Tour of California: Voices after stage 7

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25.02.2008/ Starting under a dark clowd after the refusal to let Rock Racing's Tyler Hamilton, Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla to start this years Tour of California, the US stage race had everything a good stage race should have: exiting breakaways, powerfull sprints and strong performances during the time trials and mountain stages. Here a few quotes about the final stage and this years Tour of Caklifornia.

© Rock Racing
Tyler Hamilton was not allowed to start at the Tour of California... (© Rock Racing)

The final stage was won by George Hincapie (Team High Road). Hincapie said: “As soon as we came into the circuits, everyone was attacking; the majority of the work that the breakaway did fell to me,” said Hincapie. “The last 30 kilometers was really difficult; I’m glad it worked out for me. As soon as we hit the circuit laps, the race was on and things got aggressive, so we warmed up pretty quick.”

Astana's Levi Leipheimer is still campaigning with a petition for his Tour start at The US rider defended his overall Tour of California title and almost 40.000 cycling fans from around the world signed his petition. Leipheimer said about his overall win in California: “I think this win is more special now because of the caliber of the field,” said Leipheimer. “For me, this win is unbelievable because of the amount of cycling stars that we had here in California. Winning the Amgen Tour of California has been a goal of mine from the beginning. This has always been a top priority for me.”

For the second consecutive day, Rory Sutherland of the Health Net Pro Cycling Team Presented by Maxxis found himself in the main break of the day. Unlike Stage 6, this one stuck. Sutherland came in second. "Nine out of 10 times, or maybe even more than that, George is going to beat me in a sprint," Sutherland said. But that didn't stop him from giving it a go. "I did the best I could do and I picked the best places on the circuit that I thought suited me best to try to get rid of him before the finish. I kept trying to shake him on every little hill, but he kept covering everything."

Jason McCartney (CSC) came in third at yesterdays fianl stage. CSC sports director Kim Andersen said: ”The stage turned out to be quite tough because of the rain, which was one of the reasons why Jason's group was able to keep their lead on the peloton. Jason showed great strength in the finish and managed to fight his way back, when the group was split shortly before the end. We got another podium spot and we're satisfied with the overall result. With two stage wins and a couple of days in yellow we made our mark here and thanks to the toughness of the race this year, we've definitely managed to lay a good foundation for some of our classics specialists."

Robert Gesink's (Rabobank) young riders jersey was never in danger during the final day of the Tour of California; he even was on the attack for some time. His spot in the top ten was never threatened either. "So I am very satisfied with this tour," concluded Rabobank's sports director Erik Breukink. "We have won the most difficult stage and the youth classification." On Sunday, sprinter Oscar Freire would have liked to put some icing on the cake but unfortunately there was no mass sprint for the world champion to participate in. Levi Leipheimer’s attempted defense of the final victory was never seriously threatened.

Nowadays, escapees dare not dream of a victory because the sprint teams excel at math. Breukink had an explanation for the fact that the leaders stayed ahead despite the efforts by his team and that of Quickstep. "We needed more teams who were willing to do a little extra. We could only put three men in front and they were exhausted at a certain point. And there were a few tough riders in the lead group as well."

US continental team Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team came and battled against some of the best pro cycling teams in the world and came away the victor in the coveted sprint jersey competition in the 2008 Amgen Tour of California. Henk Vogels couldn’t muster up the leg strength to finish the race and abandoned at about the 52 mile mark. Only 77 racers finished this race in a peloton that was decimated by stomach virus’ all week and worn down bodies fell all over from the original 135 riders.  After the race, Vogels said  about Rollin, “We knew the kid had serious talent, but he proved all week that he will be one of the major talents in the racing world for years to come.”

Toyota-United's sports director Len Pettyjohn, called the game plan from the team chase car all day. He said, “There are as many world class sprinters, as you will see in the Tour de France, and to be able to win a stage against the best in the world, then finish with the overall sprinters jersey is bonus for this Toyota-United team to start the 2008 season”. 

Pettyjohn told Rollin with two laps to go and the race seemingly won by one of the riders in the break away, to just “stay on the wheel of Haedo and secure the sprint victory.” The team knew as long as Dominique stayed one back of Haedo he would secure the victory for Toyota-United. Dominique being the consummate team player all week, did just that and finished in 8th place, one behind JJ Haedo who finished 7th, and won the sprinters jersey competition.  Dominique Rollin in the charming fashion we have grown used to said, “It was great to see our team stick together as a unit even as we had our troubles with sickness and weather all week, the spirits were always positive with this team and the work they did allowed this domestic team to compete with the best in the world.” Toyota-United was the only domestic team to win a stage again in the Tour of California continuing the teams’ winning ways and securing their place as the best domestic squad. In addition, Toyota-United is tied with team CSC with the most stage wins of any team the last three Tours of California with four stage wins each.

Michael Creed’s extraordinary ride Sunday capped an impressive performance for Rock Racing at the Amgen Tour of California. Attacking from the start of the 93-mile (150 km) stage, Creed played an instrumental role in a pair of breakaways that stayed clear of the peloton on a rain-soaked, bone-chilling ride from Santa Clarita to Pasadena. Aggressive to the end, Rock Racing nearly scored its second podium finish of the race when Creed attacked inside the final mile and finished fourth in a five-up sprint in front of the Rose Bowl.

“It was the last day and I didn’t want to end the week without having done anything,” Creed said. “At the very end, it was like throwing a ‘Hail Mary’ to try and pull out the win.”

In all, Rock Racing scored seven top 10 finishes during the race, including Mario Cipollini’s third place finish in Sacramento on Stage 2. Even more impressive was the fortitude of Rock Racing in an event that saw only 77 riders of 132 starters finish the 650-mile race.

Rock Racing was one of only three teams – and the only non-ProTour team to complete the race with its full squad. But unlike the CSC and Rabobank squads, Rock Racing began the race with only five riders (instead of eight) after race organizer AEG declared that three of its riders– American Tyler Hamilton, Colombian Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla – were not allowed to start. Tour of California race organiser AEG did not want to see the riders at their race.
“These guys came together in such adverse conditions that just them surviving day-to-day from a mental perspective is something to be commended,” Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball said. “This team is a real team. These guys are truly friends who work with each other and who just want to go out there and race and compete. The fact that they didn’t let every member of the team compete here is a tragedy.”

Victor Hugo Peña was Rock Racing’s best overall finisher, placing 12th overall, 3:17 behind winner Levin Leipheimer (Astana). Doug Ollerenshaw was 37th, Mario Cipollini 58th, Freddie Rodriguez was 69th while Creed earned “lanterne rouge” honors as the race’s final finisher, in 77th place.

Rodriguez’s finish was particularly impressive considering he was badly hurt in a crash during the final miles of Saturday’s stage. He needed crutches just to walk from the team car to his bicycle to start Sunday.

“Basically, I could ride a bike, but I couldn’t walk,” Rodriguez said. “As the race went on, things started loosening up and I felt a little better. Then the weather came and I crashed again. I thought that was it at that point. But even though my morale was down, I pressed on and it basically become a battle of survival."

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