Luke Graham

Luke Graham

Luke Graham: A big day for Steamboat

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Luke Graham

Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Luke here.

— We know how Stage 4 into downtown Steamboat Springs turned out. Or perhaps more important, how many people turned out.

The streets were packed and downtown was loud. Really loud.

Being in Vail for the time trial Thursday was a treat. The crowds were excited and standing two-deep at the start area.

But it didn’t compare to Friday.

The streets in Steamboat were as packed as they have been in a long time — if not ever.

But don’t take my word for it.

“That,” Pro Cycling Challenge CEO and Co-Chairman Shawn Hunter said, “was by far our biggest crowd of the week.”

Levi Leipheimer all but assured a win in the inaugural Pro Cycling Challenge with his incredible time trial performance Thursday.

But in the press conference following the time trial, he also showed how to work the media. The message: Don’t call out an opponent unless you can back it up.

After Stage 2, Tejay Van Garderen — who took the yellow jersey that day — said the following:

“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.”

After reclaiming the yellow in a blistering performance Thursday, Leipheimer acknowledged Van Garderen’s comments.

“The point he makes is absolutely fair,” Leipheimer said. “If you make a mistake, someone’s going to take the race away from you.”

Looks like the only mistake was Van Garderen’s.

The first year of the Pro Cycling Challenge has seen astounding support from communities across the state, and it looks like the race could be a fixture in the coming years. Hunter confirmed Friday the race would be back for a second year and back in Colorado, with Steamboat a strong candidate to again host a stage. But don’t expect the same field. The Tour de France is scheduled to start in late June 2012. But the 2012 Olympic Games in London begin July 26 and run through Aug. 13. For a lot of the top riders, these games could be a focus, not the Pro Cycling Challenge.

Want a nation and rider to look out for in the coming years? Look at the Colombians. There are four in the top 18 of the general classification, including Rafael Infantino Abreu in sixth. But it is Sergio Henao Montoya who has drawn the biggest praise. Deemed as one of the early favorites, Henao Montoya has struggled a bit this week. But judging from his results in the Tour of Utah, he has the attention of Leipheimer.

“I have to admit, I didn’t know who Sergio Henao was at the Tour of Utah,” Leipheimer said. “But I know who he is now. For me, I saw characteristics of Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck in him. He has an extremely big acceleration, or punch, in him. I think he’ll do well in his career.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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