Last year, Radioshack’s Levi Leipheimer was also in yellow going into the final weekend of the Larry H Miller Tour of Utah. With no teammates, he was able to successfully defend to win the overall but it’s a whole new ballgame in 2011.
Two more stages, both very difficult, will challenge him and his seven teammates which include two stagiaires.
“Last year, was a much different race.” Leipheimer said after talking over the lead following the time trial on Friday evening.
“(Saturday’s) stage was a criterium which was very difficult but at the same time, it was so hard it neutralized everything, nobody could really get away but Saturday I think will be very hard to control.”
Coming into the time trial, Leipheimer was sitting in third on GC at 13 seconds down from Sergio Henao (Gobernacion Indeportes Antioquia). Even though he knows that Saturday’s stage will be difficult to control, he really didn’t have a choice of taking the jersey.
“You have to capitalize on the time trial.” he explained. “I knew that I had to put in as much time as I could on Oscar and Henao because those two and their team will be very aggressive. It will be hard to control and I need every second that I can get going into the next two days.”
Last year’s stage 4, the Park City Criterium was simply brutal. The field was shattered and Leipheimer stayed in yellow. This year, a new circuit race will test the mettle of all.
“Instead of a kilometer and a half, it’s twelve kilometers. It was a hard stage (last year) and in a way it’s harder because the climbs are longer but in a way it’s easier because there’s more time to come back. You can’t really compare, it’s also lower altitude, in the valley. Instead of racing at 6-7,000 feet, we’re racing at 4-5,000 feet.” said Jeff Louder (BMC) who won the stage last year.
The challenge is a 7.4-mile (11.9-km) loop in downtown Salt Lake City, which includes sharp climb up East Capitol Street, two hairpins turns and all the fun that downtown roads can bring.
“It’s going to be fun because it goes right past my house.” smiled Tyer Wren (Jamis/Sutter Home). Wren moved to Salt Lake City two years ago.
“I would say that people were underestimating the difficult of it but I’ve been hearing a lot of people talking about it now, maybe everyone has gotten out and ridden and seen how tough the course is.”
The course has been the talk of the peloton with many teams checking out the course, including Radioshack who did two laps on Friday morning.
“The steep ramp is only about one kilometer but it keeps on going up false flat for another few kilometers so it’s the kind of course where if we’re going full gas its going to have some separations.” Wren explained.
“I think it will be a hard race to control, pretty attritious.” said Louder. The Salt Lake City native is currently leading the Best Utah Rider classification.
“It’s a kilometer climb to the finish line from the low point and it’s two, three, four kilometers of uphill drag after that big effort so it’s pretty relentless. I expect there to be a lot of fireworks, a lot of attacking, it’s going to be a fun stage, it’s going to be pretty aggressive, pretty dynamic. It’s not formulaic at all, I don’t think.”
But it’s not just the climb and false flat.
“The descent down Virginia street has some median in the middle so that could be tricky, but then the longer descent is more gradual down South Temple and that’s pretty wide open boulevard so that should be pretty okay except for the right turn at the bottom onto State and then it’s divided again.” Wren said. “You have to be on your toes.”
Wren compared it to the TD Bank International Cycling Championship. “It kind of reminds me of the Philly race except shorter. It’s got the steep climb, downtown, being downtown, there’s some medians, things are a little bit tighter. It’s going to have some unique set of challenges. We’re going to feel the fatigue on Sunday.”
All in all, stage 4 is 11 laps for a total of 81.4 miles (132 kms) with 7,246 feet (2,209 m) of total climbing. Ouch.
“I expect it to be fast, I think it will be a race of attrition, you’ll see a lot of riders coming off the back. It’s going to hurt.” said Leipheimer.
“There’s enough guys that are within three minutes so some of those guys are going to be attacking and putting the pressure on. It won’t be an easy ride for sure.” Wren said.
Louder is expecting chaos.
Leipheimer has a 27-second lead on his teammate Jani Brakjovic, 29 seconds on Oscar Sevilla (Gobernacion Indeportes Antioquia) and 56 seconds on Henao. Stage 1 winner Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies) is in fifth at 1:24 down. All others are over two minutes.
Leipheimer added. “(Stage 4) is going to fall on the shoulders of my teammates, it will be very difficult because I expect the other teams to be very aggressive.”