Levi Leipheimer took the stage victory and his RadioShack teammate and race leader Chris Horner solidified his race lead in the queen stage of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California high above Los Angeles on Mount Baldy.
The duo demoralized the competition with a ferocious tempo in the final kilometre, crossing the line together, hands-clasped, to stamp their authority on the race. It was the first win of the season for Leipheimer while Horner maintained his overall race lead with one stage remaining.
It was now Leipheimer's turn to get revenge after being bested by Garmin-Cervélo's David Zabriskie in the Solvang time trial, and Horner's chance to show the depth of the RadioShack team.
"I had an inkling after 3km that I was going to win," Leipheimer said. "Yesterday I thought I had won, and I was very disappointed when I found out I hadn't. Today made up for that."
After teammates Dmitriy Muravyev and Matthew Busche did the yeoman's work to decimate the field on the lower slopes, the RadioShack dynamic duo of Leipheimer and Chris Horner rode away from the field on the final sectors of the vertiginous climb to finish 1-2.
"The work the team did really allowed me to win," said Leipheimer. "I never had to step in and defend Chris' jersey, because there just wasn't any challenge to it, there was never a threat. I was able to ride my race for the stage win with Chris on my wheel."
Today also marked Leipheimer's first ever road stage victory at the Amgen Tour of California. Leipheimer now knows what it feels like to win a mountain stage at the Amgen Tour of California.
As predicted, the race blew to bits on the steep switchbacks of Mount Baldy, and riders came to the finish in ones and twos. Behind the leading RadioShack riders, Dutch climber Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) finished third at 0:43, while Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) finished fourth at 1:01.
"I'm happy with this result, third is good but you always want a little bit more," said Ten Dam. "When I attacked with three kilometres to go, I thought that there was two kilometres really steep and I did not know about the downhill. I had not seen this climb before and I know the mountains in Europe better.
"I'm happy though, I'm sixth now, I lost 15 seconds in the overall, otherwise I would be fourth. I think I did a good job and the team is happy. I came here to try and do well in the two mountain stages. I was eighth on Sierra Road and third today so I did well this week. The other two old guys are just too strong."
Garmin-Cervélo "no challenge" to Horner
The Garmin-Cervélo team tried to put RadioShack under pressure, getting its young rider Andrew Talansky and Ryder Hesjedal into the early breakaway, but the team of Horner kept the gap pegged to two minutes - not enough of an advantage to stay clear on the final climb and worry the RadioShack team.
"I think we would have put pressure on them if we had three minutes, but Leopard Trek was helping RadioShack ..." said Christian Vande Velde. "We were going for the stage win - we weren't thinking about third or second or whatever. We wanted to win here."
Hesjedal was clearly disappointed with the day's outcome, after spending a large amount of time off the front. "They were never going to let us get more than we did. The plan was to make them work hard from behind. But it's hard to do it that way."
Attack shows Efimkin's class
Steve Morabito (BMC) edged Alexander Efimkin (Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis) for fifth place, 1:21 behind Leipheimer. Efimkin was part of a nine-man break which went clear early in the stage and the Russian was the last to be caught by the select chase group near the summit of Mount Baldy inside the final 3km.
"It was my hope to race well on this stage but obviously RadioShack has a lot of speed and they are really strong," said Efimkin. "It was good today. We tried and I was really close."
Morabito was able to bridge up to the group with Horner and Leipheimer before Busche pulled off, but once the last RadioShack domestique pulled off and the stars hit the gas, the Swiss rider couldn't keep the pace.
"All day I had good legs, I like it when it's warm," Morabito said. "I was thinking at the bottom of the last climb I would try to win the stage, but when they sped up, Tejay Van Garderen opened up a gap and I expected him to close it, but he couldn't. And then it was too far to go across."
Barring catastrophe, Horner inherits Amgen Tour crown
In the general classification, Chris Horner maintained his 38-second lead over Leipheimer and can look forward to celebrating his first Amgen Tour of California victory in Thousand Oaks on Sunday.
"It's been a fantastic week for the RadioShack team. It was a fantastic day today. Barring any catastrophic stuff happening, I don't see much chance of losing the jersey tomorrow," said Horner.
