Upstart upstages Levi 

The 2007 Amgen Tour of California opened Sunday with a near-upset as a first-year professional racer held the lead in the time trial for more than two hours, only to be toppled by local favorite Levi Leipheimer in the last heat of the day.

A crowd of nearly 300,000 watched Jason Donald, 27, of Team Slipstream, set the bar when he rode the 1.9-mile course along the Embarcadero to Coit Tower in 4 minutes, 50.5 seconds. The seventh rider on the course in a field of 144, Donald watched racer after racer fall short of his time until Leipheimer crossed the finish line in 4:49.05.

Leipheimer, who lives in Santa Rosa, wore the coveted yellow jersey — awarded to the race leader — into his hometown last year after winning the prologue and will do so again this year. But with Donald less than a second behind, Leipheimer’s Discovery Channel team will have to work hard to protect the lead.

"One second to the leader’s jersey in the biggest race I’ve ever done," Donald mused in an awed tone. "It’s hard to believe that Levi Leipheimer has to worry about me."

While Donald did not take the day’s stage, he did take second place and was awarded the sprint jersey, which goes to the rider with the most bonus points.

Another American, Ben Jaques-Maynes, racing for Priority Health, took third place. The Berkeley resident overcame a knee injury that sidelined him last year to post a time of 4:54.23.

The near-upset by an unheard-of rider challenging a well-known favorite helped put Slipstream in a position to challenge Discovery Channel for control of the race, as another Slipstream rider, Taylor Tolleson, took the best young rider jersey. Tolleson, a 21-year-old from Santa Cruz, finished 19th.

But Leipheimer did not appear concerned, just happy.

"I’m ecstatic to be able to lead the race into my hometown again," he said.

As for his success in the face of a headwind that sprang up along the Embarcadero 30 minutes into the race, Leipheimer said, "The crowd definitely carried me up Coit Tower. Near the finish, people were starting to throw their arms up and you just start floating."

While he initially blanked onDonald’s name during a post-race interview, Leipheimer recovered, saying, "We’ll be hearing more of him."

For the latest news and features about the race, be sure to check our special

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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