SAN JOSE, Calif. (VN) — RadioShack’s Chris Horner took control of the Amgen Tour of California on Wednesday, dominating the mountaintop finish on Sierra Road for a stage win and the largest GC lead in race history.

2011 Amgen Tour of California, stage 4, Casey B. Gibson gallery
Chris Horner wins stage 4 at the top of Sierra Road.

The steep finish climb up Sierra Road was expected to be critical — not just for the stage win, but for the overall 2011 title. RadioShack kept control of the race until its base, driving the group over the earlier Mount Hamilton climb and then leading the peloton to the base of the final climb.

On the opening slope, The Shack’s Matthew Busche took a massive pull and then handed the lead over to Horner and teammate Levi Leipheimer. The two quickly pulled away with an elite group and then, as the slope stiffened, rode away from that group.

Horner led the pair, riding mostly out of the saddle with Leipheimer tucked behind. It looked as though Horner was setting up Leipheimer for a final attack.

But the pair soon closed on Garmin-Cervelo’s Ryder Hesjedal, who had attacked on a descent 15km earlier and hit the base of the Sierra climb with a 30-second lead. When Horner and Leipheimer caught the Canadian, Horner accelerated slightly. Leipheimer, the three-time winner of the Tour of California, could not follow, and instead marked Hesjedal.

Horner never looked back after that, riding to victory by over a minute.

Behind, Leipheimer and Hesjedal were joined by an elite chase group that contained UnitedHealthcare’s Rory Sutherland, Leopard-Trek’s Andy Schleck and Garmin’s Tom Danielson. Notably missing from this elite group, but not far behind, was HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen.

Schleck, Leipheimer, Sutherland and Danielson came in to the final 500 meters together, and Schleck attacked over a final steep rise to take an emotional second place on the day that his teammate Wouter Weylandt was memorialized in Italy.

Sutherland outsprinted Leipheimer for a brilliant third place.

Horner said later that the team was focused from the start on launching someone to victory on Sierra Road.

“I think it really has to go back to kilometer 0 and look at what our tactics were. We wanted the break to go away … Sky put a rider on the front with us because they had the jersey, just to show respect for the jersey.

“The job was for (Jason McCartney) to drill the bottom and then for Haimar (Zubeldia) to take over.

“The real destruction started with Matt. Matt Busche is a young pro, but a fabulous rider.”

As for who gets the glory, Horner said it didn’t matter as long as it was a team win.

“I don’t care if it’s Levi, if it’s me; I don’t care if it’s Matt Busche. The objective as a professional is always that the team wins. That’s the first objective. The second objective is of course that you wish it to be you.”

The early break

2011 Amgen Tour of California, stage 4, Casey B. Gibson gallery
Bissell made a strong showing with both Vennel and Maynes in the break.

A group of ten rode off the front in the first 20km and built a four-minute lead. Among the luminaries in the group was world champion Thor Hushovd, who was perhaps hoping to get a head start on the day’s climbs to be able to help his team’s GC riders later on.

The others in the break: Martin Pedersen (Leopard-Trek), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Rubens Bertogliati (Team Type 1-sanofi aventis), Will Routley (Spidertech), Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), Jeremy Vennell (Bissell), Alastair Loutit (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda), Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) and James Stemper (Kenda/5-hour Energy).

The group gobbled up some KOM points but never got a large lead ahead of the RadioShack-led field. And approaching Mount Hamilton, the day’s second-most-difficult climb, RadioShack quickly pulled back the group, which had exploded on the opening slopes of that climb in any case. Bissell’s Jacques-Maynes and Vennell were the final break members to be drawn back.

Mount Hamilton to Sierra Road: The Hesjedal Show

RadioShack drove over the top, whittling the lead group down significantly, but not dropping any of the GC contenders (except Team Sky’s 1-2, Craig Henderson and Ben Swift, who did not stay in contact for long).

On the twisty, undulating descent, Garmin’s Hesjedal attacked on a small rise and was joined by Rabobank’s Paul Martens. The pair hammered the descent, but Martens sometimes struggled to stay with Hesjedal in the corners. Hesjedal waited for him on the flatter sections, reckoning he could use the help in reaching the Sierra Road finish climb.

Martens completely overshot one turn and pulled off the road into a dirt driveway. Hesjedal looked uncertain, but again waited and the pair got to the flats with a 30-second lead.

When the Sierra Road climb began, Hesjedal immediately dropped Martens and attacked the climb. But his gap was not nearly enough to hold off the RadioShack-led lead group, and he was caught with 3.7km to the finish.

Quick results:
Stage 4

  • 1 Chris Horner (RadioShack) in 3:27:51
  • 2 Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) at 0:01:15
  • 3 Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare)
  • 4 Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack)
  • 5 Thomas Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo)
  • 6 Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo)
  • 7 Ryder Hesjedal (Team Garmin-Cervelo)
  • 8 Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank)
  • 9 Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Cervelo)*
  • 10 Linus Gerdemann (Leopard-Trek)

GC after stage 4

  • 1. Chris Horner (RadioShack)
  • 2. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) at 1:15
  • 3. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) at 1:22
  • 4. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo) at 1:29
  • 5. Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) at 1:30
  • 6. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) at 1:30
  • 7. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo) at 1:36

Complete results