Fans in Santa Clarita, Pasadena
and 90 miles in between came out in droves to witness Stage 7 of the 2009 Amgen
Tour of California, which
included five, five-mile laps on a very demanding circuit through the area
surrounding the Rose Bowl.
After a challenging day of cycling, Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA) of AG2R-La Mondiale crossed the finish line to take the stage, followed closely by Hayden Roulston (NZL) of Cervelo Test Team and Pieter Weening (NED) of Rabobank. Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Astana retained the overall lead heading into the final stage of the race, which will take riders into San Diego County for the first time, as they race from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido tomorrow.
"The Rose Bowl had a ton of people on the floor today," said Leipheimer. "When we rode in, there was so much noise from the crowd. All of the guys were really motivated by that."
Hollywood celebrities, including actor Luke Wilson, who is an ambassador for Amgen's Breakaway from CancerTM initiative and Stand Up To Cancer, came out to support the Los Angeles leg of the race.
"I'm in awe of the professional cyclists who are taking part in the Amgen Tour of California," said Wilson.
The penultimate day of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California featured the same difficult, hilly and technical terrain that was used in the final day of the 2008 race. The stage opened with a gradual 25-mile climb out of Santa Clarita, through Acton, to the intersection of Angeles Forest Road. Showcasing the breathtaking beauty of the San Gabriel Mountains, the course continued uphill to the massive Millcreek Summit, which at 4,906 ft. is the second-highest elevation ever reached in the race. The riders then headed down a 15-mile trek to Angeles Crest Highway before dropping precipitously to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Surrounded by mountains and the legendary stadium, the field concluded the stage with five challenging laps on a rolling five-mile circuit around the picturesque Rose Bowl.
Stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California began with the launch of several attacks and counter-attacks to try and get a break going. It was a day characterized by very aggressive riding that left 16 riders behind the peloton. An hour and a half into the stage, a successful attack was launched led by Saxo Bank rider Frank Schleck (LUX) and George Hincapie (USA) of Team Columbia-Highroad, along five additional riders, with Astana at the front of the peloton setting the pace for the chase.
As the riders approached the only King of the Mountain (KOM) of the stage Millcreek Summit, team managers were urged to warn their riders about the enormous crowds lining the turns on the descent. A similar warning was issued as the pack headed into the finishing circuits at the Rose Bowl, a testament to the huge crowds that have turned out to watch the race throughout the past eight days.
At 48 miles into the race, three more riders joined the break to make it 10 strong, including Chris Baldwin (USA) of Rock Racing, Pieter Weening (NED) of Rabobank, Addy Engels (NED) of Quick Step, Martin Elmiger (SUI) of AG2R-La Mondiale, Markus Zberg (SUI) of Team BMC, Christian Vande Velde (USA) of Garmin-Slipstream, Schleck, Roulston, Hincapie and Nocentini.
After a series of attacks on the final two laps, Weening, Nocentini and Roulston opened up a gap that proved to be the winning move. The trio dueled to the finish with Nocentini beating out Roulston on the line. Leipheimer retained his overall lead with 36 seconds over David Zabriskie (USA) of Garmin-Slipstream heading in the final stage of the race tomorrow.
"This was a hard stage in the beginning," added Leipheimer. "There were a lot of attacks with riders dangerous for the overall general classification. It took a while before there was a breakaway with which we could agree."
Stage 8 of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California will feature a KOM competition up Mount Palomar, the highest point ever reached in the Amgen Tour of California. Floyd Landis (USA) of Ouch Presented by Maxxis trains on the mountain and provided a glimpse into what the riders can expect tomorrow.
"The climb is pretty consistent and it goes from a five or six percent grade to an eight percent grade," said Landis. "It's as hard of a climb as you'll find anywhere, especially at this stage in the race. After a week-long stage race, a lot of guys are tired, so the peloton will probably split up easier."
Francisco Mancebo (ESP) of Rock Racing who was previously the KOM leader crashed late in the stage and had to abandon due to medical needs.
Stage 7 brought only two changes to the jersey leaders. Vande Velde was awarded Amgen's Breakaway from CancerTM Most Courageous Rider Jersey. Jason McCartney (USA) of Saxo Bank claimed the California Travel & Tourism Commission King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey. Leipheimer will retain the Amgen Leader Jersey, Mark Cavendish (GBR) of Team Columbia-Highroad the Herbalife Sprint Jersey and Robert Gesink (NED) of Rabobank the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey.
"With eight days of exhilarating racing behind us, we are looking forward to watching the finale of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California unfold in San Diego County tomorrow," said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports. "The world-class field of riders competing for the overall win will make for a very thrilling conclusion to the most important professional cycling race in the United States."
In celebration of the Breakaway from Cancer initiative, and in partnership with Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), Ginnifer Goodwin, Greg Grunberg, Luke Wilson, and SU2C founder and producer Laura Ziskin today attended the Stage 7 finish in Pasadena; Goodwin presented the leader jersey to Leipheimer and Wilson presented Amgen's Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider Jersey to Vande Velde. Race title sponsor Amgen created the Breakaway from Cancer initiative in 2005 as a complementary component to its sponsorship. The initiative is designed to empower patients by connecting them to education, resources, and hope.
"My own mom is a cancer survivor and I know how much the love and support of her family and friends has meant to her," said Goodwin from the awards stage. "I thank everyone for coming out to the Amgen Tour of California to be here with all our friends, to ride for life and to stand up to cancer!"
As ambassadors for SU2C, Goodwin, Grunberg, and Wilson attended the event to help raise awareness for the Breakaway from Cancer initiative, which has joined forces with SU2C and the Entertainment Industry Foundation.
"It takes a team to fight cancer, and I'm proud not only of the riders that have dedicated themselves to this race, but also that I'm able to help raise awareness about the resources that are available to cancer patients and their families," said Grunberg. "The Stand Up To Cancer and Breakaway from Cancer partnership helps rally people around our common goal of educating people that they don't have to fight cancer alone."