(AFP) – Feb 22, 2009
ESCONDIDO, California (AFP) — American Levi Leipheimer won his third consecutive Tour of California cycling crown after an eighth and final stage that was won by Frank Schleck of Luxembourg.
Astana's Leipheimer finished 36 seconds ahead of compatriot David Zabriskie of Garmin with Australian Michael Rogers of Columbia next at 45 seconds and US star Lance Armstrong of Astana settling for seventh place, 1:46 off the pace.
"To win it once, that was huge," Leipheimer said. "To win it twice, that was a little bit of a surprise. It felt like I was a little bit lucky. To win it three times, it's the sweetest victory of the three. It's hard to describe."
Seven-time Tour de France champion Armstrong launched his comeback from a retirement of more than three years with a 29th-place finish in January's Tour Down Under and followed that with a solid showing at the Tour of California.
"I'm not sure I will be back in 2010 but the guys were excited to be back. It was a hell of a time," Armstrong said.
"Most of these boys came ready to go. You could tell. I think some of them got better as the race went on. Perhaps our team got a little tired as the race got on, always riding on the front and defending."
Armstrong had said before the race that his goal was not to win the individual crown but to assist in Leipheimer's bid for three wins in a row.
"To keep a streak going like that becomes so difficult," Leipheimer said. "I told Lance this week I don't know how the hell he won seven times the Tour de France. Unbelievable. I have a lot of respect for that. The pressure builds. The expectations are higher. You can't get second place because that's losing.
"To pull it off and grab the yellow jersey and to have a guy like Lance Armstrong have your back the entire way, it's a lifelong dream for me."
The victory allowed Astana to complete a double on Sunday as Spanish rider Alberto Contador, an Astana teammate of Leipheimer and Armstrong, won at the Tour of the Algarve in Portugal.
Schleck edged Italy's Vincenzo Nibali at the line to win the day in the concluding 155.8km stage from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido, the duo breaking away in the mountain descent of Palomar.
American George Hincapie led the next group 40 seconds later with Leipheimer finishing ninth overall in the stage for the victory.
"We had the best team in the race. There was no question about it," said Leipheimer. "We didn't need a lot of communication between each other. We knew what each other was thinking."
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