May 7, 2009 update: Tour of California moves to May in 2010
Out on my bike today I was thinking about the Amgen Tour of California that just wrapped up Sunday with George Hincapie winning the final stage and Levi Leipheimer winning the title.
I enjoyed this third Tour more than the previous ones. Here are five reasons why I think this was the best one yet. In no particular order:
1. The caliber of the competition. The participation of cyclists who have made their reputation in Europe was exciting. Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, David Millar all played a role in this year's Tour. But the highlight was definitely Mario Cipollini, left, who came out of retirement at 40 to join the Rock Racing team.
I expected he'd be just so much window dressing, but the guy came to race. He demonstrated as much when he finished 44th in the prologue — maybe not the best time ever but he did beat more than half the peloton made up of a lot of guy half his age. Cipo came close to a win in Stage 2 and finished 9th in the points competition.
2. Like I said above, Leipheimer and Hincapie. Leipheimer led the 2007 Tour from prologue to finish, but this year a world time trial champion by the name of Cancellara took the prologue. Leipheimer eventually took the golden jersey with a few seconds to spare. Then in the Stage 5 time trial, he beat the Swiss time trial champion by a full minute, solidifying his overall victory.
Meanwhile, Hincapie wasn't going to let his new High Road team go without a win, and it took until the final stage. The former Discovery cyclist miscalculated on an attack on Stage 3 and blew up on the Sierra Road climb. In Stage 4 he hung out in a breakaway for over 100 miles only to have one of the younger riders attack for the win. But on Stage 7, after a penalty had prevented a Stage 6 win for High Road's Mark Cavendish, Hincapie once again stayed in the breakaway and successfully attacked at the finish to win.
3. How about the epic Stage 4 where the peloton struggled into the wind and rain for 135 miles down the coast of California? OK, maybe watching guys bicycling into the rain for 7 hours isn't the most exciting spectacle, but it's an epic stage that will be remembered for years. How many riders dropped out with flu, hypothermia or just plain misery that day — 15?
4. The young riders. The Tour is a platform for young riders, like J.J. Haedo in 2006 who won two stages and found himself a place on Team CSC. This year we were introducted to the Canadian Dominique Rollin on the Toyota team, who patiently took his turn in a 125-mile breakaway and then powered away to win the stage. He won the points competition.
Also, Scott Nydam of BMC Racing, who won the King of the Mountain. He started racking up mountain points on his solo breakaway between Santa Rosa and Sacramento. Also, Tyler Farrar, left, the Wenatchee, Washington, native on the Slipstream team. He wore the golden jersey in Stage 2 by virtue of his 3rd place in the prologue and intermediate sprints in Stage 2. And Robert Gesink, a Dutch cyclist on Rabobank who pulled Leipheimer nearly all the way to the finish before winning Stage 3. He received the Best Young Rider's jersey.
5. Tour Tracker. Provided for three years, this was the smoothest web feed presentation on the Abode platform yet. I could listen to the commentary and watch live race action, or turn off the sound and just check the progress of race leaders on the GPS-enabled map. And you got to hand it to Joe Silva and Frankie Andreu for keeping the ball rolling hour after hour on Stage 4.
How will Tour of California top this in 2009, its fourth year? Simply by providing more exciting race action, more top-notch cyclists, more epic stages and new technology for Tour Tracker.