After a year filled with performance-enhancing scandals and other potholes, American cycling enjoyed a smooth and energizing finish to the eight-stage Amgen Tour of California.
That Sunday's finish occurred in the crowded streets of downtown Santa Rosa makes it even more of a good news story for the sport — and for the future of cycling in the North Coast.
There was no rain this time. There were no major crashes. And there were no controversies to speak of. There was just good — presumably clean — competition, featuring 111 of the world's top cyclists.
And in fitting fashion, the victory went to a rising star, Teejay van Garderen, 24, from Bozeman, Mont., who was riding on behalf of the BMC Racing Team, a Santa Rosa-based unit.
The event also provided some off-course news, however, as local star Levi Leipheimer, who has won the Tour of California three times and once finished third in the Tour de France, announced his retirement on Sunday from professional cycling.
It's a bitter-sweet finish to a once-celebrated career. Leipheimer, 39, who plans to remain an organizer of the GranFondo bike ride that has raised about $900,000 for local nonprofits since he started it four years ago, has been the favored son of the sport in Sonoma County, where he has made his home.
But now it appears that his career will end “unceremoniously,” as he put it, following a six-month suspension for systematic use of blood doping and performance enhancing drugs. Leipheimer recently was part of the racing team led by Lance Armstrong, who has since been banned from the sport for life, also for blood doping.
But if Sunday's Tour finish demonstrated anything, it's that the region's ties to cycling have not been frayed by these revelations.
Santa Rosa, which has been part of the race seven out of its first eight years, once again was applauded for its turnout and for its role in hosting the final stage together.
“Everything just finally came together,” van Garderen said after winning the race.
The same can be said, once again, of the community's efforts to play host to a Tour stage. Here's hoping the Tour finds its way back next year.