of California featured four circuit laps around the Agoura Hills and Thousand Oaks communities. Each circuit was 21 miles long, with a steep climb up Mulholland Drive midway though the lap followed by a twisting, technical descent. The 83.5-mile long stage capped off the event, which covered more than 800 miles, stretching from Nevada City to Southern California.
The lead pack
Michael Rogers: Without his trusted teammates at HTC-Columbia by his side to guide him, Rogers looked vulnerable in the last five miles, as David Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer took their turns taking shots at him. However, the durable Australian cyclist never buckled, and his reward was an overall title.
David Zabriskie: The American cyclist, who has trained out of Los Angeles in recent years, didn’t conceal his desire for an Amgen Tour title, and thus has to be disappointed with finishing second in the event for the third time in five years. Zabriskie entered the final stage nine seconds off the pace, but could not pull away from Rogers.
Levi Leipheimer: The Santa Rosa resident couldn’t make it four Amgen Tour titles in a row, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort. Despite suffering a flat tire, Leipheimer led the initial charge up Mulholland Drive on the final circuit of Stage 8, but he wasn’t able to shake Rogers.
2010: Michael Rogers
2009: Levi Leipheimer
2008: Levi Leipheimer
2007: Levi Leipheimer
2006: Floyd Landis