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Leipheimer surges ahead in California

Latest update : 2009-02-17

Levi Leipheimer maintained his pursuit of a hat-trick of Tour of California titles by moving into the overall lead with a second-place finish in Monday's second stage.

AFP - Levi Leipheimer settled for second place to US countryman Thomas Peterson in Monday's second stage of the Tour of California but took the overall lead with a risky and difficult ride.

Astana's Leipheimer launched the decisive break entering the last climb in the 186.6km stage from Sausalito to Santa Cruz and Peterson dropped in behind him through wind and rain before speeding past at the line to take the stage.

"I was charging," Peterson said. "Levi just came off and I saw him and I just sat on his wheel and basically the whole way to the finish it was easy because I just stayed on his wheel."

Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner making his comeback from retirement this year, was in the pursuit pack 21 seconds behind Peterson, who took the stage in 5hrs 6 mins 20secs with Leipheimer on the same time.

Two-time defending champion Leipheimer's overall time of 9hrs 23mins 2secs left him 24 seconds in front of Australian Michael Rogers with American David Zabriskie four more seconds back and Armstrong fourth, 30 seconds off the pace.

Leipheimer grabbed the overall leader's yellow jersey in brutal conditions.

"Turn your shower on as cold as it gets then stand there for four hours. That's what it's like," Leipheimer said. "It's horrible conditions out there. We're freezing - shivering cold rain."

US veteran Armstrong was impressed with his Astana teammate, whom he trailed by some 30 seconds at the finish in a supporting role.

"Levi is incredibly focused on the event," Armstrong said. "When he went on the last climb, he was untouchable. He clearly showed that he is the best rider in the race today.

"You get a guy like that who is well trained and on top of his form and wants to win more than anything, I don't think you can stay with him."

Saying the suffering of thousands of spectators helped spur him onward, Leipheimer felt he lost critical time on the pursuit group in the windy final kilometers.

"In the last 3k it was just this massive head wind. I was turning squares. I think I lost 30 seconds in the last 3k," Leipheimer said.

Leipheimer launched the break from the peloton on Bonny Doon, 30km ahead of the finish.

"It became apparent to me that I felt pretty good and everybody else was at their limit," Leipheimer said. "I call it a Hail Mary. You have got to go for it because once you go you can't back up."

Garmin-Slipstream's Peterson went along for the ride and won the day but Leipheimer was fast enough to dislodge the yellow jersey from Spain's Paco Mancebo, the Rock Racing rider who took the lead Sunday by winning stage one.

"That's just how cycling goes," Leipheimer said. "He made it to the top and he made it with me when others didn't. In that respect you could say he deserved the win. I think I deserved the win as well. No hard feelings."

Armstrong, slowed at one point when a motorcycle spilled in front of him, said he was happy to play his role in the race instead of chase the leaders.

"It makes life a lot easier," he said. "I didn't feel super super. I was just trying to follow the wheels."

Leipheimer was appreciative of having Armstrong among his teammates.

"Lance is an inspirational hero for millions of people around the world and definitely for the seven people on this team he's a hero," Leipheimer said.

"He's just a unique character. He's driven. He wants to win and he raises the level among the team. I appreciate having him on the team."

Date created : 2009-02-17