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REDONDO BEACH - Floyd Landis crowned a hugely successful week for the inaugural Amgen Tour of California and for American cycling in general by wrapping up overall victory in the eight-day stage race on Sunday afternoon. The overall podium was completed by two CSC riders, Dave Zabriskie and Bobby Julich, second and third respectively at 29 and 34 seconds.
On a Redondo Beach circuit turned into a throbbing amphitheatre by around 200,000 fans, Landis came in safely in a bunch headed for the second straight day by Olaf Pollack. The T-Mobile sprinter staged an action replay of Saturday's finale in Thousand Oaks, profiting from an excellent lead-out by team-mate Andr Korff to pip double stage-winner Juan Jos Haedo to first place.
Landis came home in 24th place on a 123km final stage characterised by a four-man breakaway which briefly saw Navigators rider Glen Chadwick virtually leading the race. Chadwick, Aaron Olsen (Saunier Duval), Davide Frattini (Colavita) and Scott Zwizanski (Kodak-Sierra Nevada) were finally reeled in with seven kilometres remaining after over two and a half hours off the front.
It is a testimony to the stature this race has already attained that Landis considers this the best victory of his career to date. It is only the 30-year-old Pennsylvanian's sixth win as a pro and his second in a stage race after the 2004 Tour of the Algarve.
Landis built his overall success on an emphatic time trial win in San Jose on stage three. Although the American tonight paid tribute to his team-mates, he could afford to spend most of the weekend nestling in a peloton driven by the win-thirsty CSC and Davitamon-Lotto teams. Remarkably, perennial fast-starters CSC have yet to win a race in 2006 - something which 87 teams have already achieved in UCI-registered races.
Phonak manager John Lelangue said prior to Sunday's stage that Landis's performance this week represented another landmark in his development as a major tour contender. "He is a lot stronger than when he joined us a year ago," Lelangue told procycling. "Having ridden with [Lance] Armstrong for so long, he struggled to assert himself as a leader at first, but he's really doing that now.
"The Tour course this year is perfect for Floyd, with two long time trials and just one stage in the Pyrenees," Lelangue continued. "He thinks that he can win it and so do we."
On Sunday night, Landis was content to savour the proudest moment of his career and thank both his lucky stars and race organisers AEG sports for bringing world-class cycling to California. Landis, who lives in Murrieta in the south of the state, said that he "didn't know if this race could have happened a few years ago.
"Lance has brought a lot of people to the sport who weren't necessarily bike fanatics, and races like this give us a chance of keeping those people interested," Landis said.
Defending Paris-Nice champion Julich said tonight that he would be "very surprised" if Landis wasn't also on the final podium at the 'Race to the Sun' in two weeks' time. Julich then added the proviso: "That's if he doesn't party too hard tonight."
Landis, Julich and Zabriskie will all return to Europe this week before lining up in Issy-les-Moulineaux for the 4.8km prologue which will kick off the 2006 edition of Paris-Nice on March 5.
Stage 7, Redondo Beach circuit
1 Olaf Pollack (Ger) T-Mobile 123.1km in 2.50.27 (43.33kph)
2 Juan Jos Haedo (Arg) Toyota
3 Andr Greipel (Ger) T-Mobile
4 Ren Haselbacher (Aut) Gerolsteiner
5 Alex Candelario (USA) Jelly Belly
6 Gordon Fraser (Can) Health Net
7 Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Discovery Channel
8 Fred Rodriguez (USA) Davitamon-Lotto
9 Sergei Lagutin (Uzb) Navigators
10 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) CSC
Final overall standings
1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems 22.46.46
2 David Zabriskie (USA) CSC 0.29
3 Bobby Julich (USA) CSC 0.34
4 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 0.45
5 Nathan O'Neill (Aus) Health Net 1.08
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 1.10
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 1.29
8 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel 1.49
9 Christian Vande Velde (USA) CSC 1.55
10 Jason McCartney (USA) Discovery Channel 1.58
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