Levi Leipheimer wins 7th stage
MOUNT BALDY, Calif. -- Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner realize the dark side of cycling is the only side many people can see these days.
They just hope their team's perfect performance Saturday on the Tour of California's spectacular mountain stage reminds everybody about the beauty obscured by the stain of doping.
Leipheimer and Horner rode together through the final kilometers of Team RadioShack's impressive ascent on Mount Baldy, with Leipheimer winning the Tour's most eye-catching stage and Horner essentially sewing up the overall race title. They crossed the finish line nearly shoulder to shoulder at 7,930 feet -- the highest finish in race history.
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"What a fantastic day," said Leipheimer, the three-time Tour of California champion. "The weather, the setting, the scenery, the fans, and especially the course. Our team was perfect today. You just don't get that very much in professional sports -- a perfect day when everything just clicks. There wasn't even a lot of talking, because everything was going so well and we were communicating so well."
RadioShack traversed the brutal mountain course without a technical flaw, reeling in an early break by two Garmin-Cervelo teammates before RadioShack's Matthew Busche and Ben King set up the big finish. Leipheimer and Horner moved in front with less than two miles to go.
The team's main goal on the steep, craggy Mount Baldy Road was to pave the way for Horner to claim another strong finish and the overall title. He'll win Sunday in Thousand Oaks, barring a disastrous crash on the 82.3-mile finishing stage from Santa Clarita.
"It's been a fantastic week, and for the RadioShack team it's been unbelievable," said the 39-year-old Horner, the oldest rider left in the race after Germany's Jens Voigt dropped out Friday with a broken wrist. "Barring anything catastrophic happening, I don't see much chance of losing the leader's jersey tomorrow."
RadioShack was so good on the mountain that Leipheimer didn't have to sacrifice himself to clear the way for Horner. The rest of the field fell away, allowing the teammates to finish together among several hundred boisterous fans at the finish line near the summit of Mount Baldy, the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains just east of Los Angeles.
Leipheimer completed the 75.8-mile stage from Claremont to Mount Baldy in 3 hours, 33 minutes and 1 second to collect his first road stage victory on the Tour of California. Horner, who began the day 38 seconds ahead of Leipheimer, eased at the line and gave a nudge to Leipheimer while keeping his race margin.
Laurent Ten Dams (Rabobank) of the Netherlands finished third, trailing by 42 seconds. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) moved up to third overall, trailing by 2:45.
Horner and Leipheimer already are looking forward to Sunday's party, which will wrap up another somber week for cycling. Horner's celebration should get started at about the same time CBS' "60 Minutes" broadcasts its full investigative report on Lance Armstrong.
A day earlier, "60 Minutes" reported George Hincapie told federal authorities he used banned substances and saw Armstrong, his longtime teammate and close friend, use performance-enhancing drugs.
The Tour and its racers were determined to keep the focus on the biggest U.S. cycling race's charge up Mount Baldy. Tour officials required reporters to ask questions only about the race to Leipheimer, who rode with Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service team for two years a decade ago.
Most racers seemed overwhelmed by the excitement of the hot, steep Mount Baldy climb, saying it rivals anything in the Tour de France for pure nastiness.
"I can say that I was suffering," Leipheimer said. "That last kilometer, even though I was winning, I didn't have any power. ... I was glad to see the end of it."
Thousands of fans again turned out to cheer along the riders, with no visible mention of doping or disappointment in the cycling faithful.
They even got in costume: A fan dressed as the Pope in robes and a tall hat ran alongside the riders sprinkling his version of holy water, followed closely by a Grim Reaper with a black hood and scythe. The riders also met fans dressed as a chicken, a sumo wrestler, a banana and a fried egg.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press