2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge
Steamboat Springs The look on Levi Leipheimer’s face as he crossed the finish of Stage 3 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge on Thursday said everything.
What had been an exasperated look — part pain from the last grueling kilometer, part unrelenting determination — slowly transformed into a wide grin.
Barring an unforeseen collapse, mechanical problem or crash, Leipheimer — who a week ago predicted that the winner of Thursday’s time trial would win the general classification — looks on his way to winning the inaugural event after a pounding performance in Vail on Thursday.
Leipheimer, racing for Team RadioShack, won the 10-mile time trial in 25 minutes, 47.08 seconds, turning a 34-second deficit coming into the day into an 11-second lead in the overall standings. Leipheimer will be wearing the overall race leader’s yellow jersey when the 120-plus field of cyclists powers into Steamboat this afternoon.
Christian Vande Velde, of Team Garmin-Cervelo, was second, 0.58 seconds behind. Columbian rider Rafael Infantino, of team EPM-UNE, was third at 4.5 seconds back.
“There is not a lot of thought besides, ‘Please God let this be over,’” Leipheimer said about the uphill course. “I was finished with one (kilometer) to go. I was absolutely done. The fans helped me get through and the fact that I knew I had the best split time helped me.
“That last (kilometer) really, really hurt. It’s difficult to put into words. You have to get on your bike and try it for yourself. Afterwards it’s worth it. It’s what I like to do.”
It also may have helped that Leipheimer was on a time trial bike instead of a traditional racing road bike. The choice between the two was a discussion among race analysts leading into Thursday’s stage.
Leipheimer decided the time trial bike was best for him to attack the flatter areas of the course. Vande Velde used a road bike and was 17 seconds behind Leipheimer at the first split. In the final ascent, however, Vande Velde made up time.
“It’s 50-50,” Vande Velde said about his bike choice. “There were even times with three or four (kilometers) left where I was going over 40 (kilometers) an hour on a hill. I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
Leipheimer admitted he had some extra motivation after Wednesday’s descent of Independence Pass. It was there that he lost the yellow jersey to 23-year-old Tejay Van Garderen. After the race, Garderen commented that Leipheimer wasn’t as strong on the descent.
“Tejay made a good point,” Leipheimer said. “You have to be able to descend well and climb well. I made a mistake (Wednesday) by not taking a rain jacket at the top. When the rain came in, I was too cold to control the bike.”
But that wasn’t the case on a picture-perfect day in Vail. Garderen was visibly upset after the stage Thursday, knowing he probably lost his shot at the overall win.
He finished 51 seconds behind Leipheimer on Thursday and now sits in third, 17 seconds behind in the general classification standings.
Friday's Stage 4 takes racers from Avon to Steamboat Springs. With no massive climbs, the race could be Leipheimer’s to lose.
“I gave the jersey up once,” he said, “and really don’t want to give it up again.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com