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Leipheimer Rushes for California Gold
 
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 2/19/2006
Leipheimer Rushes for California Gold
 

The Chamber of Commerce for the city of San Francisco ordered up a perfect day to begin the inaugural edition of the Amgen Tour of California. With crowd size estimated at 200,000, the streets were packed with cycling fans that made it quite clear they were there to cheer loudly for these elite cycling stars. Rumors had been flying in California for over a month at how hard Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) had been training, and when it all came together for the local boy, he only had smiles and praises for the first day of this new stage race, as he came in first over fellow American riders Bobby Julich (CSC) and George Hincapie (Discovery Channel). The all-American podium could not have been more pleased.

At the after-race press conference, Levi was asked how it's going to feel to ride into his hometown of Santa Rosa Monday wearing the leaders jersey of the race. Visibly moved, Levi replied: "I've been training all winter, dreaming about the possibility of winning the Prologue, wearing the first-ever Amgen Tour of California leader's jersey tomorrow into my home town. It's really a dream come true to me, because I really have dreamed about this all winter. Words can't describe how special this is to me, especially tomorrow going into my hometown in the jersey. It's really fantastic." Asked about the strength from the cheers of the crowd, Leipheimer said that "definitely helped. Warming up they were cheering for me. When I got on the start ramp I got chills. It felt like to me that the crowd erupted. It really gave me the adrenaline and motivation. I just felt like I was riding on air today. Especially when I hit the climb. The noise was deafening, right in my ear! It was something special. I felt like I was in the Tour de France, really I did."

The day was bright and crisp, with a cold bite in the air until time for the race start at 10 A.M. when mostly sunshine took the stage. The teams were all set up along the Embarcadero in front of the Ferry Building, just as they always were for the San Francisco Grand Prix and there was a festive atmosphere as the riders prepared for the start. Many of the cyclists took a quick turn around the course instead of sitting on their trainers, and some even went for cruises around the city. Second place finisher Bobby Julich commented that he hadn't wanted to sit on the trainer and opted to take a spin around town. "I went across the Golden Gate Bridge, just for an easy ride over there. I must have passed 200-300 people out on their bikes. I just felt like I was on a bike ride, hanging out in San Francisco! I thought I should hurry up and get back and start this thing! Once on the climb, it was so great. Even though it was a very wide road, there were a lot of people making a lot of noise. It was nice after such a long time in this sport to hear so much support for myself. Up on the top there were so many people perched up on every single viewing location there was to find. I think over all the Prologue went off perfectly."

Julich also commented that reportedly Levi had gone up the climb in his big ring. "Man, I wasn't even close to that!" Julich stated. Asked about his gearing during the press conference, Levi nodded that it was true he'd gone up in the big ring. "I didn't really see the course until this morning. I rode it this morning on my Time Trial bike. Then I rode it on my road bike. I felt comfortable on my Time Trial bike so I went with that. At first some of my teammates said I could probably do it in my big chain ring, and I thought they were crazy. I had the mechanics put on a 42. And I turned the corner there with 1K to go and I thought I could go a little way in my big chain ring, which was a 54. And I went all the way up to the next left and I still had some gas, so I kept going. I did switch to the 42 with about 500 meters to go. I was surprised how fast I was going and how quickly the last bit went. I was just giving it everything I had. I had heard what the fastest time was before I left the starting house. So when I crossed the line, I looked down and I knew I'd won. It was a great feeling."

George also commented that the crowd was amazing. "I had goose bumps at the start, the crowds were cheering so loud! It's something we don't get to experience at all when we're in Europe. Racing here in our home country was just a phenomenal event. The Tour of California is going to be a big hit and it's great to be a part of it." Noting that the race is far from over and his Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team currently has four guys in the top ten, George sees the Time Trial (Stage 3, 17 mile TT in San Jose) and the stage into San Jose as being the decisive stages (Stage 2, Martinez to San Jose).

Leipheimer, Julich and Hincapie all referred to their desire to see the sport of cycling grow in America, and are happy to be involved in such a big race in the States. "The professionalism (of the race) is what keeps the European teams coming back and what makes the American riders so focused. The Coors Classic and Tour Du Pont were huge things that got George and I into cycling and now it's up to us to inspire the next generation (of cyclist). I think the Tour of California can help up with that," said Julich.

On hand for the first jersey presentation was Hollywood actor-turned-Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. A big factor in ensuring that this race would actually happen in California, the Governor looked extremely pleased as the Prologue came to a close. Big-time racing comes to American soil. It doesn't get any better than this.

Be sure to visit the official web site for the Amgen Tour of California (www.amgentourofcalifornia.com) for updates the last two hours of every stage, as well as rider and team information, viewing suggestions, maps and more.

Top Five, all USA:

Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) 4:53:43

Bobby Julich (CSC) 0.04.76

George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) 0.05.67

Floyd Landis (Phonak) 0.06.12

Dave Zabriski (CSC) 0.09.37

 
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AmgenTour of California Prologue Photos

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