Leipheimer pads his lead

Defending 2-time champ wins Stage 6 in Tour of California

February 20, 2009 

Tour of California Cycling

Levi Leipheimer crosses the finish line, winning the stage six individual time trial of the Tour of California cycling race in Solvang, Calif., Friday, Feb. 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Santa Maria Times, Bryan Walton)


SOLVANG -- Lance Armstrong is just along for the ride this time. The Tour of California is all about helping teammate Levi Leipheimer defend his title.

So far, so good.

Leipheimer won the individual time trial Friday and added to his overall lead, with Armstrong finishing 14th.

Leipheimer crossed the finish line of the 15-mile course in 30 minutes, 40 seconds, and waved three fingers on his right hand to signal his third consecutive time-trial victory in this quaint Danish tourist town. The American who competes for Astana is going for his third victory in the race's four-year history and increased his overall lead by 12 seconds.

"It gets more and more special," he said. "I said on the podium this one is the most special because it was so tight. For me to beat these guys, it's a big honor."

Armstrong, riding his time-trial bike that had been stolen along with three belonging to his Astana teammates after last weekend's time trial in Sacramento, dropped from fourth to sixth in the overall standings. The bike, worth about $10,000, was turned into police Wednesday by an unidentified resident.

"There's no pressure on me," Armstrong said. "This race is about Levi, so while I was doing my race I was waiting to hear the time splits on Levi and (David) Zabriskie."

The 37-year-old seven-time Tour de France champion was unable to gain precious time racing against the clock on the fast, mostly flat course, leaving him unlikely to dethrone Leipheimer over the final two days.

"Done with the tt. That hurt!" Armstrong wrote on his Twitter feed nearly two hours after finishing. "Not a bad first test. Wanted to be top 15 so was able to do that. Story of the day tho was Levi. Amazing."

Leipheimer doesn't expect Armstrong to go for a victory in either of the two remaining stages.

"He knows how cycling works, you can't do it without a team," he said. "I have a lead and he's a great teammate. I think he will focus on helping me win the race."

Leipheimer understands the arrangement is a quid pro quo for the Giro d'Italia, which Armstrong is scheduled to race in for the first time in May with Astana.

"I hope so because that means he's riding extremely well and he's back to the level he was when he was winning seven Tour de Frances," he said. "You really have to appreciate the work that your team does for you. When I'm able to help a teammate win a race I share in the victory."

The race, which included a finish in Modesto and a start in Merced, continues today with Stage 7, an 88.9-mile ride from Santa Clarita to Pasadena's historic Rose Bowl stadium.

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