After eight epic days of racing along some of California's most iconic roadways, highways and coastlines, the 2012 Amgen Tour of California concluded at L.A. LIVE in downtown Los Angeles, with Rabobank's Robert Gesink of the Netherlands winning the overall race.
Sunday's Stage 8 route, the final stage of the eight-day, nearly 750-mile race, took cyclists from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles where massive crowds lined the streets. In one of the fastest races ever on American soil, rising superstar Peter Sagan (SVK) of Liquigas-Cannondale won Stage 8, claiming his fifth win of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California, a historic first for an American race. Tom Boonen (BEL) and Gerald Ciolek (GER), both of Omega Pharma-QuickStep, came in second and third in the stage.
For Gesink, the win marked a both a remarkable comeback and bittersweet win in remembrance of his father, who passed away after a cycling accident in October 2010.
"I dedicate this win for my father," said Gesink, who said his father attended the 2009 Amgen Tour of California to see his son place 8th overall and win the race's Best Young Rider jersey that year. "For me emotionally it is something really big to be back at this high level and to win a stage here, the toughest stage of all. It's a good thing to be back in California and to be winning again."
American teammates David Zabriskie and Tom Danielson of the Garmin-Barracuda team took second and third place overall. It was Zabriskie's fourth second-place finish in America's Greatest Race, having finished second in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2012.
"Sure, I'd like to win, doesn't anyone?," said Zabriskie. "But it was a good tour for the Garmin-Barracuda team."
"Emotionally, the time trial was the high point," continued Zabriskie. "I came through with a win there and it was really, really good; really strong. I knew what I had to do yesterday at Mt. Baldy. I didn't quite have it because this guy [Sagan] is really, really strong."
Meanwhile, RadioShack-Nissan-Trek took the overall team competition; Sagan won the Visit California Sprint Jersey; Canada's Sebastian Salas of team Optum Powered by Kelly Benefit Strategies won the Nissan King of the Mountain Jersey; the Netherlands' Wilco Kelderman of Rabobank won the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey; New Zealand's Jeremy Vennell of Bissell Pro Cycling won the Exergy Most Aggressive Jersey; while Australian Robbie McEwen, who announced earlier this year that the 2012 Amgen Tour of California would be his last professional race, won the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey.
"I've had a fantastic run; pain and suffering too," said McEwen. "I had a terrific send-off in Australia and a fantastic send-off here in California, so I really appreciate it. This was a good race to pick as my last because I suffered so much this week I won't miss it. "I was really pleased to be included in the final presentation on the podium and receive the beautiful work of art that signifies my career. And, to have so many people thank me for riding my bike was really amazing."
Founded by Amgen in 2005 as a complementary component to its title sponsorship of the Amgen Tour of California, Breakaway from Cancer continues to raise awareness of the important resources available to people impacted by cancer - from prevention to survivorship.
As part of the today's race activities, Los Angeles resident professional vocalist and cancer survivor Julie Delgado sang the National Anthem and fired the official start gun.
And, Santa Monica cancer survivor Danielle McLaughlin 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. McLaughlin was selected for her work advocating for young adults with cancer and her extraordinary accomplishments as a paratriathlete. McLaughlin is currently the National and World Paratriathlon Champion for Female Below-Knee Amputees.
During the Breakaway Mile, McLaughlin was joined by approximately 150 community members - cancer survivors, patients, caregivers, and advocates - and Joseph Miletich, senior vice president of Research & Development, Amgen, 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 dramatically improve people's lives," said Stuart Arbuckle, vice president and general manager, Amgen Oncology. "As a company dedicated to helping millions of people around the world in the fight against cancer, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, bone disease and other serious illnesses, Amgen is proud to sponsor the Amgen Tour of California and pleased to have the opportunity to help increase awareness of the important resources available to people affected by cancer through our Breakaway from Cancer initiative."
Tony Hooper, executive vice president, Global Commercial Operations, Amgen, today presented the overall race leader jersey to 2012 Amgen Tour of California winner Gesink.
Before the start of yesterday's stage, which routed cyclists from Ontario to the top of Mt. Baldy, the race was anyone's game. After a climactic finish atop Mt. Baldy, in which Gesink outclimbed Colombian Jhon Atapuma of Colombia-Coldeportes with less than one kilometer to the finish, Gesink had all but wrapped up his place as overall race leader.
Signaling from the start that this would not be a typical "parade stage," Michael Creed (USA) from Optum Powered by Kelley Benefits Strategies attacked off the front early in the stage. But it was a break including the following seven riders that stuck and gained a 45-second lead: American Ben Jacques-Maynes; Rory Sutherland (AUS) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team; Thomas Dumoulin (NED) of Team Argos-Shimano; Scott Zwizanski (USA) of Optum Powered by Kelley Benefit Strategies; Morgan Schmitt (USA) of Team Exergy; Jasper Stuyven (BEL) of Bontrager Livestrong; and Nathan Haas (AUS) of Garmin-Barracuda. It was Gesink's Rabobank Cycling Team that worked hard at the front of the peloton.
With the gap holding at 35 seconds, the riders entered the finishing circuits in downtown Los Angeles. Sutherland, Schmitt and Jacques-Maynes swept the intermediate sprint points as the gap was reduced to 25 seconds. With four laps to go, GreenEDGE moved to the front of the peloton. The breakaway group stayed steady with the seven initial riders, but the gap was closed to 15 seconds.
With two laps to go, Garmin worked up to the front, and Omega Pharma-QuickStep began working Boonen, the world's No. 1-ranked cyclist, up as well. As the riders neared the finish, the attacks started flying, but it was only Haas' that stuck, gaining a 17-second advantage on the pack. However, Liquigas-Cannondale and Rabobank moved to the front the peloton, and Hass was eventually caught.
Sagan's team began pushing him to the front, and although Boonen had a great lead, it was Sagan who, once again, outsprinted everyone to capture the Stage 8 win.
"First, I'd like to congratulate all the riders, especially Robert [Gesink] from Rabobank who showed tremendous courage to come back from his injury last year to be a worthy winner of the Amgen yellow jersey" said Kristin Bachochin, executive director of the race and senior vice president of AEG Sports. "What a fantastic week of racing we have had. We witnessed the blossoming of a future cycling superstar in Peter [Sagan], who was unstoppable in the sprints. I don't think anyone is as fast as him. We couldn't have asked for a better week to showcase professional cycling in America, all against the beautiful scenery of the state of California."
In addition to the professional race, for the first time in race history, fans lined up at the race's official Stage 8 finish to ride a portion of the route on a 5-mile, closed-circuit course just before the pros raced on the very same roads. The 'Nissan Ride Before the Pros' drew 10,000 participants, including families, cycling fans and cycle club teams to L.A. LIVE for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which was led off by Los Angeles Kings Hall of Famer and current president of business operations Luc Robitaille. Robitaille was joined by former Los Angeles Galaxy soccer superstars Cobi Jones and Chris Klein.