Redondo Beach, California As the inaugural Amgen Tour of California rode its final miles in Redondo Beach, California, it was abundantly clear that there were two big winners in the eight-day, 600-mile event. Not only did Team Phonak's Floyd Landis notch the most important win of his promising career, but cycling in the U.S. also stood on the top spot of the podium. With an estimated one million people watching the race as it wound its way from San Francisco to Los Angeles, any questions about the health of cycling in America in the post-Lance Armstrong era were quickly answered.
Certainly, a large part of the success of the California race was due to the groundswell created by the Armstrong's seven consecutive Tour de France victories. However, with eight Americans in the top ten of the overall classification and two American teams taking the majority of the daily stage wins at the Tour of California, the U.S. proved itself as a definite force in the pro pelotonson both sides of the Atlantic. And Californians were loving it, lining the starts, finishes, and mountain passes in numbers rivaling many of the major races in Europe. "Don't you people have jobs?," quipped Floyd Landis when asked about the huge crowds lining the entire four-mile ascent of Sierra Road, on Tuesday's stage 2.
"I think the crowds are impressive," added Team CSC's Dave Zabriskie, one of the pre-race favorites even though this was his first competition since his yellow jersey performance at the 2005 Tour de France. "I think they did a good job getting the word out and everyone is excited. It is good to have them there."
One of the biggest revelations of the race was the emergence of the Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team. With two stage wins by Argentinean sprinter Juan Jose Haedo this new squad, which was announced only two weeks prior to the start of the Tour of California, showed some of the older, more experienced teams how to get the job done.
"We can't ask for a better start. We came in here with the objective of stage wins because we knew we had some very fast guys," noted Frankie Andreu a former U.S. Postal rider and now team director at Toyota-United Pro. "The main thing is that we got all the guys working on the same page, each with their role, with the same objective and it worked out."
The victory by San Diego resident Landis was particularly sweet. In his last major event on U.S. soil, the 2005 Tour of Georgia, the former Lance Armstrong teammate held the lead going into the final decisive stage. Unfortunately, Lance and his Discovery Channel boys overpowered Landis's Phonak squad and snatched the overall victory with Tom Danielson. Just like in Georgia last April, Floyd assumed the race lead after a brilliant 17-mile time trial in San Jose. Team CSC's David Zabriskie and Bobby Julich were in second and third place, a scant 29 and 34 seconds back, and Discovery Channel's Georgie Hincapie stood fourth only 45 seconds out of the lead. But with four days to go and almost 400 miles remaining the race was far from over.
Team Phonak rallied around its affable leader and parried an onslaught of attacks from CSC, Discovery Channel, and another pre-race favorite, Levi Leipheimer's Gerlosteiner team. In the end, everybody won at this year's Amgen Tour of California. The riders enjoyed postcard weather, the organizers provided an outstanding venue, and the spectators were treated to big time professional bike racing at its best. Lance may not be turning a pedal in the pro peleton but we can all rest easy. U.S. riders are picking up the torch and they now have a new world-class venue to showcase their talents in America.
Final Overall Classification
1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems 22:46.46
2 David Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC 0.29
3 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC 0.34
4 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 0.45
5 Nathan O'Neill (Aus) Health Net-Maxxis 1.08
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 1.10
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 1.29
8 Thomas Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel 1.49
9 Christian Vandevelde (USA) Team CSC 1.55
10 Jason McCartney (USA) Discovery Channel 1.58