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Leipheimer converts cycling hat trick

Levi Leipheimer, right, gets doused with champagne by a teammate after winning his third consecutive Tour of California cycling race in Escondido, Calif., on Sunday.

AP Photo

ESCONDIDO, Calif. — With a boost from Lance Armstrong and a tough mountain to climb, Levi Leipheimer won his third straight Tour of California on Sunday.

Leipheimer was ninth in the final stage and finished with an overall time of 31 hours, 28 minutes, 21 seconds. His winning margin was 36 seconds over David Zabriskie of Garmin-Slipstream.

Leipheimer took over the lead in the nine-day race last Monday and never gave it up.

Armstrong, who began a comeback last month, spent this race in support of Leipheimer, his Astana teammate. The seven-time Tour de France winner finished 31st in Sunday’s stage and seventh overall, 1 minute, 46 seconds behind Leipheimer.

Third place overall went to Michael Rogers of Team Columbia-High Road, who was 45 seconds behind Leipheimer.

The Tour of California visited San Diego County for the first time. The 96.8-mile final stage from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido featured a gut-busting ride up snowcapped Palomar Mountain, where the cyclists reached the 5,123-foot level on a two-lane highway with 21 switchbacks.

Dozens of spectators tried to run alongside the riders near the top, including a man in a University of Montana jersey who wore a football helmet decorated with antlers.

Leipheimer grew up in Butte, Mont.

Frank Schleck of Team Saxo Bank won the eighth stage in 3:48:39. Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas was second and George Hincapie of Team Columbia-High Road was third.

Floyd Landis finished 29th in Sunday’s stage and 23rd overall in his first race back since being stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone.

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