Epic Stage Delivers Most Challenging Route in Race History
Mt. Baldy, CA – Amid breathtaking vistas and challenging roads with continuous switchbacks leading to the top of Mt. Baldy (elevation 7,930 ft.), RadioShack teammates Levi Leipheimer (USA), three-time Amgen Tour of California champion, and Chris Horner (USA) crossed the Stage 7 finish line in first and second place respectively, thrilling fans with a picture-perfect victory. The second-place finish today will keep Horner in the Amgen Race Leader Jersey heading into the final stage of the race tomorrow. Leipheimer remains in second place overall and Tom Danielson (USA) of Team Garmin-Cervelo moves up to third.
“Our team was perfect today,” said Leipheimer. “You don’t get to experience that much in professional cycling. To experience a day where everyone clicks was incredible. There wasn’t a lot of talking between us today because we knew exactly what each person on the team was doing; we didn’t need a lot of communication today. The team had a solid performance and everyone did their jobs; it was just a really special and amazing day. The work they did really allowed me to win. There was never a threat, so I was able to ride for a stage win with Chris on my wheel. I really have to thank the boys for that.”
Cheered on by the crowds of fans, many of whom braved the same route as the professional riders to get to the finish line, the cyclists dug deep and left it all out on the road for what is sure to be remembered as one of the most epic stages in the history of the race. An unforgiving route, after a neutral start in the town of Claremont, riders immediately began the ascent to Mt. Baldy, ultimately climbing more than 15,000 ft. over the 75.8-mile course.
“We hit the final part of Mt. Baldy with Dmitry (Muravyev) out in front, and he had done a lot the last seven to eight miles,” said Horner. “He got us all the way through at the bottom of the hill and then we started the climb. Then, the young Matt Busche took over and he was very, very impressive. I cannot stress how impressive he was today. He is a year and a half pro and while his experience is very limited, his riding ability is really high. When we were down to maybe five riders in the field, Levi (Leipheimer) went up there and told him to punch it and he punched it one last time. From there it was hopping on the Levi train and riding it all the way to the line.”
After an aggressive attack that was quickly reeled back, a 16-man group gained a small lead only 6.5 kilometers into the route. That group was quickly whittled down to only nine, comprised of Andrew Talansky (USA) of Team Garmin-Cervelo; Christopher Froome (GBR) of Sky Procycling; George Hincapie (USA) of BMC Racing Team; Francesco Bellotti (ITA) of Liquigas-Cannondale; Grischa Niermann (GER) of Rabobank Cycling Team; Alexander Efimkin (RUS) of Team Type 1-sanofi; Jonathan Patrick McCarty (USA) of Team Spidertech Powered By C10; Rob Britton (CAN) of Bissell Pro Cycling; and Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) of Team Garmin-Cervelo. With the first KOM of the day only five kilometers away, the group had a 30-second lead on the peloton.
With Team Garmin-Cervelo setting the pace in the break up the climb, the lead increased to two minutes after 22.5 kilometers of racing, and a gruppetto was formed approximately two minutes behind the field. Shortly after Froome dropped from the break, the race split into four groups on the road – an eight-man break, the first group of chasers led by Team RadioShack and then two more groups after that. The gruppetto was positioned approximately seven miles behind the break.
After the first Sprint competition, in which Bellotti took first, the break began climbing again with Hesjedal setting the tempo up front and Team RadioShack setting the pace in the main field. Leopard Trek soon joined the chase efforts and the peloton began to stretch, eventually leaving 50-60 riders in the field. As the field crossed the second KOM, McCarty once again took maximum points.
With the gruppetto 17 minutes and 30 seconds off the pace, and 40 riders left in the left in the main field, U.S. Champion Ben King (USA) continued to work hard for teammates Horner and Leipheimer. With the break’s lead down to 45 seconds, Talansky continued to set the pace of the seven-man group at the front as they approached the finish at the top of Mt. Baldy. In addition to Talansky, the break consisted of George Hincapie (USA) of BMC Racing Team, Hesjedal, Bellotti, Niermann, Efimkin and Britton. Nearing the start of the Mt. Baldy climb, Matt Busche (USA) began to set a hard tempo for teammates Horner and Leipheimer, who were second and third in line in the chase group.
Heading uphill, the break split completely apart, leaving only Efimkin in the lead with five kilometers of racing ahead. Soon a group of five, including Horner, Busche, Leipheimer, Laurens Ten Dam (NED) of Rabobank Cycling Team and Andy Schleck (LUX) of Leopard Trek, began closing in. Efimkin was caught with 2.9 kilometers to go.
With two kilometers to go, Horner and Leipheimer took the lead, both out of the saddle, using every ounce of energy to continue the uphill climb. Gaining speed as they neared the finish line, Leipheimer crossed first, reaching his hands in the air and high-fiving teammate Horner as they finished one of the most brutal stages in the history of the Amgen Tour of California.
After some courageous racing today, Horner remains in first place overall, followed by Leipheimer in second and Danielson in third.
“I really tried to ride my own tempo,” said Danielson. “When those guys went (Leipheimer and Horner), I knew other riders might blow up because of the altitude.”
