Chris Horner Climbs the Way to Success in Stage 4 of 2011 Amgen Tour of California
In one of the most impressive team and individual performances of the Amgen Tour of California, Chris Horner (USA) of Team RadioShack out performed his competitors, and teammate Levi Leipheimer (USA), to win the first true mountaintop finish in the history of the race atop Sierra Road outside San Jose.
In one of the most impressive team and individual performances of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California so far, Chris Horner (USA) of Team RadioShack outperformed his competitors and even teammate and three-time Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer (USA), to win the first true mountaintop finish in the history of the race atop Sierra Road outside San Jose.
Stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California 2011 from Livermore to San Jose was short, but intense, challenging riders with a total of five King of the Mountains competitions (KOMs), two of which are legendary in California cycling lore - Mt. Hamilton and Sierra Road.
As Horner crossed the finish line, he raised his fists in the air to cheers from the throng of roaring fans who had flocked to the top of the mountain. Horner built a lead of one minute and 15 seconds over his nearest competitor Leipheimer. Tom Danielson of Team Garmin-Cervelo is one minute and 22 seconds back in third place.
"Our goal today was to blow apart the field, and we did," commented Horner, who at 39 years-old is in the best form of his 16-year pro career. "The last five weeks I was on a mission to come to the Amgen Tour of California in the best fitness of my life. I've put in the best five weeks of training, and it has been a hard five weeks, but it was worth it because it was an easy five kilometers to the top of the summit."
"Levi (Leipheimer) is the three-time champion and without a doubt I was working for him but on the Sierra climb the legs were good. If you look at the tape you'll see I always made room for Levi and he's still the protected leader going into the time trial with him as a big favorite. There will be no holding back. I've got some good form and I can handle a time trial too. Maybe we'll go 1-2," Horner told Roadcycling.com and our mobile sister site Roadcycling.mobi.
Paying tribute to cyclist Wouter Weylandt, who died tragically while racing in the Giro d'Italia just last week, Stage 4 began in the city of Livermore with a moment of silence for the fallen Belgian Team Leopard-Trek rider. The Leopard-Trek team, led by Andy Schleck (LUX), was brought to the front of the line to lead out the group for what would be an intense, grueling stage.
The attacks started immediately with Bissell Pro Cycling at the front of several attempted breaks, but nothing stuck. The first real break was established with 10 riders from eight different teams, which claimed a 40-second lead on the pack.
With five kilometers to go before the first KOM of the day on Mines Road, the 10 men worked together to establish a gap of two minutes and 40 seconds over the group. Lars Boom (NED) of Team Rabobank was the first to reach the top of the first KOM competition, and by the end, the gap between the breakaway and peloton was two minutes and 30 seconds.
The next two KOMs on San Antonio Valley Rd., both category four-rated climbs, were won by Will Routley (CAN) of Team Spidertech Powered by C10 and Jesse Anthony (USA) of Team Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth, respectively. On the descent of the second KOM, the gap was closed, but split again once the group hit flatter ground.
At the front of the peloton, Team RadioShack continued to set the tempo, working for team captain Leipheimer and Horner. RadioShack managed to keep the gap at less than a minute. With back-to-back KOMs, the climbers put serious pressure on the group as everyone rolled closer to the last two big mountains of the day.
With five kilometers to go to the third KOM, the gap had increased a bit with a lead of one minute and 10 seconds on the chasers, still led by Team RadioShack. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) of Team Garmin-Cervelo launched an attack on a small climb that interrupted the decent and was quickly joined by Paul Martens (GER) of Team Rabobank, but Hesjedal continued to do most of the work on the front. On the third KOM, Anthony crossed the line first, and the fourth KOM was captured by Jonathan Patrick McCarty (USA) of Team Spidertech Powered by C10.
As the race continued, three riders from Team RadioShack kept pace at the front of the peloton. Horner and Leipheimer leapt off the front to chase down Hesjedal, leaving Schleck (Leopard-Trek) and David Zabriskie (USA) of Team Garmin-Cervelo behind. They were able to catch him, but Horner proved to be too strong for both and he established a gap between himself and Leipheimer and Hesjedal, a decisive move that put Horner in the lead with three kilometers to go until the finish.
Leipheimer and Hesjedal continued to lose ground as their chasers closed in. With one kilometer to go, Horner had a lead of one minute and five seconds, riding confidently on his own.
While the Amgen Tour of California has gone over Sierra Rd. every year since its inception, today was the first time the race finished at the top. Painfully steep, Sierra Rd. is 3.5 miles long and climbs to more than 1,700 feet with an average grade of 9.4 percent. At the top of the mountain, Horner placed first, Schleck rode to second and Rory Sutherland (AUS) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling took third.
"This is it. For us, this race is the Tour de France," Sutherland commented after the stage finish and added "It is a huge objective for our sponsor and to be able to get on the podium today was very exhilarating. It just so happened that Chris (Horner) was going a little faster than us. This race is what we have been working for. We started working towards this a month after the Amgen Tour of California last year."
The top-three general classification leaders after today are Team RadioShack's Chris Horner in first, Levi Leipheimer (Team RadioShack) in second and Tom Danielson (USA) of Team Garmin-Cervelo in third. Team Garmin-Cervelo is leading the teams classification.
"In today's stage, we had the guys to bring the pressure," Hesjedal told Roadcycling.com in the race zone at the finish. Hesjedal added "It was fun to see Levi (Leipheimer) and Chris (Horner) out there today. Chris just kind of rolled away and Levi sat on me. Fortunately, I was able to stay in there and bring a little bit of time back for the team. There is still a lot of racing left and putting pressure on Team RadioShack over the next few days is a big goal of ours."
Will Team Garmin-Cervelo succeed or will Team RadioShack's Leipheimer or Horner prevail? Stay tuned to Roadcycling.com to find out!