I suppose the only way Stage 7 was going to be remembered along with those that came before was if it rained just as hard as the others. And it did. But that didn't stop the riders from living up to their world-class billing. The 2008 Amgen Tour of California truly hosted the best and most exciting professional cyclists racing today.
The stages and weather conditions these guys pushed themselves through merited the enormous fan appreciation on display at each stop along the way.
I've got a recap of the stage on this Endurance Blog post: Leipheimer Wins 2008 Amgen Tour of California. The real excitement came, however, from wondering if Bissell Pro Cycling's Tom Zirbel could turn his daring solo breakaway into a stage win. Ultimately, it was George Hincapie who won the day and Levi Leipheimer who took the overall race. (Below, being led by his Astana teammates).
But once the race was over, the rain stopped and all eyes were on the podium.
The awards ceremony pretty much summed up the most memorable moments of the tour.
Australian Rory Sutherland of HealthNet Presented by Maxxis proved to be one of the more fun-loving guys in the race. He was second to Hincapie on Sunday.
And while riders like Mario Cipollini, Paolo Bettini and Tom Boonen filled up on a steady diet of awe and admiration, Americans like Leipheimer, Dave Zabriskie and Hincapie (below) truly were the crowd favorites.
Those retro High Road jerseys helped, too.
Due in large part to the solo heroics of Jackson Stewart and Scott Nydam, The Tachyon Most Aggressive Rider jersey was awarded to the entire BMC Racing Team, leading one to believe BMC really stands for Big, Macho Cajones.
And who knew a Canadian riding for an American Continental team could be so suave? Dominique Rollin of Toyota-United, who won the crowd with his Stage 4 win through the tempest along Highway 1, gave some of his roses to the podium girls after being presented with the Herbalife Sprint Leader jersey. His excitement every time he walked up on that stage was infectious.
Similarly, there was Team BMC's Scott Nydam and his ear-to-ear grin as he racked up points before finally winning the California Travel and Tourism King of the Mountains jersey.
Yeah, he looks like he's enjoying himself.
And speaking of that...I've been a mite critical of Levi Leipheimer's emotional output in earlier stages. Well, it quickly became obviously the man was waiting until it was really over.
Attaboy, Levi! Let David Millar have it! Haha! Actually, Levi was the consummate professional throughout the race. Even when asked about his (hopefully brief) exclusion from the Tour de France, Levi was honest but classy. Impossible not to like.
That can also describe Slipstream Chipotle, who proved, with their overall team victory, that they're not just the "clean team" but a group of guys who know how to race together. Directeur Sportif Jonathan Vaughters remarked at the post-race press conference that they aren't just a collection of good cyclists, but a team of racers who genuinely like each other and enjoy racing together.
Some other memories of AToC '08? The beautiful towns of Solvang, Sausalito and Seaside. Highway 1 and the crazy route I took to get there. And the fans--many very dedicated and knowledgeable cyclists, others just interested in the spectacle and awed by what they witnessed. It proved to me that despite a mainstream media addicted to doping stories when it comes to cycling, there's nothing like watching the real thing in person.