By Paul Verkuylen in Xining, China
Rock Racing's Tyler Hamilton looks set to take the overall victory in the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China tomorrow after he successfully defended his lead in the second to last stage through the high Mountains on the Tibetan Plateau.
Hamilton never looked to be in trouble during the ninth stage, even when Hossien Askari (Tabriz Petrochemical Team) had broken clear of the peloton with his team-mate Ghader Mizbani Iranaghand and took enough time to become a threat to the overall lead.
"I said that I wasn't going to try and follow [the Iranians] when they attacked," Hamilton explained to Cyclingnews. "I knew that if I just rode my steady tempo I would be OK. When they did attack, I rode within myself and things worked out. They are really explosive so they can get the gap, but after that we pretty much kept them in check."
With just the final circuit race on the streets of Xining remaining, Hamilton maintains a ten second lead over second place, Marek Rutkiewicz (Poland).
Before the Tour Hamilton was content to ride in support of team-mate Oscar Sevilla for the overall win, but once the opportunity presented itself for him to take the lead, he jumped at the chance.
"Everyone agreed before yesterday's stage that I had a better chance of winning the race than Oscar. Oscar was 14 and I was 15 seconds down. I took a bit of a gamble and it paid off.
"It is clear that Oscar is stronger than I am, but I am riding well to be still in the mix. When Oscar moves the sirens go off – so I probably have a little bit more freedom."
Hamilton took the eighth stage into Menyuan ahead of Rutkiewicz to take the overall lead, netting his first win since returning to competition in 2007 after serving a suspension for blood doping. But the American was realistic about his current form and his position atop the leader board.
"I am not the strongest guy in the race, but I made the best of the situation," he concluded.