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Center Stage Taken Away

Posted: February 24, 2008 3:46 a.m.
Updated: April 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
Bicyclists from around the world pushed themselves to the limit as they approached the finish line in Valencia during Stage 6 of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California race on Saturday, only to have the first rider to cross the finish line have his victory yanked away.

Team High Road's Mark Cavendish clinched his first Tour victory as he crossed the finish line first at 4 hours, 18 minutes and 31 seconds, though his celebration was short-lived as race officials overturned his first-place finish, pushing Brazilian Luciano Pagliarini of Saunier Duval Scott into first place.

Heading into today's final stage to Pasadena, American Levi Leipheimer, riding for Astana, retained the yellow jersey as the overall race leader.

Cavendish was penalized 20 seconds after race officials determined he grabbed onto the side of a team car while trying to get back into the peloton during the hectic final miles of the stage.

Toward the end of the first of the final three laps of the stage, three Rock Racing teammates crashed, including Mario Cipollini and Freddie Rodriguez. The crash apparently delayed Cavendish and caused him to grab onto a team car, which led to the penalty.

"These are the rules that we all live by," said Jim Birrell of Medalist Sports, the race's production team. "These are officials who are appointed by the international governing body. We as race organizers have no pull or say in their process."

With the ruling, Pagliarini, who also took stage 4 of the 2007 Tour of Missouri, earned his 11th career victory. He also earned a 10-second bonus in his overall time. Crossing the finish line after Cavendish and Pagliarini was CSC's Juan Jose Haedo, who officially finished second. They were followed by Paolo Bettini of Quick Step in third.

"I'm very happy, but it's not like a win with your hands up," Pagliarini said. "I'm not so happy as I would like to be."

Before the official ruling, Cavendish felicitously commented that he won due to his speed.

"I guess I am just a faster rider," he said moments after he crossed the finish line first.

Yet after the official review, Cavendish dropped from the first position to 74th.

Neither Cavendish nor his teammates were available to comment after the ruling. Team High Road has yet to win a stage or threaten the lead in this year's race.

Entering the final stage, which starts in Santa Clarita today and continues through the Angeles National Forest before concluding in Pasadena, Leipheimer felt confident that he will finish in first.

"I feel very confident our team will keep the lead," he said. "I think this team is great and we have done a lot of work so far, but we are willing to see this down to the end."

Overall, Leipheimer leads with a time of 25 hours, 33 minutes and 23 seconds. British David Millar of Slipstream-Chipotle still trails by 49 seconds. Millar's teammate, Christian Vande Velde is in third place.

The 105-mile hilly stage from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita started with 102 riders on Saturday morning. Yet by the end of the stage, 91 officially finished.

Two riders who finished Stage 5 on Friday failed to start the Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita stage, while 11 riders dropped out during Saturday's course.

For the first 95 miles of the stage, most riders paced themselves through tough terrain and moderately cold, though not wet, conditions.

Leipheimer's Astana team controlled the pace coming into Santa Clarita, containing a break of riders that did not pose a threat to his overall lead.

Yet in the final 10 miles, which included three rounds of approximately 3.3 miles through Santa Clarita's city streets, a heated battle ensued between the sprinting teams of High Road, Quick Step, Rabobank and Astana.

As riders began the first of the final three laps, the break had a gap of nearly three minutes. However that gap was cut to 55 seconds at the end of that first lap, and second-place Millar - who started the stage 49 seconds behind Leipheimer -officially erased the gap in the third and final lap, moving to the front of the pack in the final mile. He placed himself in position to shave precious seconds off of Leipheimer's lead.

Yet Astana and High Road made sure they had the final say, as both teams put the hammer down to set up a contentious field sprint that was initially won by Cavendish.

"I feel very privileged and proud," Leipheimer said after the race. "It's the best race in the world right now."

While Leipheimer finished Saturday with the yellow jacket, other riders earned jackets of their own for Stage 6.

Austrian Rory Sutherland of Health Net earned the jacked as Most Aggressive Rider; Canadian Dominique Rollin of Toyota-United was announced as Best Sprinter; Rabobank's Robert Gesink of the Netherlands was the Best Young Rider (under the age of 24); America's Scott Nydam, riding for BMC Racing, earned the King of the Mountain jacket.

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