THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - Chris Horner (USA) of Team RadioShack crossed the finish line of the last stage of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California in Westlake Village with an overall time of 23 hours, 46 minutes and 41 seconds, capturing the Amgen Race Leader Jersey and solidifying his place at the top of the podium, while Matthew Goss (AUS) of HTC-Highroad won the final stage. Horner's teammate Levi Leipheimer (USA), a three-time winner of America's biggest race, finished second overall only 38 seconds back, while Thomas Danielson (USA) of Team Garmin-Cervelo, finished two minutes and 12 seconds behind to claim third place.
"It feels fantastic to be the winner of the Amgen Tour of California," said Horner, who at 39 marks the oldest winner in the six year history of the event. "I have competed in this race since its inception and I have helped Levi (Leipheimer) win it many times. As soon as they added the summit finishes, I made it one of my personal goals to finish high in the race. Team RadioShack came in with a great squad this year. We had some great help, and the crowds throughout the race have just been amazing."
The 2011 Amgen Tour of California officially kicked off in Nevada City, California, on Monday, May 16, after less-than-favorable weather conditions in Lake Tahoe forced the cancelation of Stage 1 and necessitated a change in start location of Stage 2, with rider safety in mind.
Considered the most difficult route in the race's six-year history, the 18 professional cycling teams competing rode through the state of California, experiencing everything from beautiful rolling hills to snaking winding roads to brutally steep climbs. In the end, four riders were awarded top honors in special categories, including Peter Sagan (SVK) of Liquigas-Cannondale who won the Herbalife Sprint Points Jersey; Jonathan Patrick McCarty (USA) of Team Spidertech Powered by C10 who captured the California Travel & Tourism King of the Mountains (KOM) Jersey every stage of the race; and Tejay Van Garderen (USA) of HTC-Highroad, who secured the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey, awarded to the top rider age 24 or under.
"The Amgen Tour of California is unprecedented in its growth and popularity," said Leipheimer. "More people were at the start today than attended the entire Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain, one of racing's three Grand Tours). The race keeps getting bigger and better and I think yesterday's stage proved that. It was as big and epic as the other Grand Tours, similar to what you would see at the Tour de France or Giros (d'Italia). Having stages like Sierra Road and Mt. Baldy will continue to improve the race, and I am proud to be able to say that I am the first winner of the Mt. Baldy climb."
Added Bob Stapleton, general manager and owner of the American-based HTC-Highroad, "American cycling is on the rise. Look at both the young and old cyclists who have done well in this race. This is America's biggest race, and Americans are doing well in races all over the world." The top five finishers of the 2011 race were Americans, a first for the event.
Starting in the city of Santa Clarita, the neutral start quickly gave way to multiple attacks, none of which stuck. Riding along at a brisk pace of 32 mph, four riders went out on the attack, including Jan Barta (CZE) of Team NetApp, Bradley White (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, Jose Fernando Antogna (ARG) of Jamis-Sutter Home and Michael Friedman (USA) of Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth. With 1 kilometer away from the first KOM of the day, and the last of the race, the breakaway had a three minute and 40 second lead over the group. Barta took the final KOM points, and Antogna took the first intermediate sprint points.
Along with Team RadioShack, who continued to set tempo for the peloton, HTC-Highroad, Liquigas-Cannondale and Saxo Bank Sungard all contributed riders to the front as the group rolled towards the suburban streets of Thousand Oaks. With five laps to go, the break crossed the finish line for the first time with a lead of two minutes and 35 seconds in front of the peloton. Leopard Trek and Rabobank Cycling Team sent riders on the attack, trailing the break by 39 seconds.
With Liquigas-Cannondale pacing the peloton, Martin Mortensen (DEN) of Leopard Trek and Maarten Tjallingii (NED) of Rabobank Cycling Team joined Barta in the breakaway, as White, Fernando and Friedman dropped. With 13.5 kilometers to go, the group held on to a 25-second lead, but was eventually caught with five kilometers to go. HTC-Highroad, Sky Procycling and Saxo Bank Sungard raced to the front and were soon joined by Liquigas-Cannondale and Rabobank. With the sprinters strung out across the front, it was Matthew Goss (AUS) of HTC-Highroad who accelerated to cross the finish line first. Barta earned the Amgen's Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey for his passionate riding throughout the stage.
"We took another step forward this year," said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, presenter of the race. "We have been working hard to create what we think is a great race; we have aspirations to make the Amgen Tour of California one of the greatest cycling races in the world. American cycling fans deserve it, riders deserve it and America deserves it. We want it to be known that not every great cycling race exists in Western Europe."
And while everyone celebrated the race finale today, organizers announced they had already been looking ahead.
"The future starts 51 weeks from now in Santa Rosa," continued Messick, "where we will start the 2012 race. Santa Rosa has been an exceptional home to the race and we look forward to bringing it back there next year."
Additionally, today, Thousand Oaks cancer survivor Reine Wiley was honored and celebrated today at the final Breakaway Mile, a special one-mile walk that crosses the finish line to honor the millions of cancer survivors worldwide. Wiley's diagnosis was revealed shortly before the 2010 Amgen Tour of California. She has demonstrated a strong will to fight and commitment to continue to cycle, even while she's undergoing treatment.
During the Breakaway Mile, Wiley was joined by approximately 150 community members - cancer survivors, patients, caregivers, and advocates - and Joe Miletich, Amgen's senior vice president of Research & Development, who plays a crucial role in developing innovative medicines to treat cancer and other serious illnesses.
"The 17,000 staff members at Amgen come to work every day motivated by the chance to make a dramatic difference in the lives of people suffering from cancer and other life threatening illnesses," said Stuart Arbuckle, vice president and general manager, Amgen Oncology. "As a company dedicated to tapping the power of pioneering science to fight serious illness, Amgen is passionate about helping people who are battling cancer, and Breakaway from Cancer is one of the ways that Amgen is fighting cancer. Amgen is proud to sponsor the Amgen Tour of California and the opportunity to help increase awareness of the important resources available to people affected by cancer."
Photo by Stephanie Gutowski