<h4>Final-stage exuberance </h4>
Fly V Australia's Philip Zajicek celebrates as he wins the final stage of the Tour of the Gila on Sunday in Pinos Altos, N.M. Mellow Johnny's Levi Leipheimer won the tour, with teammate Lance Armstrong taking second and Zajicek third.
PINOS ALTOS, N.M. – The last big test for Lance Armstrong before the Giro d’Italia was more than 105 miles of steep roads and windy descents in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico.
It was the hardest stage of the Tour of the Gila, but Armstrong and his teammates Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner passed the test.
The Astana riders, who entered the five-day event as independents, used the tour as a tune up for the upcoming race in Italy.
Armstrong said he feels good enough to be a contender for some stage wins in Italy but that Leipheimer has the best chance for an overall win.
“The first priority is to protect him and make sure that he fulfills his potential there,” the seven-time Tour de France winner said. “It would be an amazing thing for an American to win the tour of Italy again. I’d be pleased to be there and help.”
Leipheimer won the Tour of the Gila on Sunday after finishing first in two of the early stages and coming in third behind Armstrong in the last stage, dubbed the Gila Monster.
Armstrong moved up in the overall classification from fourth to second after Sunday’s stage.
Nadal wins on clay again
ROME – Rafael Nadal is looking unstoppable on clay for a fifth consecutive year.
The top-ranked Spaniard won his record fourth Rome Masters on Sunday, beating defending champion Novak Djokovic 7-6 (2), 6-2 for his third clay-court title in three weeks, adding to his victories at the Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open.
Having dropped only one set over the three-week stretch, it’s tough to imagine someone taking three sets from Nadal at the French Open, which begins in three weeks.
The Spaniard will be aiming for a record fifth consecutive title at Roland Garros, which would break a tie with Bjorn Borg, who won six French Opens overall.
“Every tournament is completely different,” said Nadal, who will play in the Madrid Masters before heading to Paris. “In Roland Garros we will see. Important thing is (to) play well. If I am playing well, I’m going to have a lot of chances to have good results in both tournaments. But you never know what can happen. Tennis is always like this.”
Djokovic is the only player to take a set from Nadal on clay this year, in the Monte Carlo final two weeks ago.
Pima sports roundup
The Pima Community College men’s golf team captured the Region I title Sunday in Phoenix, beating runner-up Scottsdale by 13 strokes.
Eric Briggs (Sahuarita High) finished first among individuals with a 294 total. Teammate Tom Callahan (Sierra Vista Buena) was second with a 296.
The Aztecs will compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association National Tournament the Huntsville, Ala., from May 17-22.
• The Pima softball team lost to Yavapai 11-4 in the Region I Tournament title game Saturday in Prescott. The Aztecs won 2-1 earlier Saturday to force a second contest.
Pima finishes the season 52-17; Yavapai advances to the NJCAA National Tournament.
• The Pima women’s tennis team is tied for fourth after one day of the NJCAA National Tournament at Randolph Tennis Center.
Kelly Ponzio, Ali Brackey, Lori Cinnamond and Eunice Sanchez all won in singles play Sunday for the Aztecs.
Billups meets idol
DENVER – Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups was introduced Sunday before Denver’s win over Dallas by one of his childhood heroes, Hall of Famer John Elway.
Elway, who led the Denver Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl championships before retiring a decade ago, donned a Billups’ No. 7 jersey when he walked to halfcourt and introduced the floor leader born and raised in Denver.
“There’s only ever going to be one No. 7 in this town, and that’s John Elway,” Billups said after the game. “That was awesome. I’ll remember that forever, just because of my admiration for John. “There will only be one No. 7 in this town.”
Derby brought surprises
NBC’s three-hour coverage of a two-minute race Saturday mostly went according to script.
But there were surprises. The biggest: NBC race caller Tom Durkin, who has called more than 60,000 races, seemed to be caught flatfooted by 50-1 long shot Mine That Bird’s stretch run.
