Following a long, hard day of racing as nearly 150 elite cyclists competing in the 2007 Amgen Tour of California traveled from Santa Rosa to Sacramento, Team CSC sprinter J.J. Haedo (ARG) claimed today's stage victory in front of continuing record crowds that have reached 620,000 over the first three days of racing, with five left to go. Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team's Levi Leipheimer from Santa Rosa (where today's stage began) continues to wear the Amgen Leader Jersey following the finish in front of the state capitol building before thousands of fans, including many legislators who left their offices to witness the race's conclusion, as well as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who participated in the official post-race ceremonies.
"The Amgen Tour of California showcases the state in the best possible way. We have riders racing from San Francisco to Long Beach. We have the most beautiful places in the world," declared Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the victory stage after the race, where he helped present leader jerseys. "We're going to do this year, after year, after year because this is a great event."
The top-3 overall times continue to be held by American cyclists, with the second- and third-place general classification cyclists after today closely trailing Leipheimer, including Team Slipstream Powered by Chipotle's first-year pro Jason Donald and Priority Health Cycling Team Presented by Bissell's Ben Jacques-Maynes respectively.
Team CSC's J.J. Haedo (ARG), used the Amgen Tour of California to take another step up the international ladder today.
Two sprint successes that led to two stage wins in the Amgen Tour of California last year put him in the international spotlight, and he was picked up by Team CSC. Competing with Team CSC today against an even stronger field , Haedo claimed his first stage win by beating renowned Credit Agricole sprinter Thor Husvd (NOR), who finished third in the stage just inches behind Liquigas' Luca Paolini (ITA). Approaching the finish line, Haedo was more than four bike lengths clear of his rivals – a distant win in the world of road sprinting.
"We had a hard day yesterday and put everything into today for the win," explained Haedo in the press conference. "I'm sure tomorrow everyone is going to make an even bigger effort to bring me to the line. It's a good thing to win a race here because it gives the team confidence in me."
Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel Pro) finished in the pack and retained his Amgen Leader Jersey after a hilly 155.8-mile (186.4km) stage, raced at an average speed of 24.8 mph.
"I am taking it day by day. That's all we can do because there are a lot of very good riders out there who are just waiting in the wings, and our team has had to do a lot of work, " said Leipheimer. "But it's worth it because we get to lead the Amgen Tour of California, and I get to wear the yellow jersey. But we'll see because tomorrow's a decisive stage (because of the notorious Sierra Road climb approaching San Jose)."
Local favorite Michael Sayers, a Sacramento cyclist for newly formed BMC Racing, finished last today following a minor crash at the start of the finishing circuits.
"I just want to thank Sacramento for having the race here…This is a great day for me and for bike racing," said an emotional Sayers at the press conference. "Sacramento is a good cycling town, and I always knew this town would be supportive of cycling. I knew that everyone would turn out in tremendous numbers, and they made us proud today."
The race was marked by a long breakaway of more than 80 miles that included only three riders: Credit Agricole's Christoph Laurent (FRA), the Irish national champion David McCann (Colavita-Sutter Homes), and Priority Health's Omer Kem, 24, of Salem, Oregon.
Laurent was the main protagonist, taking two King of the Mountains climbs, and both sprints the group encountered along the way. However, soon after initiating the breakaway, on the formidable Category 2 climb of Trinity Grade, the Frenchman realized that the breakaway would likely not succeed.
Laurent announced himself as a contender for the King of the Mountain jersey, saying that the battle for the coveted California Travel and Tourism 'sunshine' jersey has just begun.
"This was a really beautiful stage today, and there were so many cheering fans out watching the race in every small town and village. When I was on the Trinity Grade climb, it felt like I was in the Tour de France!," said Laurent.
In the King of the Mountain Classification there was no leadership change, with Team Slipstream's Thomas Peterson of North Bend, Wash., maintaining a three-point lead over Laurent and Quick Step-Innergetic's Jurgen Van de Walle (BEL).
In the Sprint Classification there was no leadership change, with Discovery Channel Pro's Allan Davis (AUS), still on top.
In the Best Young Rider Classification there was no leadership change, with Team Slipstream's Taylor Tolleson (USA), of Pacific Grove, Calif., holding the lead.
In addition to the 115.8 miles the peloton traveled, today's 'Breakaway Mile' took place at the finish line prior to the exciting conclusion of the professional race. The one-mile ride was led by Sacramento-area cancer survivors Pam Grant and Dina Howard. Grant rode on a tandem bike paired with Amgen scientist Dr. Steve Elliott who plays a crucial role in developing innovative medicines, and Howard rode with her husband who was a critical support to her during her battle with breast cancer. Following the tandem bikes were each survivor's peloton, comprised of caregivers, family members and health care professionals who supported their win against cancer.
"Amgen's sponsorship of the Amgen Tour of California provides us an opportunity to further support the millions of people affected by cancer," said Dr. Steve Elliott, scientific director, Amgen. "Today's 'Breakaway Mile' is one of the many ways we're saluting survivors across the nation and I was honored to participate."
For the latest information on the Breakaway from Cancer™ campaign and ways to support those living with the illness, visit www.breakawayfromcancer.com.