Both Levi Leipheimer (Astana) and Kristin Armstrong (Cervélo TestTeam) smoked the 16-mile (26km) time trial at the SRAM Tour of the Gila, setting new course records in the process and increasing the lead in the overall classification.
The only rider to go under 33 minutes, Leipheimer set a blistering pace to stop the clock at 32:59, fourteen seconds faster than the previous record, on the out-and-back course with a climb up to Little Burro Pass each way. The course design meant that the riders had a tail wind on the way out and a head wind on the way home.
Last year’s stage winner Tom Zirbel (BISSELL) who improved his previous time by 34 seconds, finished in second place at 53 seconds back. Astana’s Lance Armstrong, in his first race back since breaking his collarbone, was third a further 30 seconds behind the big man.
Often the limiting factor in this race has been the gearing and the BISSELL team came prepared this year as four riders, Zirbel, Ben Jacques-Maynes, Burke Swindlehurst and Jeremy Vennell were rocking 58 tooth front chain rings. According to the team mechanics, Jim O’Brien and Ben Oliver, no special set up other than re-cable and move the derailleur up.
Another great ride for Zirbel who was the only domestic rider to crack the top 10 at the Amgen Tour of California time trial earlier this year. The work done last year to hone his time trial position, where he changed the cleat position, crank length and the aero bars setup, is paying off. With his ride, Zirbel moved up to seventh spot on GC.
Rounding off the top 5 were Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia) at 1:36 back and Peter Stetina (Felt-Holowesko-Garmin) at 1:50 back.
Leipheimer is still in the lead but some changes in the top 10 following today’s stage. With two stages to go, a tough criterium and the Gila Monster, Leipheimer increased his lead to 2:39 over Stetina. Chris Baldwin (Rock Racing) remains in third at 2:51 while Armstrong moved up to fourth and Zajicek jumped up to fifth place.
Leipheimer’s lead seems unassailable so will the teams be fighting for podium spots or still try and dislodge the rider from the top spot – that is the question. Tomorrow is the Silver City Downtown Criterium, a 1.04 mile, four-corner rectangle with about 80 feet of climbing per lap which the men will do 40 times starting at 3:15pm.
GC contenders will try and stay safe and recuperate for Sunday’s Queen stage, the Gila Monster. The battle will be brutal on Sunday as both BISSELL and BMC have two riders in the top ten and will certainly try and isolate Baldwin at a minimum to grab his podium spot.
“All eyes are set for Sunday, there’s no doubt about that,” Scott Nydam (BMC), sitting in eighth on GC, confirmed in the team report. “Considering everything, since it is just three of us, I think we are really getting the most out of each other and anything is possible still. We certainly will be aiming for at least a podium position by Sunday night.”
Former UCI World Champion Kristin Armstrong also broke the course record, held by the indomitable Jeannie Longo, clocking 37:36 which beat more than half the men’s results. Current US Time Trial Champion Alison Powers (Team Type 1) came in second place at 1:53 back and Australian Alexis Rhodes (Webcor-Builders) was third, a further 10 seconds back.
“Kristin Armstrong again showed us how it is done, and in the process smashed the previous course record by nearly two minutes. I managed to ride out of my skin and placed third behind Alison Powers.” said Rhodes who scored another podium for her team, one per stage so far.
It was a tight battle between 4th and 5th, with LipSmacker’s Anne Samplonius, who has won the time trial before, at 2:35 behind the winner, and only 2 seconds ahead of ValueAct’s Leah Goldstein. Last year overall winner Goldstein lost a few seconds when she hit one of the barricades along the course on the climb back towards the finish.
“I thought I was going to crash, but I held it up,” said Goldstein. “I was going so hard I don’t think I even saw the cone! Allison was my minute person, and I was putting time on her on the climbs; but losing ground on the descents. My time was faster than last year; but it just goes to show you how strong the field is this year.”
Armstrong increased her overall lead to 3:22 over her closest competitor Powers who jumped up to second spot on GC. Like the men’s race, less than two minutes separate second and tenth spot on GC. In third is Katheryn Mattis (Webcor Builders) followed by Goldstein and Cath Cheatley (Colavita/Sutter Home). Value Act Capital still leads the team competition. Armstrong, who is riding without a team, has calmly survived all attacks and the battle is set for the two other spots on the podium.
Tomorrow the women will tackle the same course as the men, racing 25 laps starting at 2pm.