Butte’s Leipheimer Leads Tour of California

By Beacon Staff

SAN JOSE (AP) – Levi Leipheimer took the overall lead in the Tour of California on Wednesday, while Robert Gesink of the Netherlands won the mountainous 102-mile third stage from Modesto to San Jose.

The 21-year-old Gesink finished in 4 hours, 28 minutes, 29 seconds.

“We were screaming at each to ride strong to get to the finish together,” said Gesink, who rode with Leipheimer for the final 20 miles. “I won one race last year, but this win is better because the field is so much stronger.”

Leipheimer, the Astana rider who finished third in the 2007 Tour de France, finished just behind Gesink in the same time to open a 13-second lead over Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland. Gesink was third overall, 15 seconds behind Leipheimer in the seven-stage, eight-day race.

Leipheimer and Gesink, emerged at the front of the field following the most difficult stage in the race’s three-year history. It featured five climbs, including the ascent of Mount Hamilton — elevation 4,360 feet — followed by a steep 20-mile descent with 165 turns.

“Today was the hardest day we see in the Tour of California in its three-year history,” said Leipheimer, from Butte, Mont. “Mount Hamilton turned out to be a really hard climb and for Team Astana we had something to prove. The team was phenomenal.”

The remaining 120 riders from a starting field of 133 in Palo Alto last Sunday will contest the race’s longest leg Thursday, a 135-mile stage 4 road race from Seaside to San Luis Obispo. The race will end Sunday.