There may still be one stage to go of the Amgen Tour of California, but yesterday’s Stage 7 pretty much saw a coronation of this year’s probable winner with Levi Leipheimer, three times victor in this event, winning the stage and congratulating overall leader and RadioShack team mate Chris Horner as they crossed the line together on the summit of Mount Baldy.
The order in which the two RadioShack riders crossed the line is the reverse of that in Wednesday's Stage 4, when Horner took the race leader's jersey from Team Sky's Greg Henderson.
The 39-year-old now lies 38 seconds ahead of Leipheimer, two years his junior, on the general classification, with Tom Danielson of Garmin Cervelo more than two minutes further back.
With today’s eighth and final stage featuring a flat, five-lap closing circuit at Thousand Oaks that will almost certainly result in a sprint finish, yesterday’s performance in all likelihood seals Horner’s win.
"Our team was perfect today," explained stage winner 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."
Early on in the stage, a nine-man break got away, including two riders from Garmin Cervelo, Ryder Hesjedal and Andrew Talansky, who forced the pace at the front of the race, as well as a man very much in the news, BMC Racing’s George Hincapie. Behind, RadioShack led the chasing group as they sought to protect Horner’s race lead.
On the final climb of Mount Baldy, however, the breakaway split apart, with Alexander Efimkin of Team Type 1-sanofi remaining alone at the front of the race.
Further back, as they approached the foot of the climb, there were just six riders in pursuit – Horner, Leipheimer and Radio Shack colleagues Dmitry Muravyev and Matt Busche, plus Rabobank’s Laurens Ten Dam and Leopard Trek’s Andy Schleck.
"We hit the final part of Mt. Baldy with Dmitry out in front, and he had done a lot the last seven to eight miles," explained 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," he added.
Today’s stage eight covers 132.4km from Santa Clarita to Thousand Oaks, just North of Los Angeles, including two testing climbs, Balcolm Canyon and the Norwegian Grade, ahead of the closing circuit where Team Sky’s Ben Swift will be one of the sprinters hopeful to close the race with a win.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.