Levi builds up lead

Only two days of cycling remain and King of California Levi Leipheimer is showing no sign of abdicating his throne.

The 2007 Amgen Tour of California winner managed to hold on not only to the yellow jersey as the race’s leader following Stage 5 on Friday, but he won the day’s time trial in the Danish-themed village of Solvang on the Central Coast.

“It looks like it’s Levi’s race to lose,” said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, which puts on the three-year-old race.

Still, the time trial — usually seen as a decisive day of the race — placed several other riders within pedaling distance of 34-year-old Santa Rosa resident’s crown.

Leipheimer, who rides for Astana, finished the 15-mile course in 30 minutes, 46 seconds. British time-trial champion David Millar of Slipstream-Chipotle finished 49 seconds later at 31:15. Millar’s teammate American Christian Vandevelde placed third at 31:31.

The order at the time trial now mirrors the overall standings. Leipheimer remains in front at 21 hours, 14 minutes, 52 seconds. Millar is 49 seconds behind, while Vandevelde trails by 1:08.

Leipheimer said he was proud to be leading the race. He questioned whether he could pull off the performance, he admitted, especially after Thursday’s grueling 7½-hour ride in the driving rain.

“I’m not going to try to act like I’m a machine. I had my doubts,” he said. “I just told myself, ‘I’m going to do my best. It’s going to be ugly, but I’m going to fight.’

“With every passing kilometer, I was yelling at myself. I came to the last corner and I told myself not to crash because I was a little cross-eyed.”

While Friday’s showers and drizzle were a marked improvement over the previous day’s violent weather, wind gusts were a factor in the time trial.

“There were a couple times, on the downhills especially, where I almost got knocked offmy bike,” Vandevelde said.

CSC’s Fabian Cancellara, the world time-trial champion who many picked to dominate Solvang’s course, came in fifth and is now in fourth place overall, 1:18 behind Leipheimer.

“I think today was a statement about my actual fitness,” Cancellara said. “I did a very good stage to San Jose and I think I paid the price today. … It was evident today Levi is a better rider now. We will have to see what’s possible in the next two stages.”

tbarak@examiner.com

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