Leipheimer wins his third straight

ESCONDIDO, Calif. — Levi Leipheimer of Astana won his third consecutive Amgen Tour of California championship Sunday in a time of 31 hours, 28 minutes, 21 seconds after an emotional final stage where the crowd at the top of Palomar Mountain formed a rowdy tunnel of noisy exuberance and filled the streets of almost each of the 98.6 miles ridden between Rancho Bernardo and Escondido.

Frank Schleck of Team Saxo Bank won Stage 8 in a time of 3 hours, 48 minutes, 39 seconds. He was happy and so was his teammate Jason McCartney who was the top climber.

Columbia-Slipstream's young sprinter Mark Cavendish fought over his less-than-favorite thing, a mountaintop, and managed to win the overall sprinter's title, a triumph of both his spirit and the intrepid pacing of his teammate Michael Barry.

Rabobank's Robert Gesink was the race's best young rider jersey. Garmin-Slipstream's David Zabriskie was second overall, 36 seconds behind Leipheimer, and Columbia-Highroad's Michael Rogers was third overall, and they also got to celebrate on the victory podium.

But, really, the fact that race organizers estimated attendance during the nine-day, 750-mile trip from Sacramento as more than 2 million, that Versus televised some portion of the race live every day but one, that it was seen in 200 countries, was thanks to a rider who wasn't on the podium but whose name was chalked on nearly every road Sunday, and whose fans waved hundreds of "Lance Fan" signs or wore yellow Livestrong jerseys.

Riding for Astana, Lance Armstrong finished his first-ever Tour of California in seventh place overall, 1:46 behind Leipheimer. His comeback after nearly four years of retirement is only two months, and two competitions, old. He has no stage wins yet and a newfound appreciation of being the helper rider instead of the champion.

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