Here's a sight that not many would have predicted when bike race organizers announced the most difficult mountain stage ever in the Amgen Tour of California:
Three-time champion Levi Leipheimer setting the pace for yellow jersey leader Chris Horner in the final kilometers to the finish on Mount Baldy.
Their RadioShack teammates had destroyed the field by setting a high pace throughout the 80-mile Stage 7, and the last rivals had dropped off the back before Leipheimer and Horner rolled across the finish line with a victory salute.
Unless something goes horribly wrong in the final Stage 8, Horner looks to be assured of a victory at this year's Tour of California. He holds a 38-second gap over Leipheimer, with Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) trailing in third at 2:45.
After the race, stage winner Leipheimer said the team talked about relaxing and sticking together for the stage, which they did. He credited two of their young cyclists — US road champion Ben King and Matt Busche — for setting a pace that ripped the peloton apart.
Shortly after the peloton left Claremont, a 9-man breakaway developed. RadioShack never let the break, which included BMC Racing's George Hincapie, gain too much time.
After crossing two Category 3 passes they reached the base of the Mount Baldy climb — a twisting 4.3-mile route that climbs at a 8.9% grade. The breakaway was still out front, but the Horner group had been reduced to about 25 riders.
As the climb began, the other riders began dropping off. As the breakaway cyclists were getting reeled in, the RadioShack group carried variously Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthCare), Andy Schleck (Leopard), Danielson and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin) and Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank).
Those hangers-on slowly lost grip until Bouchet finally stopped pushing, then Leipheimer set the pace for Horner. Alexander Efimkin (Team Type 1) was the last breakaway cyclist to get picked up.
Top 5 Overall
1. Chris Horner (RadioShack)
2. Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack) – 38 seconds behind
3. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) – 2:45 behind
4. Christian Vande Velde (Gamin-Cervelo) – 3:18 behind
5. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC Highroad) – 3:23 behind