Voigt survives climb 

The riders got serious and the course grueling as the fourth day of the Amgen Tour of California presented the 639.5-mile race’s most severe climb Wednesday — the day before its longest stage.

Local favorite Levi Leipheimer of the Discovery Channel hung on to the yellow overall leader’s jersey, taking second place in the stage behind German Jens Voigt of the Danish team CSC. Voigt moved into second place overall, three seconds behind Leipheimer. Belgium’s Jurgen Van De Walle of the Quickstep team took the king of the mountain jersey, for the day’s best hill climb.

"I basically started sprinting out of that corner," said Voigt, referring to a 90-degree turn about 200 meters before the finish. "[I thought] I’m going to sprint to the line and not put my arms up until I’m over the line," he said after winning by almost one bicycle length. Argentina’s Juan Jose "J.J." Haedo, Voigt’s teammate, threw his arms up in the air as he crossed the finish line first Tuesday.

Sierra Road, which came late in the 94.6-mile stage from Stockton to San Jose, included three miles of climbing and an 1,800-foot gain in elevation, with grades as steep as 10 percent in the last 20 miles of the stage. The hill is a Category 1, the most difficult of the four categories of hills in cycling. Hills are categorized based on a combination of grade, length and position in the stage.

Voigt called the climb the "toughest part of the race," and said he was "hanging on like grim death" to stay in the lead pack.

The hill is a defining moment for riders’ standings in the race.

"The word we use is, ‘make a selection,’" race announcer Jeff Roake said. "The riders will survive and the first groups will gain advantage over the competition. That’s what we saw today."

Roake said the exertion needed to mount the hill, combined with the 130-mile stage today, could "totally destroy a rider," by draining him of all his energy reserves.

"If you miss a feed, it could be totally devastating on a day like today," Roake said.

Riders eat and drink by grabbing bags of food held out by team support staff along the course. Roake pointed out that dropping one of those bags could take a rider out of contention in a stage as exhausting as Wednesday’s.

"Today was a real bike race. It was a hard one," Leipheimer said. He has held onto the yellow jersey since winning Sunday’s prologue, beating first-year pro Jason Donald’s time by just one second. Donald, riding for Team Slipstream, had been hovering in second place, but dropped to 38th Wednesday.

Nine riders failed to finish the stage in the allotted time and were eliminated from the race, leaving the field at 130 riders.


For the latest news and features about the race, be sure to check our special Amgen Tour of California page.

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