Levi Leipheimer of the US moved closer to a third straight Tour of California title on Friday with a triumph in the sixth stage, a key 24km individual time trial.
Leipheimer won the time trial en route to the title in each of the past two years.
On Friday he was eight seconds in front of David Zabriskie of the US to extend his overall lead in the race that concludes today near San Diego.
Astana’s Leipheimer stretched his overall lead to 36 seconds over Zabriskie, who overtook Michael Rogers of Australia for second place in the standings.
Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong finished 14th in the time trial, 1 minute, 16 seconds behind his Astana teammate Leipheimer.
Armstrong, who is mounting a comeback this year after a hiatus of three and a half seasons, fell from fourth to sixth in the overall standings, 1:46 off the lead.
Friday’s stage in the Danish-themed village of Solvang was his first full-scale time trial in competition since the 2005 Tour de France, the year he won his seventh title in the storied race.
Armstrong was riding his one-of-a-kind time trial bike that was stolen and then turned in to police in Sacramento by an unidentified citizen.
“I haven’t been with it, so I don’t know what it’s been through,” he said. “I trust. I thought it was kind of a cool thing that it came back. Don’t know how it came back, but it came back.”
The stolen bike saga, which became a cause on the micro-blogging Web site Twitter, was just one instance of how Armstrong’s participation has focused attention on the once low-key Tour of California.
Leipheimer said Armstrong’s presence was certainly all to the good for Astana.
“To have him around is all positive because riders, staff, everybody is doing their job above and beyond,” he said. “The team runs to perfection and no one can let each other down. It’s a great environment.”
Armstrong, who launched his comeback at the Tour Down Under in Australia last month, has said his primary goal in California is to help Leipheimer capture his third title.