Chris Horner wins Amgen Tour of California
The sunny side of cycling was showcased Sunday during the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California.
And then, away from the crowded streets of Santa Clarita and Thousand Oaks, and away from the big smile of 39-year-old overall winner Chris Horner and Stage 8 winner Matthew Goss, others were tuning in to CBS’ “60 Minutes” to see the darker side, where former Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton told of doping with former Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.
It was the second year in a row that the race was overshadowed by doping allegations made against Armstrong. Last year a bundle of accusatory emails from Floyd Landis detailing his doping experiences, including some allegedly with Armstrong, became public during the race.
For Horner, the victory was the biggest of his career. He covered the seven stages that were raced — one stage was snowed out — in 23 hours 46 minutes 41 seconds, finishing 38 seconds ahead of RadioShack teammate Levi Leipheimer and 2:45 ahead of Tom Danielson of Garmin-Cervelo. Christian Vande Velde, also of Garmin, took fourth, and Tejay Van Garderen of HTC-Highroad fifth, giving the U.S. a sweep of the top five places.
Goss of Australia and HTC-Highroad won the stage in 2:56:39.
Directors of the two largest American-based teams, Garmin and HTC-Highroad, spoke of being optimistic about the future of the sport even as an ongoing grand jury investigation into Armstrong delivers new doping revelations.
“Every American sport has major controversies,” said Jonathan Vaughters, director of the Garmin team. “All the scrutiny is a symptom that people care.”
Still, Hamilton’s interview on “60 Minutes” Sunday offered a disturbing look at what he said he and Armstrong did, including receiving what Hamilton called “white lunch bags” containing doping material.
Hamilton considered it a sign of his increasing talent when he received one of those deliveries. “In a way it was also an honor that, ‘Wow, like, they think I’m good enough to be with the A-team guys,’” Hamilton said.
As discouraging as the Hamilton interview seemed to be for the sport, lively crowds lined the 82.3-mile final stage that began in Santa Clarita and finished in Thousand Oaks.
Horner said the noisy fans and the fact this year’s race had two summit finishes (outside of San Jose on Sierra Road and Saturday at Mt. Baldy) were signs of the race’s progression.
“If you want to be compared to a grand tour, fans have to come out in full force, and they did. It’s like, finally, a big race in America,” Horner said.
Bob Stapleton, Riverside native and founder of the HTC team, also referenced the sizable crowds as evidence that the continuing investigation of Armstrong was not enough to keep the sport from growing.
“Every sport has its controversies,” Stapleton said. “Cycling is not immune to it. But it’s quite a unique sport. You cheer for free, it’s open and accessible to everyone and that’s its strength.”
Despite the hovering presence of the Armstrong investigation and even though last Sunday’s scheduled first stage in Lake Tahoe had to be canceled because of snow, Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, which owns the event, was ready to announce that next year’s race will start in Santa Rosa, hometown of runner-up and former three-time champion Leipheimer.
Stapleton said, “I’m a huge fan of this race, it’s really grown on the world stage.”
But that stage is still partially owned by Armstrong and the past. Transcripts of the “60 Minutes” program arrived in email boxes Sunday even before Horner and Leipheimer had finished the final stage.
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