Robert Gesink (Rabobank) clinched victory atop Mount Baldy on Saturday to set himself up for the overall win in the 2012 Tour of California.
Gesink out-paced fellow escapee Darwin Atapuma (Colombia-Coldeportes) to win the race's toughest stage. Atapuma's team-mate and fellow Colombian Fabio Duarte placed third at 14 seconds.
Gesink's win shows that the Dutch Tour de France contender is back on form after last year's horror crash that resulted in him breaking his leg in four places and undergoing corrective surgery. He was still struggling to walk in January.
What unfolded prior to Gesink crossing the line with arms raised was pure drama. Going into the daunting stage, David Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda) lead the overall classification after a dominant display in Thursday's individual time trial.
Defending champion Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) put in a surprisingly poor performance in the time trial, finishing two minutes and 50 seconds adrift of Zabriskie and needed to do something special to try and claw back some time and move up the overall classification.
Horner - knowing that he is the better climber over Zabriskie - forced an early escape group on the stage's opening climb. He had three RadoShack-Nissan team-mates for company, including German powerhouse Jens Voigt who put in some typically devastatingly big turns at the front to assist his leader.
The break managed to distance the bunch considerably as BMC Racing and Garmin-Barracuda worked hard to try and reel them back in. But Horner was on the rampage, and only Darwin Atapuma (Colombia-Coldeportes) managed to stay with him on the descent toward the final climb of Mount Baldy.
Initially riding together, Atapuma accelerated away from Horner as the road reared upwards, the Colombian hunting for the stage win. Behind them, the what was left of the bunch had splintered as Gesink had launched an attack with 4.5 kilometres to go. Gesink caught up with Horner, passed him and then linked up with Atapuma. The two rode to the summit, with Gesink out-sprinting his companion and setting himself up for the overall win.
Zabriskie put in a huge effort to try and cling on to the race lead, and came home in 11th place, limiting his losses to one minute and 25 second to Gesink. It was enough to see him slip to just second in the overall classification. Garmin's Tom Danielson put in a solid ride to place fifth on the stage and move up to third overall.
The UCI 2.HC-ranked Tour of California concludes on Sunday, May 20, in Los Angeles with a short 72km stage that should end in a bunch sprint.
Tour of California 2012, stage seven: Ontario to Mt Baldy, 126km
1. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank in 3-37-08
2. Darwin Atapuma (Col) Colombia-Coldeportes at same time
3. Fabio Duarte (Col) Colombia-Coldeportes at 14 secs
4. Joseph Dombrowski (USA) Bontrager-Livestrong at 18 secs
5. Thomas Danielson (USA) Garmin-Barracuda at 26 secs
6. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack-Nissan at 38 secs
7. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Rabobank at 1-04
8. Tiago Machado (Por) RadioShack-Nissan at 1-06
9. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 1-08
10. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 1-22
Overall classification after stage seven
1. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank in 29-14-52
2. David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin-Barracuda at 46 secs
3. Thomas Danielson (USA) Garmin-Barracuda at 54 secs
4. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 1-17
5. Fabio Duarte (Col) Colombia-Coldeportes at 1-36
6. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 2-13
7. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Rabobank at 2-30
8. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack-Nissan at 2-49
9. Tiago Machado (Por) RadioShack-Nissan at 2-54
10. Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge at 3-05
Tour of California 2012: Related links
Stage six: Georges takes solo win in California
Zabriskie wins California time trial to take lead
Stage three: Sagan's California hat-trick
Stage two: Sagan makes it two out of two
Stage one: Sagan wins California opener
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