By a very narrow margin – only hundreds of a second – Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack) claimed the win at stage 3, the Vail Time Trial at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. But his margin over yellow jersey into the stage Tejay van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) was much bigger which put Leipheimer back in the GC lead with three stages to go.
Averaging a speed of 37,466 km/h, Leipheimer stopped the clock at 25:47.08 on the uphill 10-mile (16.1km) course. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo) took second with a time of 25:47.66, and Rafael Infantino (EPM-UNE) was third, four seconds down.
Under blue skies and beautiful weather, the riders left one by one from the start gate at the center of Vail Village. Jason McCartney (RadioShack) kept the lead for the first hour of the day with a time of 27:26 until USA National TT Champion David Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervelo) took over the hotseat with a time of 26:46. Eventually, Prologue winner Patrick Gretsch (HTC-Highroad) slotted into second, 29 seconds behind Zabriskie, but was soon replaced by Jens Voigt (Leopard Trek).
As the stage wore on, Infantino took over the top spot, but was soon knocked out by Vande Velde who set a new time to beat. Ultimately, Leipheimer took the stage win, besting Vande Velde by only a fraction of a second.
An ailing Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) who said that he was suffering from food poisoning, finished fourth at 33 seconds from the winner. A dejected Van Garderen sat on the ground after crossing the line with a time of 26:38, watching the yellow jersey slip away after wearing it only one day.
Leipheimer reclaimed the overall lead and will wear the Quiznos Leader Jersey heading into Stage 4 of the race. Vande Velde is in second with a split of only 11 seconds, and Van Garderen (sits in third place, only 17 seconds behind Leipheimer. Danielson sits in fourth at 21 seconds and stage 2 winner George Hincapie (BMC) is at 53 seconds down. Infanatino jumped up to sixth on GC at 1:14 down.
With no KOM or sprint points available during the TT, no changes to the other jerseys. Leipheimer also claims the Smashburger Sprint Jersey. Van Garderen kept the Sheets Best Young Rider’s Jersey for the fourth straight day. The Nissan King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey is still on Walter Pedraza Morales (UNE-EPM)’s shoulders. And the Exergy Most Aggressive Jersey went to Andre Steensen (Saxo Bank SunGard) on stage 2.
Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack). “You never expect a race to be that close. I definitely expected Christian to be my strongest competitor and I think like me, he was upset with the way the race played out yesterday. I knew he would be motivated. We are good friends and neighbors in Spain and we’ve been doing this a long time in the trenches over there. I think today it was the old guys showing that we’ve still got it.”
On whether Tejay Van Garderen’s remarks about him being weaker in the descent yesterday motivated him. “Sure, Tejay made a good point – you have to be able to descend well and climb well. I made a mistake by not taking a rain jacket at the top. When the rain came in, I was too cold to control the bike. The point he made was absolutely fair but it definitely motivated me today.”
On earlier predictions that the rider wearing the Quiznos Leader Jersey after today’s Time Trial would win the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. “I think the chances are high, but now that I’m in this position, it’s different. Now I’m on the defensive and these next three days are daunting for me and for my team. We’re very motivated – I gave up the Quiznos Leader Jersey once and I don’t really want to give it up again.”
On the Colombian cyclists. “I’ve been very impressed. I have to admit, I didn’t know who Sergio Henao was before Utah, but I know who he is now. I’ve seen characteristics of Contador and Andy Schleck in him. He has extreme acceleration and punch and he’ll do very well in his career.”
On Stage 4 tomorrow. “Time bonuses are always dangerous and then there’s the wind and there’s still some climbing – there are a lot of unknown factors. There are crashes – we saw a bad crash yesterday and I was very lucky to miss that. That is something you can’t control, anything can happen so you have to stay alert and not make any mistakes.”
Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo). “It was really heartbreaking. I was closer to the podium than I ever thought I would be in the Prologue and I never even expected to be on the podium there. I had Stage 3 picked out a few weeks ago – I know this road really well and it suits my characteristics really well. I took a chance today on a road bike and Levi rode a time trial bike. It’s hard, but I am happy with the way I’m riding and I’m happy to be back in contention to win the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.”
On why he chose to ride a road bike today. “I think it is 50-50 – I have one of the lightest bikes in the world so I tried to take advantage of that. I have a seven kilo road bike and my time trial bike is eight kilos plus, so it’s pretty fat. Who knows, if I had put on an aero water bottle or thrown my bike across the line I could have made up that half second…if I had touched the breaks a little less in one of the corners or pedaled harder at the finish…I could go ‘coulda woulda shoulda’ until happy hour is over.”
On whether he previewed today’s course. “I trained here ten years ago and I stayed right across the street from here so I’ve ridden it many times in hail, snow and sunshine. But I got to go check it out this morning – it was a great atmosphere, like a pilgrimage. It was neat to be part of that and the crowd in downtown Vail was unbelievable.”
On sizing up the competition after today’s Time Trial. “From day one I’ve really been taken aback. But that’s alright, I knew this race was going to come down to seconds which is why I didn’t take the Prologue lightly. After yesterday I was ready to do horrible things because I missed the boat on the downhill. I was unbelievably motivated today and I couldn’t wait to take the start ramp and rip the pedals off. Levi might’ve won the lifetime ski pass in Vail, but he is going to be taking me skiing a lot and he’s going to be paying for a lot of beers.”
On his health. “I haven’t felt like this since 2008 or maybe the spring of 2009. It wasn’t until I started riding at the level I’m capable again that I’ve realized how much I’ve suffered the last couple of years, so it’s nice to put my foot on the gas pedal and feel good again.”
Rafael Infantino (EPM-UNE). “I was surprised but I had a very good time trial and it was advantageous to me because it was uphill and I’m very good at uphill time trials.”
On what it felt like to cross the finish line. “I felt very happy when I crossed the finish line. I would like to thank God because I’ve had a lot of injuries this year and now my form is really good and I just want to keep going forward.”
On how he feels about the race so far. “I am pretty happy the team has been so combative. They did a good time trial today and they’re going to be looking for opportunities in the upcoming stages to get results.”
Cadel Evans (BMC). “I lost a lot of time. Considering all the leadup I had for the race, I rode pretty well. Technically I rode a good time-trial but I just don’t have the basis in altitude acclimatization to really be at the top level with some of the other guys here, some of the better guys. Compliments to them who rode like Tejay, Leipheimer, they really prepared well, rode well and deserved to be well-placed on GC like they are.”
On altitude. “I have a fair bit of experience of racing at altitude, I’ve even raced here in Vail before. I just didn’t have time to do adequate acclimatization. The first two basics of life are oxygen and water, and it’s low-oxygenated air here at 2,500 meters and very dry.”
George Hincapie (BMC). “It was fairly tough, it wasn’t really a time-trial that suits me. I gave it everything I had, I started maybe a bit too fast, I was very close to Levi the first time-check and I paid severely for it dearly in the last 4 kilometers. I’m happy we won a stage and the race isn’t over here, we’ll keep trying, we have a really strong here so we plan on taking advantage of that.”