Radioshack’s Levi Leipheimer knew that he and his team would be challenged in their defense of the yellow jersey in the final two stages at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.
Vicious heat made a tough course brutal in Saturday’s circuit race in Salt Lake City when the field split apart of the first of eleven 11-km laps. 26 riders were off the front including many threats to Leipheimer who put his team at the front to try and control the break. The Gobernacion de Antioquia team out of Colombia never stopped attacking until ultimately Sergio Henao took the stage win.
In the end, Leipheimer kept his yellow jersey but lost two teammates to the time cut including experienced Jason McCartney.
“We misjudged it. I think that I made a mistake of giving some bad advice to my teammates yesterday because I thought we would be able to control, it got out of hand and we had to gamble a little bit in the end.” Leipheimer said on Sunday evening.
And the general classification became tighter just in time for the Queen Stage. Sunday’s stage started fast with everyone wanting to be in the break but no move as found pleasing to all so the peloton was still all together as they approached the bottom of the first climb. The 8-mile climb up Alpine Loop was the first test for Radioshack.
Massed at the front, the RealCyclist.com squad simply exploded the field and then the attacks started.
“At the bottom of the Alpine Loop, Sevilla put in a big attack, Tom Danielson went with him. And Jani and I waited for Philip Deignan, he made some tempo and kept them under control but Jani made a good call, we should just go across hard. I’m always one to try to keep the team together but in the end, it was smart of him to make that call because it forced everybody else to ride hard, it really blew the race open and therefore everyone was working hard.” Leipheimer explained.
As they climbed, Leipheimer and his teammate Jani Brakjovic were at the front with a very select group that included Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) and Oscar Seville, Javier Acevedo, Oscar Sevilla and Henao, all four of the Antioquia team.
Behind, the chase was on. Rafael Montiel (Gobernacion) was solo, followed by Lucas Euser (Spidertech) and Cristian Montoya (Gobernacion). The third chase group included Best Utah Rider Jeff Louder and his BMC teammate Chad Beyer, Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo), Gian Paolo Cheula (Geox-TMC), Chris Baldwin (Bissell) and Timmy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale). Francisco Mancebo (RealCyclist.com) was putting in massive pulls at the front of the fourth chase group which also included Radioshack riders Ben King and George Bennett.
Leipheimer continued, “And then Acevedo attacked. We have three minutes to play with him so we let him go and Jani controlled up the climb to 20, 30 seconds, he went down the hill fast. At that point I said, it’s a long ways to go we should just try to control our little group that we’re in and slow it down and let more riders come up and hopefully our teammates come back.”
Acedevo crested solo and zoomed down the tricky and very fast descent followed by the yellow jersey group. The chasers re-grouped and finally caught back on by the second KOM of the day, the Suncrest climb. At that point, Cheula was off the front with Acevedo chasing solo but Leipheimer was not concerned, putting his teammates at the front once again.
“It took another 40 kilometers and another little climb to do it but eventually Philip came back, George Bennett came back, Ben King came back and then they were very strong at the bottom of Little Cottonwood.” Leiphimer. “They wiped the slate clean so that when we started at the bottom, everyone was together, no one was ahead and then it was up to me.”
The field, such as it was, included five Radioshack, Brakjovic, Bennett, Deignan, King and Leipheimer, three BMC, Louder, Chris Butler and Beyer, two Garmin-Cervelo, Vande Velde and Danielson, two Realcyclist, Mancebo and Cesar Grajales, two Spidertech, Euser and Pat McCarty and five Gobernacion, Sevilla, Ramirez, Montiel, Henao and Montoya. Also in the group were solo riders, Duggan, Baldwin, Andy Bajadali (KBS-Optumhealth), Tyler Wren (Jamis/Sutter Home) and Glen Chadwick (Pure Black Racing).
The field was all together at bottom of the final climb, up Little Cottonwood to Snowbird. All Leipheimer had to do at this point was to stick close to his closest threat on GC, Henao. Alvarez put in the first big attack on the climb, shelling riders off the back. Then Henao went with Leipheimer on his wheel.
“It was up to me to follow Sergio who put in some very stinging attacks, I had to sort of temper, I couldn’t really jump on his wheel, I had to pace myself to come back and think about the entire climb.” Leipheimer said. The duo caught and passed Alvarez while behind Brakjovic and Danielson were giving chase.
Leipheimer clawed his way back time and time again on the long, brutal, vicious final 12-km to the finish line. “After maybe 5 kilometers to go, I felt more confident but you never know until you cross the finish line.”
In the end, Henao took the stage win ahead of Leipheimer who did not contest the finale. “My number one goal, my only goal was to win the race. There’s a certain way that things work in cycling and that was definitely not something that I should have done. I didn’t deserve to win the stage today I think that the way that the Gobernacion team rode, they were aggressive, they were strong and Sergio deserved it more than I did.”
Brakjovic, who took third, will now focus on the Vuelta a Espana. “I think I’m happier knowing that I could help Levi to win the overall. I had no desire to get a victory for myself because my race is coming next week and I can be the leader there. My goal was just to help Levi and have fun.”
Leipheimer won his second back-to-back overall win at Utah, and this one was much tougher than last year.
“I’m very proud to win the race, especially this year because it has grown up a lot.” he said. “This year it has become a UCI race, brought in a number of World Tour teams and a much better peloton. And after ridden the Tour de France, I felt strong and I was able to capitalize on the key moments of the race and take the win. For me, it’s some thing that I’m proud of and definitely would go on my resume.”
Not only that, but this time he had a team with him as opposed to last year when he raced solo.
“This year I had someone to share the victory with which is always nice. When you win as a team, it’s like anything when you share an experience with someone that’s much more meaningful than just by yourself. Last year was nice but at the same time was a little bit lonely. This year I had guys that were there, and believed in me and they gave it one hundred percent. Today they really suffered to come back after that climb and controlled the race. That’s a special feeling, that gave me more energy to win the race because I don’t want to let them down.”