Tour of California 4: Horner conquers Sierra Road for yellow

First win for RadioShack at 2011 Amgen Tour of California

RadioShack's Chris Horner claimed his first ever Amgen Tour of California stage, taking the summit finish on Sierra Road with a solo attack halfway up the final ascent. It is Horner's first victory since his overall win in the 2010 Vuelta al Pais Vasco, and puts the American into the leader's yellow jersey.

Leopard Trek's Andy Schleck showed his climbing prowess with a fine second place ahead of Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) and Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), but 15 seconds lost on the first day of racing by both Sutherland and Schleck means Leipheimer is second on the general classification.

The RadioShack team showed its strength on both of the main climbs of Mt. Hamilton and Sierra Road. Horner said he and Leipheimer were able to count on their team to drive the pace from the lead group into the final climb in order to set up the victory for the team.

"I told the guys to drill it as hard as you can, I want everyone to suffer and I want to blow this race apart. They drilled it and had us going 500W for over 500m, and once they did that they exploded everyone and it was just me and Levi to the line," Horner said.

He now leads the race by 1:15 over Leipheimer, but insists that he is still working for the three-time Tour of California champion.

"He's a three-time champion, and without a doubt I was working for Levi. We figured out that on the Sierra climb if the legs are good I would go, but he's still our protected leader here, going into the time trial. He's a big favorite there and there's some time he can pull back and we can win this thing 1-2."

Garmin-Cervélo's Tom Danielson surprised in fifth place on the stage, having finished the day more than four minutes ahead of his teammate David Zabriskie, who was second in last year's Tour. Christian Vande Velde showed his improving form with a sixth place on the day, taking fourth on GC ahead of Sutherland and Schleck, making a RadioShack- and Garmin-Cervélo-heavy GC.

Andrew Talansky helped raise Garmin-Cervélo's fortunes by taking the best young rider jersey, while Ryder Hesjedal, who attacked on the descent of Mt. Hamilton and rode into the base of the final climb off the front, took the Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider award. Pat McCarty (Spidertech C10) claimed the first California Travel and Tourism King of the Mountains jersey.

Riders began the day with a moment of silence for the Leopard Trek rider Wouter Weylandt, who died last week in the Giro d'Italia. Schleck had said at the start of the race that he would ride for Weylandt and race hard to get a stage win in his honour.

"It would have been nice to win for Wouter, but I'm happy with second," he said. "I've been on a break since Liège - Bastogne - Liège but I haven't been slacking off since then. I've had good training and my form is coming back."

Sutherland was pleased to find good climbing legs on the first true test of the Tour, after two days of downhill racing. He is the only representative of a domestic team to factor into the top 10 after today's stage.

"This is it [for the domestic teams]. For us this is the Tour de France. Our team director Mike Tamayo started working on this a month after the Amgen Tour of California last year and I'm glad I can repay our sponsors with a podium finish today."

He compared the climb to the steep queen finish of the defunct Tour de Georgia at Brasstown Bald. "I tried to profit from the ProTour teams. Today obviously showed I've got some good climbing legs."

Hesjedal rolled in for seventh after hanging onto a chase group, and now holds the same position on GC.

"I think it worked out good, Chris was on a different level, but we have enough guys to up there to put the pressure on them," said Hesjedal. "I had fun out there in front, getting a head start. It was disappointing to see Levi and Chris come up. Chris kind of rode away and there wasn't much I could do. Levi sat on me, and I was waiting to see who would come across. Luckily Tom came up and we were able to take back time on the race leader. I was able to finish it off strong and we had three guys up there, so it was a good day."

All about the climbers in San Jose

With the flat stages behind them, the peloton of the Amgen Tour of California devoted its attention to the climbers on stage 4 to Sierra Road outside San Jose. Sensing his chances for a stage were over, Rabobank's Michael Matthews, victim of a crash on stage 3, abandoned the race.

Without even an intermediate sprint on the day and four classified ascents, it was a day for the lithe mountain men to come to the fore and finally claim the California Travel and Tourism King of the Mountains jersey that has been waiting in the wings after the cancellation of stage 1.

The morning's race leader Greg Henderson (Sky Procycling) knew he'd let go of the yellow jersey today after two sprint stages, won by his teammate Ben Swift and himself. He was content to take a back seat and work for Chris Froome in the hills.

The domestic teams continued to show themselves where they do best, in the breakaways, and the first attack once more went before the race even left the start town.

This time it was a group of 10 men, including Rubens Bertogliati (Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis), Will Routley (Team Spidertech p/b C10), Ben Jacques-Maynes and Jeremy Vennell (Bissell Cycling), Alastair Loutit (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda), Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) and James Stemper (Kenda/5-hour Energy p/b Geargrinder) representing the domestic teams, and Martin Pedersen (Leopard Trek), Lars Boom (Rabobank Cycling Team) and Thor Hushovd (Team Garmin-Cervelo) for the WorldTour.

The leaders had almost three minutes on the peloton as they hit the first climb on Mines Road. Boom began to reverse the poor fortunes of his Rabobank team and won the first KOM sprint.

Spidertech's Routley managed to nab the second mountain prize, while Anthony claimed the third one a short time later, but the break was losing serious time as the hors categorie climb to Mt. Hamilton approached.

The lead group began to disintegrate at the base of Mt. Hamilton as RadioShack drove the pace in the peloton behind. Vennell was the last man caught mid-way up the climb.

Patrick McCarty (Team Spidertech p/b C10) stole the maximum mountain points from the RadioShack train, besting Matthew Busche and Dmitriy Muravyev at the top.

The team of Levi Leipheimer, a three-time winner of the Tour of California, seemed set to control the race until the finishing climb, but on a small rise which interrupts the long descent into the Santa Clara Valley, Garmin-Cervélo's Ryder Hesjedal broke the RadioShack blockade and attacked solo.

He was joined a short time later by Paul Martens (Rabobank), and the pair built up a lead of almost a minute before Martens misjudged a turn and rode into a gravel driveway and had to stop, get back onto the road, and chase back to Hesjedal who waited on the German.

They remained together as they hit the bottme and Hesjedal was forced to do all the work leading up to the fan-packed Sierra Road climb.

RadioShack was in firm control of a chase group at the bottom of the descent, with the BMC moving up for its climber Steve Morabito, 45 seconds behind the two leaders.

Hesjedal ditched Martens on the lower slopes of Sierra Road, but Leipheimer and Horner were set to display their dominance as they detonated the group of favourites and rode off alone.

They made it up to Hesjedal with 2 miles to go, and the Canadian wasn't able to hang on when Horner accelerated leaving his two companions in a tactical battle behind.

Four men chased together in a third group on the road, with Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare), Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek), Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervélo) and Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) trying to limit their losses.

Danielson pulled his group up to Leipheimer and Hesjedal, while Van Garderen struggled to hold the pace of what was now the second group. He would end up losing significant time in the final 500m, finishing over two minutes in arrears of Horner.

Schleck jumped away in the final few hundred metres to take second on the day, and while Horner raised his arms in victory, Leipheimer opened up the sprint, but Sutherland dug deep to surge ahead of the Californian to claim third on the stage.

This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.

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