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Levi Leipheimer wins USA Pro Cycling Challenge (VIDEO)

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On Sunday in Civic Center Park, people were yelling, bumping into each other, ringing cow bells, throwing flowers, drinking beer, singing Colorado's praises and poppin' bottles. Oh yeah, there was a bike race too.

Levi Leipheimer, a Californian who held the leaders jersey for the final three stages, won the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge over 135 of the best riders in the world in front of the state capital yesterday. Click through to watch highlights from yesterday's finish.

"It took some of the best form of my career to beat these guys," said Leipheimer while sitting at a press conference next to second place finisher Christian Vande Velde and third place finisher Tejay Van Garderen.

Leipheimer, of Team Radioshack, first snatched the leader jersey after stage one, only to lose it the following day to George Hincapie, who would finish fifth overall. The next day Leipheimer regained the jersey after beating Vande Velde in the Vail Time Trial by a half-second. As many predicted at the time, he would not surrender the lead for the rest of the race.

"I think this race has been probably the most exciting race this year," says Van Garderen. "I mean, the first four days the jersey changed hands every day and it was just incredible. The crowds and the atmosphere, the competition level, everything was has just been unbelievable. It's a race I look forward to coming back to every year."

Italian Daniel Oss of Team Liquigas-Cannondale won yesterday's stage over teammate Elia Viviani. Boulder native Timothy Duggan won the Most Aggressive Rider jersey for his charge in the final lap.

With altitude playing a huge factor and home field advantage on its side, Boulder-based Garmin-Cervelo captured the team title, with members Vande Velde and Boulder resident Ton Danielson finishing in the top four. Americans owned the top five spots.

"I didn't expect this race here in Colorado to be just so grand in scale," Leipheimer says. "It's fantastic for us as American cyclists to come back and race on American soil. We've spent many years in Europe just toughing it out in the trenches. Christian and I have spent over a decade there and it's just such a great feeling to come back and bring the sport to America on a scale this big."

Leipheimer and his team maintained an eleven-second lead over Vande Velde for the final three stages of the race. The entire top five finished within a minute of Leipheimer. Even Vande Velde, who was admittedly frustrated by his many "bride's maid" finishes this week, was enthused about the race.

"It was a great week," says Vande Velde. "I sacrificed a lot to come out here and stay at altitude... At the end of the day it paid off. Being up here on the podium was great. I still have the blood in my mouth for next year, that's for sure."

What started as a vision by Lance Armstrong and Governor Bill Ritter turned into possibly the greatest professional cycling race on American soil. USA Pro Cycling Challenge officials estimate the crowd for yesterday's stage reached 250,000. Spectators were lined up ten deep at the finish line in front of the state capitol.

"I can remember a lot of times when I was a professional rider, six, seven, eight years ago, riding up Lookout Mountain, riding up Deer Creek Canyon, riding around Cherry Creek Reservoir and thinking, 'It would be really neat if we had a race here,'" says Garmin-Cevelo CEO and Director Sportif Jonathan Vaughters. "I would always think up courses inside my head and I would always dream about it. And today, it was pretty much just like I dreamed about. Overall, I've never seen crowds -- and this is not just me being a proud Colorado citizen -- I've never seen crowds as big in any race outside the Tour de France as there were at this race.

"I was talking to a guy from England on our team and he said, 'You know, in the Tour of Britain we also have some fairly good crowds, but the people sort of sit politely and watch the race," he continues. "Here, we had men wearing fluorescent green thongs running next to the riders."

While the euphoria was still running high, those involved began speculating on the impact of the race.

"They're estimating $80 million (economic impact) from the crowd today and all the crowds, probably it will be a little larger than that," Governor John Hickenlooper maintains. "Don't underestimate the value of that media coverage all over the world. People say, 'Wow, look at Denver. It's a big city, it's a real city.' You see how gorgeous it is. You see those mountains.

"They estimate twenty million people from all over the world were watching extensive footage of some of the most beautiful parts of Colorado," he goes on. "That can only be good for Colorado. After Levi, I think I was the happiest person on the podium today."

After the race re-branded itself and Armstrong's retirement from cycling ended his involvement, the Pro Cycling Challenge still put out the best field an American cycling race has ever had.

"My expectations were modest," Hickenlooper concedes. "It's the first race, right? What are the chances they're going to pull it off like they did. I think they exceeded everyone's expectations... Pat McQuaid (President of the International Cycling Union) said that this was the single greatest professional cycling event in the history of the United States. That's not a bad thing to have on your first time."

Scroll down to watch highlights from yesterday's stage.

More from our Things to Do archive: "Bike rage attacks in Deer Creek Canyon? The search for possible bicycle haters in Jeffco."

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