Amgen Tour of Drama – Stage 6

The time trial in Solvang was going to cement who was truly the leader of the double-pronged RadioShack squad. Chris Horner’s grip on the golden leader’s jersey looked pretty secure going into stage 6. However, waiting in the wings was the three-time Amgen Tour of California champion and teammate Levi Leipheimer.

While the day’s stage was the draw for the thousands of spectators lining the orange fencing, the underlying story was Tyler Hamilton’s admission of doping and accusing Lance Armstrong of the same. Later in the day CBS dropped another bomp – BMC’s George Hincapie admitted using performance enhancing drugs with Lance Armstrong. The facade of Lance Armstrong had taken another direct hit – this time from a close friend with no ax to grind. It was really looking to be The End of Days.

While there was drama in the press room there was still racing on the course. The first leading times were not near the time Leipheimer had set in previous Solvang time trials. Those who are historians of the Tour of California know that this was the central California town where Leipheimer had always solidified his race lead.

One small surprise was 20-year old Taylor Phinney. He stopped the clock in 32:12 good enough for 21st place when it was all said and done. However, his performance was a bit of a surprise as many hoped for an upset or even a top three on the day. Speaking to Phinney’s parents yesterday they were a little more guarded on how they thought their son would perform. Looks like parents always know best.

The next big favorite to roll down the starting ramp in downtown Solvang was Garmin-Cervelo’s “Screaming Vegan” David Zabriskie. Not a huge surprise he recorded the fastest time at that point. However, the big dogs were yet to roll: Andy Schleck, Leipheimer and race leader Horner.

Schleck who has a propensity for excelling in the climbs, but not so much in the time trial, had a disappointing ride and his chances for the overall were ripped asunder.

Bursting around the final corner and gunning it for the finish line was Lepheimer. He crossed the line looking like he’d given 100% in order to keep his Solvang time trial streak alive. He rolled past his RadioShack handlers asking for his finishing time. When he was told second place, Leipheimer banged his aero-bars in frustration. All streaks have to come to an end.

Finally race leader Horner crossed the line finishing in sixth place, 51 seconds slower than DZ and more importantly just 37 seconds slower that his teammate. Barring disaster Horner wrapped up his overall victory at the Amgen Tour of California. All that remains is can he top it off by putting a bow on top at the Baldy summit on Saturday?

At the press conference Horner revealed that he was being pulled between spending time with his kids in Bend, Oregon and promoting his team sponsor Nissan. As a result, the upcoming US Pro championships were now off his race calender. Instead he is focusing on a top 5 in the Tour de France. With performances like he’s had in the Amgen Tour of California that is not an unreasonable goal.

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