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Australia's Michael Rogers wins Tour of California

TOUR OF CALIFORNIA

Canada's Ryder Hesjedal takes the eighth stage of a race that was overshadowed by renewed talk about doping in cycling.

May 23, 2010|By Diane Pucin

George Hincapie had targeted Stage 8 of the Amgen Tour of California for a crowd-pleasing victory.

Hincapie thought winning this final punishing, hilly, windy circuit would be a good way to leave California.

Instead, the 37-year-old from Greenville, S.C., who wore red, white and blue because he is the reigning U.S. road racing champion, spoke with a crack in his voice after he was second across the finish line in Thousand Oaks.

He wasn't emotional because he didn't win Sunday's stage. It was because he was defending his sport over renewed discussions about doping.

"There will always be people who cheat in life, not only sports," Hincapie said, "but cycling has done more than any other sport to clean things up. Nobody wants the sport cleaner than me. To talk about stuff from eight years ago is a waste of time. Talk about what we do to make the sport clean now."

Hincapie's words came at the end of the eight-day race in which the competition was overshadowed by the fallout from the publication of e-mails sent by former Tour de France winner Floyd Landis that accused American cyclists Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie and Hincapie of participating in performance-enhancing doping more than five years ago.

Michael Rogers, a thoughtful 30-year-old Australian riding for the California-based HTC-Columbia team, fended off at least four attacks by his main competitors over the last 10 miles of Sunday's stage to win his first Tour of California title.

Rogers' overall time of 33 hours 8 minutes 30 seconds was nine seconds better than runner-up Zabriskie and 25 seconds ahead of Leipheimer, who declared that he was eager to take part in next year's race.

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal of the Garmin-Transitions team edged Hincapie to win the Stage 8 circuit race through Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village and Agoura Hills. His time over the 83.5-mile course was 3:21:56.

The racing was frantic during the last few miles, with Leipheimer and Zabriskie trying to attack an isolated Rogers, who found himself without teammates nearby.

Leipheimer's challenge was stalled momentarily when one of his tires was punctured near the base of a final climb. His ultimately unsuccessful last-moment push was hampered, he said, partly because teammate Armstrong was missing, a victim of an early-day crash Thursday.

Rogers, the winner, sounded exasperated about the constant doping discussions that Landis' e-mails had jump-started.

"I'm getting a little bit sick of this," Rogers said. "There are so many great performances. The sport has got to get away from the negativity. Everyone has to pull their weight, from riders to management to race organizers. We all have to do everything we can because it's killing our sport."

Hincapie's thoughts were equally passionate.

"I would like to say there isn't anybody out there — the press, the fans or [the United States Anti-Doping Agency] — who wants a clean sport more than me," he said.

"We're the ones busting our [butts] on the road. I'm out there suffering day in, day out; I don't get to see my kids that much even when I'm home because I'm training five, six, seven hours a day. But I do believe cycling should be an example. We do more than any other sport out there."

Andrew Messick, sports director for AEG, which owns the Tour of California, pointed to his race's drug-testing methods as some of the most stringent in the world.

All 134 riders had blood samples taken before the race, and 30% of the riders were chosen at random to have urine samples collected and analyzed for evidence of steroids, hormones (including EPO) and masking agents. Stage winners and the overall leader each day were tested for the same group of doping products.

These samples also are included in cycling's biological passport program. The international cycling federation started the passport program two years ago. It is a record of multiple blood and urine samples taken from more than 800 cyclists with the idea that any unusual deviation from a base level would be a red flag.

In a reference to former USC football player Brian Cushing, who retained his NFL defensive rookie of the year award even after it was reported that he failed a drug test, Messick said, "We also get held to different standards by fans and media. If you fail a doping test in cycling, you lose your livelihood for two years. In other sports you're still given awards for accomplishments you made for a performance you earned potentially while using performance-enhancing drugs."

Landis is the anti-Cushing. His 2006 Tour de France title was stripped after he failed a drug test. But his words still resonated more than any single performance in this year's race.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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