Levi wins time trial, takes back lead
VAIL, Colorado – Ten miles up a mountain – 1,783 feet in elevation change to be precise – during a 25-minute span and it comes down to a one-hundredth of a second?
Levi Leipheimer edged, squeaked by slipped past and/or blinked his way to winning Stage 3, a time trial up Vail Pass, of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge by one-hundredth of a second over Christian Vande Velde on Thursday.
“I never expect it’s going to be half a second. I suspected Christian was going to be my strongest competitor,” Leipheimer said. “He looked very strong [Wednesday]. And, I think, like me, he was little upset after what happened with ourselves the way the race played out. So I knew he would be motivated. I said it a couple times earlier – I consider Christian and I share this victory.”
In the process, Leipheimer surged into the overall lead of the Challenge by 17 seconds over Tejay Van Garderen, who held the yellow jersey and finished third Thursday. Leipheimer holds an 11-second advantage against Vande Velde, now in second.
Boulder resident Tom Danielsen took fourth, 33-hundredths off the pace Thursday, despite a case of food poisoning. He is also fourth in the overall, 21 ticks behind Leipheimer. George Hincapie rounds out the new overall top-five 53 seconds behind. Columbian Rafael Infantino Abreu jumped into sixth (1:14 behind) by finishing third Thursday.
The results of Stage 3 show Leipheimer and Vande Velde tied because the overall standings don’t go to the hundredth of a second. And as gracious as Leipheimer was in sharing the victory with Vande Velde, there was no question as to which rider was on the right side of that one-hundredth.
“It was really heart-breaking,” Vande Velde said. “It was closer than I ever thought it would have been.”
Leipheimer went with a time-trial bike Thursday, while Vande Velde opted for road bicycle, and Vande Velde discussed the difference between the two models, especially in light of Thursday’s margin.
“I think it’s 50-50,” he said. “There’s even times with 3 or 4 [kilometers] to go where I was still going 40K per hour on the hill. I don’t know. I really don’t know. My bike is light. I have one of the lightest road bikes in the world, and I was trying to take advantage of that. My bike, with the bar and the wheels, is still under 7 [kilograms]. My time-trial bike is 8-plus, so it’s kind of fat. We thought the climb was going to be a bigger deal to take advantage of than the flat.”
Of course, with 1-hundredth of a second deciding the stage, there are so many things which could have changed the result. Vande Velde talked about whether a water bottle on his ride could have made a difference and then offered up the suggestion that leaning forward in one place or another could have accounted for a few hundredths.
“I could go, ‘Could have, would have, should have,’ until happy hour’s over,” Vande Velde said to laughs in the press room.
Going into Thursday’s time trial, there was a bit of bulletin-board material for Leipheimer. Van Garderen took the overall lead from Leipheimer in Wednesday’s stage from Gunnison to Aspen on the descent from Independence Pass.
And afterward, he outlined his strategy.
“All due respect to Levi, he’s not the strongest descender. He sometimes loses his nerve a little bit. That’s one of my strong suits: I’ve got balls, so I just went for it. When I saw we had a gap, we just drove it.”
Leipheimer tried to step around that comment, but it was clear it ate at him.
“T.J. made a good point,” Leipheimer said. “You have to be able to descend well and climb well. I made a mistake in not taking a rain jacket at the top [of Independence Pass] and I wasn’t doing very well when the rain came down during the descent. I was having problems handling my bike. The point he makes is absolutely fair. If you make a mistake, someone’s going to take the race away from you, but it definitely motivated me for today.”
And whether Leipheimer can or cannot handle descents was really irrelevant Thursday with 10 miles of uphill. The challenge was the final stretch, and it was clear Leipheimer wasn’t thinking about anything anyone said.
“There’s not a lot thought, except for, ‘Please God, let this be over with,'” Leipheimer said. “You have to have the experience of how to meter yourself because it’s an uphill time trial it gets harder as the course goes on and we’re at altitude. Even though, I held back at the beginning, I was finished with 1K to go.”
Not only did Leipheimer win the stage and the coveted yellow jersey as the Challenge goes north with today’s stage from Avon to Steamboat Springs, but he also won a lifetime ski pass to Vail and Beaver Creek.
“Levi won the lifetime skiing, but he’s going to be taking me skiing a lot,” Vande Velde said. “He’s going to be paying for beers forever.”
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