MOUNT DIABLO STATE PARK – The dramatic attacks came as expected Saturday on the steepest sections atop Mount Diablo.
But Tejay van Garderen didn't panic. The leader of the Tour of California let his BMC Racing teammates do the heavy lifting on a day the American all but secured the first major victory of his career.
Leopold Konig of the Czech Republic wasn't worried, either. He launched a blistering assault 400 yards from the finish to overcome Colombia's Janier Acevedo for his first stage victory. Konig, of Netapp-Endura, completed the 91.4-mile leg from Livermore to Mount Diablo in 3 hours, 54 minutes, 17 seconds, with Acevedo seven seconds behind.
"I had my whole team pulling me, and he just rode away," said van Garderen, who was third, 12 seconds behind.
Konig also credited the BMC riders with helping catapult him to the top on the penultimate day of the eight-stage, 750-mile tour, which ends today in Santa Rosa.
"It wasn't really hard," Konig said.
The big winners Saturday looked no worse for wear, despite a long, steady climb to the 3,865-foot summit with 360-degree views of the Bay Area and beyond.
But that final 2 1/2-mile, lung-bursting stretch didn't look that easy, as some of the tour's best climbers tried to make moves to steal a stage win.
Spain's David de la Cruz of NetApp-Endura and the Netherlands' Lieuwe Westra of Vacansoleil-DCM led a breakaway up the early part of the climb. Then, suddenly, Germany's Jens Voigt of RadioShack-Leopard took over, only to retreat as Spain's Francisco Mancebo of 5-Hour Energy attacked with 2 1/2 miles left.
After that surge, it was Acevedo's turn to try to get his second stage victory of the tour, but he didn't have the legs to hold off Konig near the finish.
"I waited until the last moment," Konig said.
Australia's Michael Rogers of Saxo-Tinkoff finished fourth in the same time as van Garderen to remain second overall, 1:47 behind.
It's doubtful anyone can overcome van Garderen's lead in the 81-mile final stage from San Francisco to the Wine Country. Van Garderen already was talking about his next conquest – the Tour de France, where he said he is ready to earn a top-three finish. Last year, he came in fifth, the highest finish by an American.
"The competition is going to be higher," he said. "It's a whole different animal. But if I keep going at this same rate, you never know."