Leipheimer avoids crash, closes in on victory
Argentina’s Juan Jose Haedo won Saturday’s sixth stage of the Amgen Tour of California, his second stage victory, but Levi Leipheimer retained the overall race lead for the seventh day in Santa Clarita.
Haedo, of the CSC team, emerged from a large pack to claim the 105.4-mile sixth stage from Santa Barbara in 3 hours 56 minutes 5 seconds. Haedo also won the second stage Tuesday in Sacramento.
Greg Henderson of New Zealand and the T-Mobile team placed second, trailing by less than a bike length. Current world road champion Paolo Bettini (Quick-Step/Innergetic) of Italy was third in the same time.
Santa Rosa’s Leipheimer, of the Discovery Channel team, has held the overall lead since winning the prologue last Sunday in San Francisco. He finished 25th in the main group Saturday and maintained his 21-second margin over Jens Voigt of Germany and the CSC team.
Jason McCartney (Discovery Channel) of Coralville, Iowa, is third overall, trailing by 54 seconds.
“The other teams came out to crack the race leader,” said Leipheimer. “That’s expected. I’ve been on the other side of that before, so I know what it’s like. But there’s a reason why this team has won seven Tours de France. It knows what it’s doing.”
Leipheimer’s team and its former sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service, employed Lance Armstrong during his seven Tour de France victories.
Leipheimer, riding in his first race with his team, was nearly involved in a crash about five miles into the stage when two of his teammates touched bikes and went down just in front of him.
Leipheimer also briefly lost his race lead during the stage to CSC’s Stuart O’Grady of Australia, who rode in a breakaway group of seven riders that gained a 2 1/2 -minute advantage. O’Grady began the day trailing by 1:20.
But the lead group’s margin was steadily reduced and it was finally absorbed about halfway through the last of three 3.5-mile finishing circuits.
Haedo, who has won four stages in the two-year-old Tour, worked his way toward the front of the group in the final 20 miles.
“There was a little headwind and it was slightly uphill,” said Haedo. “I didn’t really expect it to end in a sprint. There were attacks all day. I thought the leaders might still have 30-40 seconds, but I had to get myself ready.”
The 639.2-mile race concludes today with the 77.7-mile Long Beach circuit race, a stage not conducive to narrowing a race leader’s margin.
“Everyone thinks it will be the easiest stage, a parade,” said Leipheimer. “But it will be very fast.”