Tour de CaliforniaBeat that, France!

It is hard to believe that only three years after its first edition, the Amgen Tour of California has become the largest cycling race in the United States since the downfall of the Coors Classic in the late 1980s. The race draws about half of the UCI (the international cycling union) protour teams from around the world and provides a great preview of the riders and teams for the upcoming season. The Tour of California covers around 650 miles in seven days, from the redwoods, to the wine country, to the beautiful winding highways along the Pacific coasts. And for the second year in a row, California’s own Levi Leipheimer has won the race. The Tour of California has seen increased popularity over its short lifetime, not only amongst international cycling teams, but American fans as well. The Tour of California drew record 1.6 million fans to the racecourse over the week, many of whom lined the narrow mountain roads and cheered on the racers, images similar to those of the Tour de France. The race was televised on the VS network, formerly OLN, nightly around 10 P.M. The increase in popularity amongst Americans is not only due to the fact that the race is in the U.S, but also that the race has only been won by Americans (Leipheimer 2007,2008 Floyd Landis 2006). Another large draw to the U.S crowds would be the five American UCI teams who were registered for this year’s race. The Tour of California was a true test of strength for the riders; they were put through all the elements of an early California spring. Several of the stages started and ended in rainstorms and the temperatures at the beginning of several stages were below 40 degrees. All of this topped off with the seasonal strong winds along the California coast to make a truly challenging tour. The race started off on February 17th with a 2.1-mile time trial through the downtown streets of Palo Alto, California. Thousands upon thousands of fans lined the sides of the race course and cheered as world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) of team CSC won the time trial and put himself in the overall leader’s yellow jersey. Cancellara was able to hold onto the yellow jersey for the first stage, but soon had to give it up to American sprinter Tyler Farrar. It was not until the mountainous 103 miles of the third stage that Leipheimer was able to break away and secure his position in the yellow jersey for the rest of the race with little dispute. The 2008 Tour of California was bigger and better than the previous editions of the race. And the lack of doping drama and disputes common in 2007’s UCI protour races made for a little less hectic of a race and showed just how well teams are able to manage and overcome doping problems.