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Despite recent injury, Santa Rosa rider is sixth overall heading into final stage

  • Levi Leipheimer during the National Anthem before the start of the stage one of the Amgen Tour of California 2012, Santa Rosa, California.

MOUNT BALDY — With the Tour de France on the not-too-distant horizon, Levi Leipheimer has now pedaled about 700 miles in the past week in his quest to return to the sport's pinnacle event for the 10th time.

The three-week Tour de France has been Leipheimer's yearly focus since his debut in 2002. It's about six weeks away, the same time frame since the Santa Rosa rider fractured his left fibula during a training ride in Spain.

"There's no pain in the leg," Leipheimer said Saturday after finishing ninth in the seventh and most difficult stage of the Tour of California. "It's just that I've lost a lot of muscle in the leg and the muscle is very tight, and there's scar tissue."

Tour Of California Stage 1

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Leipheimer, 38, who won the same Tour of California stage last year, finished 1 minute and 8 seconds behind climbing specialist and new race leader Robert Gesink of the Netherlands.

Under ideal circumstances, Leipheimer would have likely ridden at or close to the front as the stage reached its most severe gradient en route to its finish at the ski resort here, at an elevation of 6,445 feet.

But as he did in Friday's sixth stage — when he placed 14th in the eight-day race's first true mountain stage — Leipheimer rode toward to front. He's still building toward the form that helped catapult him to 2011 titles at the Tour of Switzerland, Tour of Utah and USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

"Any time you injure yourself, there's scar tissue," said Leipheimer, who is sixth overall heading into today's final stage, a largely ceremonial road race from Beverly Hills to Los Angeles left. "So I'm just trying to keep the muscle as loose as possible for now, and hopefully I'll get some fitness out of the race."

Leipheimer announced his participation in the race's seventh edition two days prior to its May 13 start in Santa Rosa. He used the opening four stages to test his recovery and gradually increase his fitness, with the Tour de France in mind.

But Leipheimer cited the Olympic time trial (Aug. 1), Tour of Utah (Aug. 7-12) and USA Pro Challenge (Aug. 20-26) as additional season goals. He'll also defend his Tour of Switzerland title beginning June 9.

"The stages have been hard but they haven't been selective," Leipheimer said. "So, it really hasn't been really aggressive at all.


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