Two days, three mountain climbs and 176 miles of pedaling remain for Levi Leipheimer to negotiate to win the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
While Elia Viviani of Italy bolted to the front in the waning yards to claim stage 4, Leipheimer maintained his 11-second race lead Friday while finishing 24th in the main field.
"Mission accomplished today," said Leipheimer. "I defended my leader’s jersey and did so with as little work on my teammates as possible. They had to do some work but at the same time we had help from other teams that were interested in a field sprint. Today went as good as we could have hoped and we are another day closer to Denver.
"Today was nice because it was a little bit shorter and flat," Leipheimer said. "I think all the riders were looking forward to that. There were a lot of times that I could look around today and it was beautiful. Liquigas-Cannondale did a lot of work and they deserved the victory."
Viviani, 22, a former track cyclist now a second-year road pro who rides for the Italian Liquigas team, used a centerline sprint to complete the 82.3-mile Avon to Steamboat Springs road race in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 14 seconds.
"Today was a good course for my sprint," said Viviani, who had had four victories in his 2010 debut season.
Viviani came to the front following a lead-out from teammate compatriot Daniel Oss, who raised his arms behind the line to acknowledge his countryman's win.
"Tomorrow is a big obstacle on the way to Denver," said Leipheimer, now two days away from his third stage race title of the season. "We just have to take it day to day."
Michael Mørkøv (Saxo Bank) of Denmark finished second in the stage, with Dutchman Kenny Robert Van Hummel (Skil-Shimano) third.
The top-10 overall cyclists in the seven-day race all finished in the main field, with 93 of the remaining 121 riders credited with the same time.
"We have an 11-second advantage," said Leipheimer, who last week claimed the Tour of Utah for the second straight year and in June won the Tour of Switzerland. "In my opinion, it's harder to take the lead than it is to defend. We took it and now we'll defend it. It's all about defense."
Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo) of Lemont, Ill., runner-up to Leipheimer in stage 3, finished 21st in the stage and is second overall.
Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) of Bozeman, Mont., is third overall, trailing by 17 seconds.
Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) of Durango is fourth overall, 21 seconds behind, with George Hincapie (BMC) of Greenville, S.C., in fifth complete a top-five position for U.S. riders, 53 seconds behind.
Cadel Evans (BMC) of Australia, the reigning Tour de France titlist, placed 27th in the stage and remained seventh overall, 1 minute, 18 seconds behind.
The inaugural event continues Saturday with the 105.8-mile Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge stage 5 road race. The stage includes a category 2 and 3 climb, while Sunday's 70.9 mike final trek from Golden to Denver features a category 3 effort.
Please click on the banner above to check out more of Acura's 2012 moldel line-up.
Leader Jersey – Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Team RadioShack
King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey – Walter Pedraza Morales (COL) of UNE-EPM
Sprint Jersey – Elia Viviani (ITA) of Liquigas Cannondale
Best Young Rider’s Jersey – Tejay Van Garderen (USA) of HTC-Highroad
Most Aggressive Jersey – Alexander Efimkin (RUS) of Team Type 1-sanofi
Stage 4 Top-3
First – Elia Viviani (ITA) of Liquigas Cannondale
Second – Michael Morkov (DEN) of Saxo Bank SunGard
Third – Kenny Van Hummel (NED) of Skil-Shimano