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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."

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.

"But you see a lot of teams pulling and making a good pace. So it's been difficult but the race really hasn't gone full gas yet."

Bert Grabsch of Germany, Leipheimer's teammate and a former time trial world champion, wasn't concerned.

"He (Leipheimer) is in good shape," said Grabsch. "In six weeks you can train and you can do a lot. He's been training in the last month and he's not in great shape yet. But he's in good shape."

With Peter Sagan of Slovakia winning the first four stages in sprints, Leipheimer contently finished in the main field, knowing Stage 5 would be his first ride since the leg fracture in his specialty discipline, the individual time trial.

Leipheimer began Stage 5 trailing race leader Sagan by 40 seconds, but he was more concerned about the expected winner, Dave Zabriskie. A time trial winner in all of cycling's grand tours, Zabriskie dominated the field in Bakersfield. Leipheimer, who won five time trials in the race's first six years, finished 16th, 1:44 behind.

Zabriskie's stellar time trial might also have hampered Leipheimer's chances to return to the Summer Olympics. The United States was awarded only one time trial position, and none of the likely candidates met the automatic selection criteria.

Therefore, USA Cycling, the sport's national governing body, has discretion to make the selection. Leipheimer was the bronze medalist in 2008 in Beijing, on a hilly, technical course; Zabriskie is a six-time national titlist and a flat time-trial specialist.

Zabriskie was the favorite in the Tour of California's Stage 5 time trial, but said he was further motivated by a potential Olympic selection.

Additionally, the rider selected to ride the time trial will be part of the five-rider Oympic road team.

Zabriskie, when not riding in his specialty, has a long career of support for teammates vying for overall victories. Leipheimer is more accustomed to riding in a team leader's role. June 15 is USA Cycling's team selection deadline.

Regardless of his Olympic status, Leipheimer's ultimate goal is to be the likely team leader on the Omega Pharma-QuickStep nine-rider Tour de France roster.

Beginning with his eighth-place-overall debut, Leipheimer has four top-10 Tour de France overall finishes, including his career-best third in 2007. But he's also had misfortune, twice crashing out of the race and last year finishing a career-low 31st overall after enduring crashes in several stages.

During his current recovery, Leipheimer remains optimistic that his broken leg will, ironically, have its benefits.

"Actually, I think it could work really well," he said. "Because I had a big (schedule) break, I'm going to build back up for the Tour.

"So hopefully I can be 100 percent by the time the start of the Tour comes."