Durkin didn’t call the eventual winner’s inside charge – which, on replays, showed the value of NBC’s overhead cameras – and made only his second mention of the horse when Mine That Bird had a three-length lead. He always mentions each horse early in the race.
NBC’s early coverage was fluffy and generally served a promotional role for NBC corporate cousins, like the TV chefs from NBC-owned Bravo kissing each other after their cooking contest. Nancy O’Dell, from NBC-owned “Access Hollywood,” found red-carpet interviews with New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning a chance to mention the Giants – on NBC! – playing the first game at the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium.
'We're supposed to win at home. This is our field.'
Dodgers pitcher, after Los Angeles improved to 10-0 at home this season with a win over San Diego on Sunday
UA does well in landing recruit
Re: UA hoops gets oral commitment from Kevin Parrom
• This was a great grab, especially so late.
Need 1-2 more . . . maybe Lance Stephenson and either a hard-nosed 4, or a backup point. The hot new point is in the 2010 class.
It’s so nice to reload. 3829
• Time will indeed tell. In the meantime, the main guard is the “old guard” . . . Nic the Quick. BLKOJO
Welcome to Cat country, Look forward to watching you lead this team. JUST A FAN
RE: Lawmakers push for college football playoff
• It comes as no great surprise a Texan is bleating over this.
Throw in fan pressure from USC, Florida, Florida State, LSU and other powerhouses, and what you WILL end up with are 10-15 programs who land the very best recruits every year. Before long those schools will achieve complete dominance over berths in the so-called “playoffs.”
Is that what you really want? Just look at the Pac-10 . . . USC football basically owns the conference, and has for years now.
In similar manner the so-called playoffs will become an annual feed-fest for the few, and for the sports media who are also pushing as hard as they can.
Be careful what you wish for, people. This playoff hoo-hah may become your very worst nightmare. JOSE S.
ON THIS DATE
1935: Omaha, ridden by Willis Saunders, wins the Kentucky Derby by 1 1/2 lengths over Roman Soldier. Omaha goes on to win the Triple Crown.
1940: Gallahadion, a 35-1 long shot ridden by Carroll Bierman, wins the Kentucky Derby by 1 1/2 lengths over favorite Bimelech.
1946: Assault, ridden by Warren Mehrtens, wins the Kentucky Derby by eight lengths over Spy Song. Assault goes on to win the Triple Crown.
1957: Iron Liege, ridden by Bill Hartack, wins the Kentucky Derby by a nose when jockey Willie Shoemaker, on top of Gallant Man, takes the lead but misjudges the finish line. Shoemaker stands up in the saddle before the finish, which allows Iron Liege to win.
1968: Dancer’s Image, ridden by Bob Ussery, wins the Kentucky Derby by 1 1/2 lengths over Forward Pass. Three days later, Dancer’s Image is disqualified when traces of a painkiller are found in tests; Forward Pass, ridden by Ismael Valenzuela, is declared the winner.
1969: The Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup with a four-game sweep as they beat the St. Louis Blues 2-1.
1993: Dale Hunter of the Washington Capitals receives a record 21-game suspension without pay from the NHL for a blindside check on the New York Islanders’ Pierre Turgeon in a playoff game April 28.
1994: Charles Barkley scores 56 points, including a playoff record 38 in the first half, to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 140-133 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
1999: The New Jersey Devils become the first top-seeded team to lose in the first round of the playoffs in consecutive years when they lose 4-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7.
2002: War Emblem, a 20-1 shot, scores a wire-to-wire, four-length victory over Proud Citizen in the Kentucky Derby.
2003: Detroit becomes the seventh team in NBA history to advance after falling behind 3-1 in a series, beating Orlando 108-93.
2006: Kobe Bryant scores 50 points for Los Angeles, but the Lakers lose to Phoenix 126-118 in overtime, forcing a Game 7 in their first-round series.