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UPDATED: Fans jam Town Center for Amgen Stage 7 start

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Posted: February 21, 2009 7:56 p.m.
Updated: February 21, 2009 5:14 p.m.

Amgen Tour of California and Breakaway for Cancer organizers passed out boxes of chalk to spectators who scrawled messages of tribute, hope and encouragement for cancer victims and survivors on Town Center Drive before the start of the cycle race's Stage 7 Saturday.

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The official countdown at noon today signaled the beginning of the 88.9-mile Stage 7 of the eight-stage 2009 Amgen Tour of California cycle race, as cheering spectators undeterred by overcast skies and a cool temperature lined Town Center Drive three to five people deep from the mall entrance west to McBean Parkway.

With seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, Tour of California Stage 4 and 5 winner Mark Cavendish and overall race leader Levi Leipheimer in the top three pole positions, teams of professional cyclists from all over the world got rolling fast on the 88.9-mile stage from Santa Clarita to Pasadena.

The cyclists pedaled up McBean to Newhall Ranch Road, then over to Bouquet Canyon Road and north to Central Park, where the stage officially began about 12:08 p.m.

Powering north up Bouquet, the racers turned right at Vasquez Canyon Road, right onto Sierra Highway, left onto Sand Canyon Road, and left onto Soledad Canyon Road.

In Acton, the cyclists turned right onto Aliso Canyon Road and right onto Angeles Forest Highway.

From there, it was a grueling "King of Mountain" climb to Millcreek Summit at 4,906 feet above sea level, the second highest mountain on the Tour of California course.

The hair-raising 15-mile downhill run hooks up with Angeles Crest Highway, then drops into Pasadena for the racers' final five laps around a five-mile circuit through the hills surrounding the Rose Bowl.

The winners crossed the finish line in Pasadena at 3:40:16 (unofficial time) after the start.

Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R, France) was first, Hayden Roulston (Cerverlo, Switzerland) was second and Peter Weening (Rabobank, Netherlands) was third.

Defending Tour of California champion Levi Leipheimer retained his overall lead in the race. Lance Armstong is now sixth overall. The Americans are teammates riding for Astana (Kazahkstan).

View the slide show for more on-the-scene photos.

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