Defending champion Leipheimer retains overall lead heading into final stage of 2008 Amgen Tour of California
Cycling fans in Santa Clarita lined the streets to witness the finish of stage 6 of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California, which included an exciting bunch sprint to the finish line. After a review by race officials, Luciano Pagliarini (BRA) of Team Saunier Duval-Scott was determined to be the stage winner, followed closely by Juan Jose “J.J.” Haedo (ARG) of Team CSC and World Champion Paolo Bettini (ITA) of Quick Step. Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Astana retained the overall lead heading into the final stage of the race, which will take riders from Santa Clarita to Pasadena tomorrow.
Mark Cavendish (GBR) of Team High Road, who was originally declared the stage winner, recovered from a late crash during the first circuit lap and seemed to deliver a powerful sprint victory for High Road. However, officials would later relegate the sprinter for sheltering behind or falling into the slipstream of a vehicle. This decision gave the win to Pagliarini.
“I am so sorry about Cavendish,” said Pagliarini. “I won a stage. I’m very happy, but it’s not like a win with the hands up. I came in second, but I am the first.”
“Officials saw Mark (Cavendish) hang on to a car for an extended period of time,” said Jim Birrell, race director. “It’s unfortunate because he put in such a good effort today, but those are the rules.”
Despite the chaos and challenges that came late in the race, Astana managed to keep Leipheimer in the overall race lead, with an advantage of 49 seconds going into tomorrow’s race.
“It’s sweet to be near the prize, but it’s never over until we cross the finish line,” said Leipheimer. “The Amgen Tour of California is the best in the world right now and has the best riders. I feel privileged and proud to be the guy that has led the race for the past couple of years, but I’ve worked hard to earn it.”
In cloudy but dry conditions, the field rolled out of Santa Barbara for this 105-mile penultimate stage. The course featured several small climbs and many expected attacks from several teams. An early move on the second climb put six riders up the road.
This significant breakaway featured Steven Cozza (USA) of Slipstream Chipotle Presented by H30, Rory Sutherland (AUS) of HealthNet Presented by Maxxis, Christophe Le Mevel (FRA) of Credit Agricole, Alexandre Pichot (FRA) of Bouygues Telecom, Karsten Kroon (NED) of Team CSC and David Canada (ESP) of Saunier Duval-Scott.
Riding smoothly, the break built up a lead of seven minutes over the field. After the final climb of the day, Astana gave the front to the teams of sprinters and allowed them to chase down a stage win.
As the breakaway reached the streets of Santa Clarita, the leaders only had a dwindling two minute advantage.
At the front of the field rode a train of Quick Step riders, with its two sprinters, Bettini and Tom Boonen (USA), in tow. Following close behind was High Road with its aces, Cavendish and Gerald Ciolek (GER), and Rock Racing’s sprint duo of Mario Cipollini (ITA) and Fred Rodriguez (USA).
But in that fight for position, wheels touched and down went Cipollini, Rodriguez and Cavendish in a heap.
“Coming into the last two laps, I had Cipollini in front of me and Cavendish in front of him,” said Rodriguez. “Cavendish swerved and took out Mario. I had no where to go. I basically T-boned Mario and then went head first into the pavement.”
Cavendish and Cipollini both remounted and chased back up through the cars to the field and then advanced for the sprint.
Just as the breakaway dissolved, the rider sitting in second overall, David Millar (GBR) of Team Slipstream Chipotle Presented by H30, blasted off the front with Thomas Voeckler (FRA) of Bouygues Telecom in tow. Saunier Duval rider Iker Camano (ESP) went with the move as well.
“I was trying to look around for him and that’s when he went,” said Leipheimer. “My teammates Chris (Horner) and Chechu (Rubiero) got to the front - even in the midst of the Quick Step lead out - and brought him back.”
With that, the field prepared itself for a bunch sprint. As the riders leapt out of their saddles, Dominique Rollin (CAN) of the Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team pounced first and opened a margin.
He would be swarmed by the field, with Cavendish, bleeding from his crash, hitting the line first, followed by Pagliarini, Haedo and Bettini.
Today’s stage brought few changes to the jersey leaders. Sutherland was awarded the Tachyon Most Aggressive Rider Jersey. Scott Nydam (USA) from Team BMC claimed the California Travel and Tourism King of the Mountains Jersey for the fourth consecutive day. Rollin retained the Herbalife Sprint Leader Jersey for a third day. Robert Gesink (NED) of Rabobank held onto the Union Bank of California Best Young Rider Jersey. Slipstream Chipotle Presented by H30 is still leading the team classification.
Today marked the fourth Breakaway Mile – a special one-mile honorary ride across the finish line celebrating local cancer survivors and their support teams -- at this year’s race. At the finish line, prior to the conclusion of today’s stage, spectators celebrated Santa Clarita breast cancer survivor Brandi Newquist. Joining Brandi were the people who helped her with her battle against cancer, including her husband Bobby, as well as members of her medical team and Amgen scientist Joe Miletich who plays a crucial role in developing innovative medicines.
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