Cyclist Leipheimer overtakes overall lead

Times Staff Writer

Defending Amgen Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer finished second in Wednesday's difficult climbing stage and took hold of the overall lead after Stage 3 of the weeklong trip that ends Sunday at the Rose Bowl.

Leipheimer, who lives in Santa Rosa and rides for the Astana team from Kazakhstan, rode in the draft of Robert Gesink of Rabobank. Gesink, a 6-foot-1 Dutchman, won the stage that traveled from Modesto to San Jose in a time of 4 hours 28.29 minutes. Leipheimer is 13 seconds ahead of CSC's Fabian Cancellara in the overall standings.

Tyler Farrar of the Slipstream-Chipotle team started the day wearing the leader's yellow jersey but had to abandon the race because of a stomach virus that had plagued some of his teammates.

Leipheimer, 34, arrived at the start this week an angry man. His Astana team, which includes defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, was told last week it would not be invited to this year's Tour because of past doping issues.

There are all new riders and new management, which has professed a desire to strictly administer doping tests, but the efforts have not swayed Amaury Sports Organisation, which runs the tour and several other European events.

A website started by Leipheimer -- letleviride.com -- has more than 22,000 supporters who have signed a petition in his favor.

"I'm overwhelmed by the response," Leipheimer said. "I hope our cycling fans let their voice be heard."

Leipheimer finished third at last year's Tour de France.

Wednesday's stage in the California event included a new climb of 4,360 feet up Mt. Hamilton. "I didn't expect it to be that hard," Leipheimer said. "But it was a great addition to the race."

Today's stage is the longest -- 135.3 miles from Seaside to San Luis Obispo. The next chance for a major shake-up in the overall standings will come in Friday's 15-mile time trial in Solvang.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Tour of California

*--* STAGE 3 Rider, From Time Robert Gesink, Netherlands 4:28:29 Levi Leipheimer, Santa Rosa Same Jurgen Vandewalle, Belgium 4:28:48 Kevin Seeldraeyers, Belgium Same Jose Rubiera, Spain Same Thomas Peterson, Boulder, Colo. Same *--*

*--* OVERALL Rider, From Time Levi Leipheimer, Santa Rosa 13:45:30 Fabian Cancellara, Switzerland 0:13 behind Robert Gesink, Netherlands 0:15 David Millar, Great Britain 0:20 Gustav Larsson, Sweden 0:21 Zavid Zabriskie, Salt Lake City 0:21 *--*

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UP NEXT: STAGE 4

Today: The remaining 120 riders (the race started with 133) will contest the longest leg of the tour. The 135-mile stage will stretch from Seaside to San Luis Obispo.

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Associated Press

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