BIG BEAR CITY, Calif. -- Even after a fiendish 15,000-foot climb that left the Tour of California's riders exhausted, leader Michael Rogers sadly realized their feats are lost this week behind the feud between Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong.
The action in North America's most prominent cycling race can't compare to Landis, who accused Armstrong and much of the sport's hierarchy of widespread doping and cover-ups this week. With Landis rumored to be appearing at Saturday's time trial in Los Angeles, Rogers realizes the distraction is likely to spread.
After finishing third in a brutal ascent through the San Bernardino Mountains that forced 28 riders to abandon the race, Rogers offered a plea Friday for more attention to the athletic aspects of his scandal-plagued sport.
"We come here to race," the Australian said. "We're not going to let things out of our control affect us. ... We have to move on. We have to bring out the beautiful things about this sport, the great achievements, the heroic efforts. There are beautiful things about this sport, and that's what we should be focusing on."
The timing of Landis' allegations have frustrated Tour organizers, who in just a half-decade have built a race that attracts some of the world's top riders, even with the Giro d'Italia running concurrently.
Instead of celebrating the eye-popping mountain stage, a first in the race's five-year history, or the second straight stage win for 20-year-old Slovakian Peter Sagan, everything is finishing a distant second to Lance and Floyd.
Rory Sutherland was a half-second behind Sagan in the 135-mile Stage 6, begins in the desert winds of Palmdale and treks through late-morning heat before a gasping climb to picturesque Big Bear Lake.
Three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer, Armstrong's RadioShack teammate, finished fourth Friday. The race could be decided by his performance against Rogers, Sutherland and David Zabriskie in Saturday's time trial in downtown Los Angeles -- yet Landis might also emerge.
Landis won the first Tour of California in 2006 before going on to win the Tour de France. After his doping suspension, he returned to competitive cycling in last season's Tour of California, but his Bahati Foundation team wasn't picked for this year's race.
Landis won't be welcome among most of his former peers -- but at least he won't run into Armstrong.
Coach Johan Bruyneel said Armstrong "doesn't feel great physically" after injuring his left elbow and face in a crash Thursday. He was forced to quit the race and headed back home to Texas but has no broken bones and should be back on his bike in a few days.
"It's another setback, but it's not compromising his start of the Tour de France, or his chances, or his condition," Bruyneel said. "He's just going to have to work a little harder. That's part of the job. If you're a professional cyclist, you have to be able to come back from setbacks. Lance knows how to do this. He had bigger problems than this in the past."