There was a re-shuffling of riders behind, however, on the overall standings as Danielson moves up to third place, 2:45 behind Horner, while teammate Christian Vande Velde slots into fourth, 33 seconds behind Danielson.
Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) entered the day in third place overall, but dropped to seventh.
After a long day out in the breakaway, Pat McCarty of SpiderTech-C10 solidified his hold on the mountains classification. McCarty won both KOMs today, and will take home the red jersey of mountains leader on Sunday.
Young rider classification shakes out
In the young rider classification, Tejay van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) extended his lead over Garmin-Cervelo's Andrew Talansky, who rode in the early break, but dropped back in the final kilometres of Mount Baldy.
"My mistake on Sierra Road definitely taught me to relax a little bit," said Van Garderen. "I can get too nervous and gung-ho when it comes to staying with the leaders. But, I'm just trying to win. I plan on trying to keep this jersey, if I can make it through the day. But, I would also like to help get a stage win for Leigh Howard and Matt Goss tomorrow."
How it unfolded
The 121.9 kilometer stage rolled out from Claremont, with climbing beginning immediately. Before the stage, everyone expected a hard, fast day of racing, with Garmin-Cervélo hot for the stage win and Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) chasing a podium spot.
The stage started fast and furious with breaks continuously forming and reforming. Just past ten kilometers of racing, a group of eight established at the front. It included: Andrew Talansky (Team Garmin-Cervelo), Ben Swift (Sky Procycling), George Hincapie (BMC Racing Team), Francesco Bellotti (Liquigas-Cannondale), Grischa Niermann (Rabobank Cycling Team), Alexander Efimkin (Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis), Pat McCarty (Team Spidertech Powered By C10), and Rob Britton (Bissell Cycling). Amaël Moinard (BMC Racing Team) tried to join the break, but could not make it across.
As sprinter Ben Swift dropped back from the break, Garmin-Cervélo sent another rider up the road in the hope of putting pressure on the RadioShack team of Chris Horner. Hesjedal soon made it across to the lead group to join his teammate Talansky.
Over the first KOM at Glendora Ridge Road, Jonathan McCarty took the points and added to his lead in the mountains classification. On the front of the main field, RadioShack kept the race under tight control, keeping the gap at two minutes or less for the entire stage. Leopard-Trek also contributed to the chase, perhaps with the idea of launching Andy Schleck later in the stage.
The break began slowly to lose ground as they approached the summit of Glendora Ridge Road, and riders began dropping off the back of the main field under the combined pressure of RadioShack and Leopard-Trek. Points leader Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale was among the riders who dropped off the back. Around 50-60 riders remained in the main field.
With 18 kilometers to go, Mike Creed (Kelly Benefit Strategies/OptumHealth) put in a cheeky attack off the front of the main field, but it didn't last long as the field bore down relentlessly.
Baldy sorts out the race
Turning on to the final climb to Mount Baldy, the field numbered just 20 riders as the RadioShack continued their relentless tempo on the front. Six riders remained in the break as Niermann dropped back.
With 5 kilometers to go, three riders remained out in front, Talansky, Bellotti and Efimkin, but their advantage had dropped to 0:47. Efimkin soon attacked and rode alone. Behind, three RadioShack riders sat on the front of the main field, with Busche driving and Andy Schleck following closely on the wheels of RadioShack.
Vande Velde, meanwhile, struggled to hang on to the back of the field with the podium on the line. Sutherland was already dropped and Vande Velde had the podium in his sights.
Schleck began to yo-yo off the back of the favorites group with 4km to go, and then just five riders remained in the group: Chris Horner, Levi Leipheimer, Laurens Ten Dam, Andy Schleck,
The last steep gradients of the climb awaited the leaders. The much-anticipated move from RadioShack came inside the final 3 kilometers. Busche put on the gas, and only Leipheimer and Horner could hold the pace. The two RadioShack riders quickly opened up a gap on the other riders and the field splintered.
Dutch climber Laurens Ten Dam proved most able to resist, and rode just off the back of the leading duo.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.