Levi Leipheimer, who holds the yellow jersey in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, smiles Friday afternoon as reporters ask him questions in a post-race press conference after Stage 4 finished in Steamboat Springs.

Photo by John F. Russell

Levi Leipheimer, who holds the yellow jersey in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, smiles Friday afternoon as reporters ask him questions in a post-race press conference after Stage 4 finished in Steamboat Springs.

Saturday could be last chance for contenders

Rabbit Ears climb might be only shot to overtake Leipheimer at USA Pro Cycling Challenge

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— Asked of the dangers that await in the final two stages of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the yellow jersey-clad Levi Leipheimer says all the right things.

After capturing the overall lead in the event on Thursday in Vail, he spoke of the hills that remain, of crashes and mechanical breakdowns.

After defending that jersey Friday in the race from Avon to Steamboat Springs, Leipheimer again claimed not to be looking toward Denver and expecting to climb atop the final podium.

“There are a lot of chances for the other riders and my competitors to attack and put us under pressure,” he said. “I’m not going to assume otherwise.”

If his RadioShack team can corral race-changing breakaways as it did Friday, he may not have much to worry about. But with the final steep climbs of the seven-day event looming literally over Saturday’s Stage 5 starting line, there’s always something to worry about.

Steamboat Springs will bid farewell to the USA Pro Cycling Challenge on Saturday with a 11:20 a.m. start to Stage 5 with the standings looking much the way they did when the peloton rolled into town Friday afternoon.

Leipheimer holds an 11-second lead on Christian Vande Velde and 17 seconds on Tejay Van Garderen, with big guns American George Hincapie, Colombian Rafael Infantio Abreu and Tour de France champ Cadel Evans all packing into the top seven. Leipheimer and RadioShack must hold those horses back, starting Saturday as the race fights its way up Rabbit Ears Pass outside Steamboat Springs.

That challenging climb could break up the pack and prevent RadioShack from stamping out any breakaway yellow jersey contenders.

“I’ve been up Rabbit Ears Pass before, did it a year ago,” Leipheimer said. “It’s a tough climb. It’s the most difficult part of the race to control, the beginning. (Saturday) is a big obstacle.”

Saturday’s stage runs 105.2 miles to Breckenridge and includes four places for riders to earn points and time bonuses. The first to the top of Rabbit Ears and across a King of the Mountain line, earns points. Another King of the Mountain line awaits at Swan Mountain, nine miles from the finish line.

Sprint lines will also be counted in Kremmling and Dillon.

“We have a slight advantage because we’re in the lead,” Leipheimer said. “It’s always more difficult to take the lead than it is to defend it. We’ve done a great job to take the lead, and now it’s all about defense, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

Stage 5

Distance: 105.2 miles

Total climb: 8,327 feet

Start: 11:20 a.m. Saturday from the Meadows Parking Lot

Finish: Downtown Breckenridge

Course: Riders make a loop around Mount Werner Circle, then take Steamboat Boulevard to Central Park Road to Steamboat Barn Village before heading south on Pine Grove Road to Ski Town Fields and east U.S. Highway 40. From there, riders head up and over Rabbit Ears Pass — where there’s a King of the Mountain line — to Colo. Highway 9 south out of Kremmling. From Silverthorne, riders will continue to Dillon, Keystone and Gold Hill before ending in downtown Breckenridge.

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Race Day

Thousands gathered in downtown Steamboat Springs for Steamboat's Stage 4 finish of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

Stage 5 course overview

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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