Efimkin (RUS) of Team Type 1-sanofi was awarded the Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey for his relentless riding in the breakaway throughout the day. All of the other race jerseys remained unchanged with Horner in the Amgen Race Leader Jersey; Peter Sagan (SVK) of Liquigas-Cannondale in the Herbalife Sprint Jersey; McCarty (USA) in the California Travel & Tourism King of the Mountains (KOM) Jersey; and Tejay Van Garderen (USA) of Rabobank Cycling Team in the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey.
“Amgen is proud to be part of this amazingly successful race, which is helping advance the popularity of cycling in America while also helping increase awareness of the resources that are available to those affected by cancer,” said Stuart Arbuckle, vice president and general manager, Amgen Oncology. “The Breakaway from Cancer nonprofit partners collectively offer people affected by cancer a broad range of support services complementing those provided by a patient’s team of healthcare professionals.”
Founded by Amgen in 2005 as a complementary component to its title sponsorship of the Amgen Tour of California, Breakaway from Cancer continues to raise awareness of the important resources available to people impacted by cancer – from prevention to survivorship.
As part of the today’s race activities, Claremont resident and cancer survivor Edgar Reece fired the official start gun.
Levi Leipheimer (Team RadioShack), First Place, Stage 7
On today’s win
“Our team was perfect today. You don’t get to experience that much in professional cycling. To experience a day where everyone clicks was incredible. There wasn’t a lot of talking between us today because we knew exactly what each person on the team was doing; we didn’t need a lot of communication.”
On his team
“Matthew Busche has a lot of talent and he doesn’t even know it yet. All of the guys really did amazing today. The team had a solid performance and everyone did their jobs. I can’t say enough about Team RadioShack today; it was just a really special and amazing day. The work they did really allowed me to win. I never had to really step in and defend Chris’ (Horner) jersey because there just wasn’t any challenge to it. There was never a threat, so I was able to ride for a stage win with Chris (Horner) on my wheel. I really have to thank the boys for that.”
On preparing for today’s climb
“I came here in the beginning of April last year to preview Big Bear for the 2010 race and to get in some good training and good weather at a higher altitude. I was speaking with Jim Birrell and Andrew Messick and they told me they were thinking about Mt. Baldy, which I wasn’t familiar with. They said it would be great if I could go down there one day and check it out, so I came here couldn’t believe I was still in Los Angeles! I had no idea a climb like this existed here. I told them they had to put Mt. Baldy in the race because it would be amazing. It would be like having a Tour de France stage right here in the Amgen Tour of California, right next to one of the largest cities in the U.S. Let me just say that today was perfect. The weather, the fans, the course. I think they should do this stage every year.”
On Horner’s performance
“Chris (Horner) has really come into his own the past couple of years. You are seeing the results of his changes and I am not surprised at all. I have had some health issues this year and the team wasn’t very confident in me coming into the race; they needed somebody and it turned out to be Chris. I am happy because I showed today that I could have won, but my teammate was better and there is no denying that.”
On today’s conditions
“It was a really fantastic day today. The weather, the scenery, the setting, the fans, everythign was incredible. The last six kilometers of the course were some of the toughest in the world with the altitude and rough roads. It was pretty difficult and required a lot of fitness.”
Chris Horner (Team RadioShack), Second Place, Stage 7 and Amgen Race Leader Jersey Winner
On the final climb to the finish
“We hit the final part of Mt. Baldy with Dmitry (Muravyev) out in front, and he had done a lot the last seven to eight miles. He got us all the way through at the bottom of the hill and then we started the climb. Then, the young Matt Busche took over and he was very, very impressive. I cannot stress how impressive he was today. He is a year and a half pro and while his experience is very limited, his riding ability is really high. When we were down to maybe five riders in the field, Levi (Leipheimer) went up there and told him to punch it and he punched it one last time. From there it was hopping on the Levi train and riding it all the way to the line.”
On leading in the 2011 Amgen Tour of California
“It has been a fantastic week for Team RadioShack, and it was a fantastic day today. Pending anything catastrophic happening tomorrow, I don’t see much chance of losing the leader jersey. We are going to have a very good time Sunday night here in Los Angeles.”
Results - Stage 7
1. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Team RadioShack (USA)
2. Chris Horner (USA), Team RadioShack (USA)
3. Laurens Ten Dam (NED), Rabobank Cycling Team (NED)
General Classification After Stage 7
1. Chris Horner (Team RadioShack)
2. Levi Leipheimer (Team RadioShack)
3. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo)
4. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo)
5. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad)
6. Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank)
7. Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling)
8. Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek)
9. Steve Morabito (BMC Racing)
10. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo)
Jersey Leaders After Stage 7
Amgen Leader Jersey – Chris Horner (USA), Team RadioShack (USA)
California Travel & Tourism King of the Mountains Jersey – Jonathan Patrick McCarty (USA), Team Spidertech Powered by C10 (CAN)
Herbalife Sprint Jersey – Peter Sagan (SVK), Liquigas-Cannondale (ITA)
Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey – Tejay Van Garderen (USA), HTC-Highroad (USA)
Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey – Alexander Efimkin (RUS), Team Type 1-sanofi (USA)
Photo: Leonard Basobas/LB Photos