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SAN JOSE - New GC leader George Hincapie last night hailed the "phenomenal" work of his Discovery Channel team-mates after his sprint victory on stage two of the Tour of California put him firmly in the hunt for overall victory in the eight-day race.
Thanks to his stage win on Tuesday, the New Yorker enters Wednesday's potentially decisive San Jose time trial with a four-second advantage over local favourite Levi Leipheimer and nine seconds over Bobby Julich on general classification.
Despite the slenderness of his lead, Hincapie stressed in his post-race conference that he does "want to win the race". He did however admit that it had taken some fine work from team-mates Michael Barry, Tom Danielson and Jason McCartney off the top of the final climb of the day, the Sierra Road, to keep him in touch with pacesetters Leipheimer and Floyd Landis.
Hincapie later explained that Discovery Channel had driven the bunch in the hope of launching Tom Danielson at the foot of the climb, but resorted to plan B when Danielson came up against a headwind and stronger men in Landis, Leipheimer, Dave Zabriskie and, surprisingly, the young Austrian Bernard Kohl.
Leipheimer's forceful display on the Sierra Rd suggested once again that he is the strongest man in the race. The Gerolsteiner rider will, however, be ruing his inability to press home that advantage and to retain his jersey. Or rather, he'll be cursing the headwind he, Kohl and Landis faced as they crossed the summit of Sierra Rd, and cursing Discovery Channel's cohesion in the 19-man group behind.
Second behind Hincapie on the stage, Davitamon's Chris Horner thought that he'd seen enough on Tuesday to make Leiphimer his favourite to win both Wednesday's 17-mile time trial and the race overall. "Levi looks really, really good," said Horner, who is now seventh on GC at 19 seconds. "CSC and Discovery have guys who can do well in the time trial, but I'd have to go with Levi.
"To stay out as long as he did today while being chased hard from behind was very impressive. I don't think he'll pay for the effort he made today; when you're in the kind of form he is, you usually suffer a bit less than the guys at the back."
Hincapie later admitted that he currently lacks form on the steep hills and is unsure of his prospects tomorrow. "It's always hard to predict what will happen in a time trial," said the Discovery Channel leader. "It's the first race of the season for most of us and we're digging in the red zone, which we haven't done since September. You train hard, but you can never train as hard as you go in a race. I can't say what kind of time gaps there will be."
Hincapie went on to name Leipheimer and Zabriskie as his favourites for Wednesday's time trial.
For more details on the race and online clips from all of action so far visit the race site at www.amgentourofcalifornia.com
Stage 2, Martinez-San Jose
1 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 152.7km in 4.01.26 (37.95kph)
2 Chris Horner (USA) Davitamon-Lotto
3 Josep Jufre (Spa) Davitamon-Lotto
4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner
5 Bobby Julich (USA) CSC
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
7 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak
8 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saunier Duval
9 David Zabriskie (USA) CSC
10 Nicolas Vogondy (Fra) Crdit Agricole
11 Christian Vande Velde (USA) CSC
12 Michael Barry (Can) Discovery Channel
13 Phil Zajicek (USA) Navigators 0.01
14 Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval 0.03
15 Jos Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval 0.04
16 Rmi Pauriol (Fra) Crdit Agricole
17 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) T-Mobile
18 Nathan O'Neill (Aus) Health Net 0.05
19 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel
20 Saul Raisin (USA) Crdit Agricole 0.06
1 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 7.20.28
2 Leipheimer 0.04
3 Julich 0.09
4 Landis 0.10
5 Zabriskie 0.13
6 Evans 0.16
7 Horner 0.19
8 Danielson 0.21
9 Vande Velde
10 Barry 0.22
12 McCartney 0.23
13 Simoni 0.24
16 Pauriol 0.25
17 Vogondy 0.26
19 Raisin 0.33
20 Gomez Marchante 0.35
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