With a boost from Lance Armstrong and a tough mountain to climb, Levi Leipheimer won his third straight Tour of California on Sunday.
Leipheimer was ninth in the final stage and finished with an overall time of 31 hours, 28 minutes, 21 seconds. His winning margin was 36 seconds over fellow American David Zabriskie of Garmin-Slipstream.
Leipheimer took over the lead in the nine-day race last Monday and never gave it up.
“It’s the sweetest victory of the three,” Leipheimer said.
“It’s hard to describe. I mean, to keep a streak going like that, it just becomes so difficult. I told Lance this week that I don’t know how the hell he won seven times in the Tour de France. I’ve got a lot of respect for that because the pressure builds, the expectations are higher and you can’t get second place because that’s losing,” he said.
Armstrong spent this race in support of Leipheimer, his Astana teammate. The seven-time Tour de France winner finished 31st in Sunday’s stage and seventh overall, 1 minute, 46 seconds behind Leipheimer.
Third place overall went to Australian Michael Rogers of Team Columbia-High Road, who was 45 seconds behind Leipheimer.
Armstrong said he enjoyed the role of supporting his teammate.
“Nobody came in here with any other expectation than riding for Levi,” he said.
Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck of Team Saxo Bank won the eighth stage in 3:48:39. Italian Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas was second and American George Hincapie of Team Columbia-High Road was third.
Floyd Landis finished 29th in Sunday’s stage and 23rd overall in his first race back since being stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone.