Leipheimer wins second straight Tour of California

For the second year in a row, Levi Leipheimer hurtled to victory in the Amgen Tour of California, basking in the adoration of thousands of fans in Pasadena — and millions more around the world.

Victory tasted sweeter this year, said the Santa Rosa resident after Sunday’s finish, because of the world-class caliber of the peloton.

“We have all the stars here in California,” he said. “For me to win the race is unbelievable.”

It was also the wettest, most grueling race in the Tour’s three-year history. Scores of riders fell ill as a stomach virus swept their ranks. The cyclists were pelted with rain nearly every day, and Thursday’s 7.5-mile trek from Seaside to San Luis Obisbo caused at least one top cyclist to drop out of the race due to hypothermia. Of the 132 starters in Palo Alto, only 77 finished a week later.

Leipheimer, who rides for team Astana, completed the race in 29 hours, 24 minutes, 32 seconds — 49 seconds before second-place finisher David Millar of Great Britain, who rides for team Slipstream- Chipotle. Millar’s teammate, American Christian Vande Velde, finished third at 29 hours, 25 minutes, 40 seconds.

Stage 7, a 93.4-mile course from Santa Clarita to Pasadena, was taken by American George Hincapie of team High Road. Hincapie clocked in at 3 hours, 50 minutes, 57 seconds despite suffering a fever that morning and a bad crash on Monday.

As a downpour hit the circuits around the Rose Bowl, Bissell’s Tom Zirbel pulled ahead of the group, but was overtaken by Hincapie and several other riders in the final lap. Hincapie, who won two stages in last year’s tour, was followed across the finish line by Rory Sutherland, an Australian who rides for team Health-Net, and third place winner Jason McCartney, an American riding for team CSC.

“It was a really tough finish. The last 30 kilometers were really, really difficult,” Hincapie said.

In the general results, Dutch rider Robert Gesink of team Rabobank scored the Union Bank Best Young Rider jersey while BMC’s Scott Nydam was awarded the California Travel and Tourism King of the Mountain jersey. Dominique Rollin of Toyota United Pro Cycling won the Herbalife Sprint jersey. The Tachyon Most Aggressive Rider’s jersey, which is awarded by the press, went to the BMC Racing Team.

Meanwhile, Tour organizers have hinted at plans to lengthen the race by adding more stages in more cities. On Sunday, cyclists said they support the idea.

“I say let’s go for it,” Leipheimer said. “Let’s go up against the big races in Europe.”

For now, however, the 34-year-old has other plans.

“All I’m thinking about is getting home and recovering and enjoying my win,” he said.

tbarak@examiner.com

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