Italian wins sprint finish into downtown Steamboat Springs |

Italian wins sprint finish into downtown Steamboat Springs

American Leipheimer retains yellow jersey heading into today’s Stage 5

Elia Viviani, of Team Liquigas-Cannondale, stands in the middle of the Stage 4 podium Friday afternoon. He was joined by second-place finisher Michael Mørkøv, left, of Team Saxo Bank-Sungard, and Kenny Robert Van Hummel, of the Skil-Shimano team, in third.

John F. Russell

— No one would be able to tell by the screaming crowds at the finish line or the flag-waving hoards along Colorado Highway 131, the massive model steamboat built out of haybales just a few miles outside Steamboat Springs or the school children with carefully made signs lining the route near Yampa.

No one would be able to tell by the rampant enthusiasm that defined Stage 4 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge — excitement that made the stage perhaps one of the greatest on American soil, according to the event's CEO — but Friday's stage, the Steamboat Stage, went about as all the experts expected.

To the lay bicycle racing fan, it might even have been boring.

The general classification standings may have remained the same — Team RadioShack's Levi Leipheimer took advantage of Friday's relatively easy route to make it back-to-back days in the yellow jersey — but a thrilling sprint from Elia Viviani, an Italian from team Liquigas-Cannondale, roiled the thousands of spectators who gathered at the downtown Steamboat finish.

"That was the most energetic stage I've ever attended," USA Pro Cycling Challenge CEO and co-chairman Shawn Hunter said. This "was our biggest crowd. … That was the most amazing stage, perhaps in an American race, ever."

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Team RadioShack ended the day happy that the crowd's energy didn't bleed into the actual race, although that lack of action came through hard work as the team beat down attacks designed to spring other top riders vying for the yellow jersey.

One group of five did finally break free, but without any of the top threats who were eyeing Leipheimer's yellow.

The gap between that group and the peloton began to narrow the closer the race got to Steamboat Springs, until finally they merged as they closed in on the finish line.

"I'm the one with the yellow jersey, but it belongs to the entire team," Leipheimer said afterward. "You don't get to see a lot of the work they do from the beginning of the race when the attacks start. They needed to manage the race so there wasn't a dangerous breakaway or a large breakaway, and that's always a lot of work.

"Every day we defend (the yellow jersey) is a testament to how strong a team RadioShack is."

The final stage of Stage 4 belonged to the sprinters, and it was Viviani who emerged atop the heap. He sat behind the lead riders as the peloton thundered down U.S. Highway 40 and into Steamboat Springs on Lincoln Avenue. He then burst from behind his team, around his competitors and to the front of the pack in the final 100 yards, throwing both arms up as he crossed the finish line.

"For me, the green jersey is very important," said Viviani, who said winning Friday's stage gave him a boost not only toward that goal, but also in his cycling career.

He hopes this summer to earn a spot on the Italian national team. Friday's win, along with a second-place finish at a stage in the Tour of Utah, may help him do just that.

He soaked it in Friday atop the awards podium, savoring the kisses from the stage women and smiling wide beneath a new Stetson hat, courtesy of Steamboat Springs.

"It's been a very good month for me in the USA," he said. "This win was important for the team, but definitely for me."

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