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Amgen Race's Final Stage: Dry Start, Wet Finish

Californian Levi Leipheimer overall winner of seven-stage race.

Posted: February 25, 2008 12:09 a.m.
Updated: April 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Sara Neimietz, a sophomore at Saugus High School, sang the national anthem at Valencia Town Center Sunday at the opening ceremonies for Stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California cycle race.

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Between occasional raindrops, Saugus High sophomore Sara Niemietz sang "The Star Spangled Banner," the starting gun was fired, and a pack of 91 colorfully clad riders pedaled off the start line on Town Center Drive around noon Sunday to begin the final stage of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California cycle race.

"I think it's incredible," Niemietz said of the race a few minutes before her performance. "I've sung at ball games and stuff but never at a bicycling tournament. It's really exciting to sing at such a great event."

Her choral director at Saugus told her about the audition. "Ms. Dooley suggested I do it, so we recorded ("The Star Spangled Banner") on my laptop, burned a DVD and sent it in to the city. Then they contacted me last week to tell me I had won."

This year's Amgen tour stop "has been everything I expected and more," said Bob Kellar, Santa Clarita Mayor, a few minutes after the Stage 7 start, as rays of warm sunshine offset a light rain. "It's such an outstanding event, with all the excitement associated with it. I just had a man approach me and tell me he'd come all the way from Texas for this event and was not disappointed."

"The event has been great," said Ken Pulskamp, city manager. "We had probably the most exciting finish in the history of the race yesterday. The crowds turned out, the weather held up, and just listen to people -- everybody's raving about what a good time this has been."

Disruption of local traffic patterns was a chief complaint about the Tour of California's first race through Santa Clarita Feb. 24, 2007. "It's like everything else -- it was our first year, we learned quite a bit, we made some adjustments and the traffic seemed to work pretty well this year."

Saturday's Stage 6 race ended dry around 4 p.m., but the post-race "Rock the Bike" concert/expo, slated for 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., was cut short after an energetic opening set by ska band Maxwell Smart from the San Fernando Valley. Rain was steady by 6 p.m. and citing safety concerns, city officials and promoters Higher Level Shows reluctantly pulled the plug on the rest of the concert, including a headlining set by The Gin Blossoms.

"That was unfortunate, but you can't control everything," Kellar said Sunday. "And I'm sure a few people thought they'd rather keep their family dry than come out here this morning, but nevertheless we still had thousands of people here today for the beginning of Stage 7."

Among them was Barbara Wampole of Castaic. "We went to church this morning and still got here in time for the start," she said.

Kellar said Tour of California race organizers AEG Sports were once again impressed by Santa Clarita's hospitality. AEG chooses the cities, which lobby for the privilege of hosting because the event brings in additional tourist dollars.

"I've talked with some of the folks with Amgen," he said. "We do an exceptionally fine job of making them welcome here and our organization has been superb. I think we stand a great chance of having them back again next year, and I certainly hope we do."

Ken Pulskamp, Santa Clarita City Manager, echoed hopes for a Santa Clarita Amgen three-peat in 2009.
"We've had real good reports from the organizers, they like working with the city, we like working with them, so we'll see what next year brings."

AEG announced its 2008 host cities in October 2007, and the city of Santa Clarita wasted no time gearing up for the event. Total expenditures for 2008 are not yet available, but as last year, the city expects substantial return on its investment in terms of tourist dollars and public relations.

While the weather held in Santa Clarita for the Stage 7 opening ceremonies and start, the going got rainy and wet for the riders later Sunday afternoon as they slogged the 93.4-mile course through the local mountains to Pasadena's Rose Bowl for the finish.

After several circuits around Pasadena, George Hincapie (USA, High Road), Rory Sutherland (Australia, Health Net presented by Maxxis) and Jason McCartney (USA, Team CSC) crossed the finish line the final lap to take first, second and third in the stage.

Californian Levi Leipheimer, racing for Astana (Luxembourg), was the overall winner of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California race, as he was last year. Leipheimer's total time for the 650-mile spin from Palo Alto-Stanford down the California Coast to the Rose Bowl was 29 hours, 24 minutes, 20 seconds.

In second place by 49 seconds was Great Britain's David Millar (Slipstream Chipotle presented by H30, USA), while American Christian Vandevelde (Slipstream Chipotle presented by H30, USA) took third, 1:08 off the winner's pace.

Check The Signal newspaper and The-Signal.com Monday and Tuesday for more exclusive print, photo and online video coverage of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California's race through Santa Clarita.

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