Today's Stage Eight into the town of Escondido concluded the 2009 Tour of California. In an exciting week of racing, Levi Leipheimer (Astana) sealed his third consecutive win in his home state's tour.
The stage was very hectic from start to finish. Four mountains loomed before the riders, the first of which at Highland Valley Road coming immediately after the start, proving to the riders that this stage would require incredible stamina to win.
Breakaways came and went with each mountain, with most failing to escape from the Astana-controlled peloton. Jason McCartney (Saxobank), the current KOM leader since Francisco Mancebo's abandonment yesterday, took maximum points on the first mountain and kept going with a small break of eight.
Several teams began helping Astana with the chase, as Liquigas drove the peloton in an effort to shoot their team leader, Vincenzo Nibali up to the breakaway to fight for the stage win. Team OUCH-Maxxis subsequently did the same, and Floyd Landis bridged up to the breakaway as well.
The race hit the famous and grueling, 12-mile ascent of Mt. Palomar, and the race turned dicey. Fourth placed Jens Voigt (Saxobank) attacked the peloton, and the pace quickened.
Leipheimer, for the first time, was left without any teammates on the long ascent and looked vulnerable in a group that included his main rivals, Dave Zabriskie (Garmin) and Michael Rogers (Columbia).
The remnants of the early breakaway were swallowed by the field by the top.
On the long descent of Mt. Palomar, several Astana teammates rejoined their leader, and the decisive breakaway of the day formed with Frank Scheck (Saxobank) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas).
The two accomplished climbers took a minute's advantage on the peloton, and held their advantage to the finish. In a game of cat-and-mouse, Scheck took Nibali on the line to score his team's second victory at the Tour this year.
The peloton came in thirty seconds behind, and Leipeheimer rolled safely over the line to take his third overall victory in the Tour of California.