The U.S. led the field in an all-American sweep, shutting out Tour de France winner Cadel Evans from Australia, who finished in seventh place. Christian Vande Velde came in second, trailing Leipheimer by 11 seconds. Tejay Van Garderen from Washington state finished third.
The inaugural bike race included 136 cyclists on 17 teams competing for the trophy. The race kicked off on August 22 in Salida, Colo., and showcased Colorado mountain towns such as Vail and Breckenridge before traveling to lower elevations.
Leipheimer acknowledged that the high altitude presented a challenge, and trained for several weeks in Utah and Colorado. "It took every ounce of energy and motivation we had to pull it off," said Leipheimer of his team's win at a press conference after the race.
A California native, Leipheimer said he also enjoyed racing in the United State instead of abroad. "We've spent many years in Europe, toughing it out in the trenches," he said. Leipheimer also received a free Vail Pass for life as part of his winnings.
Van Garderen, who also won the Best Young Rider award, offered some advice for youngsters hoping to make a career out of a favorite pastime. "You have to love it, you have to work hard and you have to keep at it," he said.
Many of the winners praised the turnout from fans in the Centennial State. Van Garderen said the crowds "surpassed everyone's expectations." Shawn Hunter, the CEO and co-chairman of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, estimated 250,000 people came to watch the final stage of the race from Golden, Colo., to Denver.
Hunter also said the USA Pro Cycling Challenge plans to return to Colorado next year. "We will start the planning tomorrow for 2012," Hunter pledged. Former Gov. Bill Ritter, along with cycling legend Lance Armstrong, proposed the idea of a bike race in Colorado.
The USA Pro Cycling Challenge was broadcast live in 160 countries, and Hunter said the broadcast could only serve to raise Colorado's profile. Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock appeared on the podium with winner Leipheimer, possibly garnering international political exposure along with the Centennial State.
Denver residents enjoyed the spectacle despite the August heat, which reached a high of 92 degrees. Donna Martinez, 42, of Denver, watched the race with family from the shelter of the VIP tent. "To me, this is like a tour de France, but it's here," Martinez said. "I think it will only get bigger."