Leipheimer in Yellow After a Very Long Hard Day
(August 23, 2011) CRESTED BUTTE, Colo - Team Radio Shack’s Levi Leipheimer shattered a large field of GC contenders on the final, arduous climb to the finish on Mt. Crested Butte, winning the 99.3 mile stage and grabbing the yellow leaders jersey in his trademark, calculated style.
Leipheimer appears to be in fantastic form after his recent win at the Tour of Utah and his win in Stage 1 is a wake up call for his fellow contenders as they prepare for tomorrow’s queen’s stage from Gunnison to Aspen.
“I am very happy to get the win and get the yellow jersey. The race is still fresh, but we are going to give it a really good shot tomorrow,” Leipheimer said of his victory. “We’re all proud to get this jersey and win the first stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.”
Leipheimer’s win came after a very long hard day of racing at high elevation. The stage began on the other side of the continental divide in Salida, Colo. and took riders over the 11,300 foot summit of Monarch Pass.
After leaving the sanctity of Salida’s downtown, an early break formed with four KOM challengers aiming to take the first points at the top of Monarch Pass. After covering 15 miles of steep rolling hills, Bradley White (United Health Care), William Dickenson (Jelly Belly), Edwardo Beltran (EPM-UNE), and Jay Thomson (Bissell) had earned a healthy four minute gap on the peloton and were in good position as they turned west and forged their way up the looming slopes of Monarch Pass.
The group of four worked together for nearly an hour until the summit came into view where the Columbian Beltran launched his attack and easily took the KOM points in front of a wild group of fans.
With the KOM points in the bag, the organization of the break away went to pieces as the riders plummeted down the west side of the pass. The high-speed descent split the break in half with White and Thomson emerging at the bottom with a 300-meter gap on Beltran and Dickenson.
As the course flattened out, Beltran and Dickenson regrouped and started to work together to bridge back to the other two riders, and for a moment it appeared they would pull it off. Then Dickenson went off the road. Within seconds, Dickenson was fishtailing in gravel and heading towards a guardrail.
Dickenson pulled himself back onto the road but couldn’t get his shoe to engage with his pedal. By the time his team car came to his aid and got him rolling again the gap to Beltran was immense. Battling a headwind, Dickenson chased for several miles but was soon absorbed by the peloton. Beltran didn’t last much longer.
With another 50 miles of rolling, wind ravaged flats to go, the peloton didn’t show much interest in chasing down White and Thomson and the two riders stayed off the front long enough to capture sprint points in Gunnison before turning north towards the high mountain finish in Crested Butte.
Things stayed relatively quiet until the race reached Crested Butte, where a lap through town and a sprint down Elk Avenue only three miles from the finish made positioning at the front of the peloton critical for any GC contenders.
The climb from Crested Butte to the finish was short but kicked up hard near the top. As soon as the road pointed up, the rapid-fire attacks started coming. Edwardo Beltran, apparently recovered from his earlier breakaway, was the first to escape and grabbed another set of KOM points near the summit of Mt. Crested Butte.
Beltran’s attack shattered the field, leaving a group of fifteen riders to vie for the win. Beltran faded back, his work complete, and Leipheimer took off like rocket to take the win in front of ruckus crowds. Beltran’s teammate Sergio Henao Montoya snagged second place and Frank Schleck, a GC favorite, dragged himself across the line in third. Bradley White was awarded most aggressive rider for his attack from the start.
Today’s stage, a 130 mile bruiser with two massive mountain passes, takes the riders from Gunnison, Colo. to Aspen, Colo. and is sure to shake things up. Look for Independence Pass to be where riders make the winning mov
Images from Salida and Monarch Pass by Eddie Clark
Images From Crested Butte by Shawn Lortie
Images From the Caravan and Finish by Brian Riepe