Correction: It was incorrectly stated that cyclist George Hincapie brought his leg. He in fact broke his wrist.
The Daily Nexus regrets this error.
Santa Barbara brought out smiling fans and divvied up hotel spaces to hundreds of statewide, national and international fans this Saturday, as the second annual Amgen Tour of California zoomed through on its second-to-last leg of the journey.
The statewide race concluded its seventh and final stretch in Long Beach yesterday with Levi Leipheimer of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team coming out on top overall. But the champion of Santa Barbara’s section went to Argentinean cyclist Juan Jose “J.J.” Haedo of Team CSC. Haedo finished the 105.4-mile race from Cabrillo Boulevard to Santa Clarita in 3 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds – a razor thin margin over Leipheimer.
During the last few miles of the race, Haedo sprinted against not only Leipheimer, but internationally known cyclists Greg Henderson (New Zealand), Paolo Bettini (Italy), Thor Hushovd (Norway) and Freddie Rodriguez (USA).
“I didn’t expect it to be a finish sprint,” Haedo said in a press release. “With three kilometers to go I had to prepare myself to sprint anyway.”
Haedo clenched the win with help from his teammates, including Stuart O’Grady of Australia, who pulled a breakaway, forcing Leipheimer and others into a chase.
“I initiated the breakaway. … the objective was to put pressure on the Discovery Channel team and see if we could get the leader’s jersey,” O’Grady said in a press release. “At one point the chase started to gain ground and we worked hard to pull away again. When they finally absorbed us in the final laps I went back to try and help J.J. in the sprint.”
Hundreds of local residents, members of the UCSB triathlon team, students and family members of the riders were on hand to cheer the cyclists during the second-to-last leg of the eight-day, 700-mile race. There were lively, raucous crowds at several points throughout the course, all rooting for the cyclists as they battled their way through the most difficult stage of the race – complete with many intense, uphill portions.
“It was a hard day for the sprinters to go over the climb; there was a lot of attacking,” Haedo said in the press release. “I made my way back to the big group before the third KOM [King of the Mountains], and then I tried to stay in the front with my team.”
But Haedo also said he faced tough competition throughout the entire race.
“I had to go really deep the whole day. I think it was the hardest day in the tour for sure,” he said.
Several crashes occurred during Saturday’s race as a result of the tough course and aggressive competition. Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team’s George Hincapie (USA) and Tony Cruz (USA) touched wheels and crashed after only three miles. As a result of the accident, Hincapie broke his leg and was forced to the sidelines.
After the first incident, “the race continued to be marked by a succession of attacks from several teams to challenge the jersey holders,” the Amgen press release said.
“It has been battle, after battle, after battle. [On Saturday] the notch was turned up to the hardest racing there is,” Leipheimer said in a press release. “It was a very hard race.”
After beating out many close contenders to take the entire tour, Leipheimer, a native of Santa Rosa, said the win was the most satisfying of his career, partly due to the stiff competition and partly due to it being held on his home turf.
The Santa Barbara portion of the race saw not only the toughest racing, but also the warmest weather and apparently the biggest crowds of the race.
“It is the biggest cycling event ever assembled in North America,” Amgen employee Steve Vrinner said. “The race has attracted over a million spectators in the last six days of the race, according to [the California Highway Patrol].”
President of Union Cycliste International Pat McQuaid, speaking at a post-race conference, also pointed to the substantial fan base.
“This race is bigger than it was last year. There are more people on the sidelines,” McQuaid said. “The organization has gotten bigger. I’m very happy with [the organizers’] continued commitment to this event.”
Annmarie Rogers, director of the visitor center for Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, said the race brought with it some welcome tourist spending.
“Most of the hotels and restaurants have been full this weekend, making it very busy the past few days,” Rogers, who cycled to see the event, said.