After seven challenging days of racing through the Colorado Rockies, Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) was crowned the champion of the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge in front of a monumental crowd estimated at 250,000 spectators, in downtown Denver. Behind Liquigas-Cannondale sprinted to their third stage win but this time it was Daniel Oss crossing the line first. Oss was once again giving his teammate Elia Viviani the perfect leadout but seeing that no one was coming around, Viviani sat up and celebrated his teammate’s win while taking second. Freddie Rodriguez (Exergy) was third.
The final stage took the riders 73.8 miles on the route from Golden to Denver where a champion would be crowned in front of the State Capitol Building. Against bright blue skies under a blazing sun, the race began with a short neutral start and a northern loop out of town. The riders went past the start line in downtown Golden a second time then headed out of town to make the challenging ride toward the first and only KOM of the day – Lookout Mountain.
After a slew of short-lived, the field was still together as they headed to the bottom of the climb but not for long. At an average 6.1 percent grade and 1,300 ft. of elevation gain over more than 4.8 miles, this section provides a perfect spot to launch attacks. The Garmin-Cervelo lined up at the front, setting a brutal pace that shattered the field leaving a group of 20 riders at the front which included Leipheimer and only one teammate. Trying to protect his teammate’s KOM lead, Rafael Infantino (EPM-UNE) jumped ahead solo to get the KOM points but Rafael Montiel (Gobernacion) led the lead group across the road to grad enough points to win the final KOM jersey.
After a fast descent at 40 mph down the winding roads of Lookout Mountain, the cyclists passed through the start line in Golden a third time, giving spectators another taste of the race action. On the flat roads leading into Denver, groups re-joined the front and the slate was wiped clean. Four men, Oscar Sevilla (Gobernacion Indeportes Antioquia), Javier Megias (Team Type 1-sanofi), Lachlan Norris (HTC-Highroad) and Matt Cooke (Exergy), went up the road hoping to stay away.
With fans lined up 5-10 deep along the entire route, those lining the finishing circuits in Denver were in for a great race as the route included six laps of a nearly five-mile circuit around the State Capitol Building.
Though the four fought valiantly, they were doomed with both Liquigas-Cannondale and Garmin-Chipotle leading the chase. With four laps to go, Megias made a move of the front of the break and took off leaving the others to get swallowed up by the chase group.
The GC has not changed since Leipheimer re-took hold of the lead after stage 3, the time trial in Vail. He wins by 11 seconds on Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo) and 17 seconds on Tejay van Garderen (HTC-Highroad). Garmin-Cervelo took home the best team classification.
- Quiznos Leader Jersey – Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Team RadioShack
- Nissan King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey – Rafael Montiel (COL) of Gobernacion de Antioquia
- Smashburger Sprint Jersey – Elia Viviani (ITA) of Liquigas Cannondale
- Sheets Best Young Rider’s Jersey – Tejay Van Garderen (USA) of HTC-Highroad
- Exergy Most Aggressive Jersey – Timmy Duggan (USA) of Liquigas-Cannondale
Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack). “It’s hard to put into words and to describe the emotions I’ve felt and experience that I’ve had this week. I was 13 years old when I watched the Tour de France on television and I read magazines about the Coors Classic on these roads here in Colorado. To be here 25 years later and to experience the size and the scope of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is just beyond my expectations. I didn’t expect this many people to come out. Today has been the biggest crowd that I’ve seen in the U.S. and that is really saying something because the Amgen Tour of California has produced some enormous crowds. Today really raised the bar for American cycling. This victory means so much to me because of the way we raced this week. It took the best form of my life to beat Christian and Tejay. I had to produce some of the best races of my life and the team did a phenomenal job defending the jersey, it took every ounce of energy and motivation we had to pull it off.”
On comparing this race to the Amgen Tour of California. “That is difficult – I’m a California guy, I live there. I won the first Prologue of the first Amgen Tour of California, so for me that was something extraordinary and when I got to the podium that first day in my hometown of Santa Rosa I was very emotional. At the same time, I didn’t expect the USA Pro Cycling Challenge to be so grand on a scale. The crowds, the media attention, the way we raced this week, the way the jersey changed hands: it was a battle tooth-and-nail to the last corner. It’s tough to compare the two – we have two huge races in America and I hope they continue. It is fantastic for us to come back here and race on America soil. We’ve spent years battling it out in the trenches of Europe, so it’s great to come back and bring the sport to America on a scale this big.”
On the overall success of Team RadioShack in the U.S.. “We couldn’t have hoped for anything better. We’re very fortunate and lucky to have the victories we’ve had this year – we’ve had twice as many this year as we did last year. It really comes down to great teamwork and great sponsors. RadioShack has really been behind us the last few years and it really made a difference in our performance.”
On his slim margin of victory in recent races. “The Tour de Suisse was one of those rare occasions when you pull it off on the last day by a couple of seconds. I can’t say I clearly won that race because it was such a tight battle, as this week has been. I’ve had luck on my side for the last few months – with the exception of July – and luck is always involved in this sport. We work really hard 365 days a year and you have to love the hard work. You can’t expect success to happen all the time, but you appreciate it when it comes. It is important to soak it all in because this feels really great. I can’t imagine anything better than this right now.”
On whether he still considers himself a contender for a Grand Tour. “I do believe I still have it in me to contend for a podium at a Grand Tour, I just haven’t had great luck since the 2009 Giro d’Italia. I’ve had crashes, sickness – so many things can happen in this sport. As far as being on a different team, I don’t think it really matters. If you’re good and you’re strong you will come out on top, even if there is someone else on the team that is a potential threat. In the end, the race sorts everything out. We can’t perform our best at every race and we can’t win them all. If you’re good enough to be there and contend then you’re going to have a chance.”
On the quality of the American cyclists. “It comes down to mentality and motivation. Look at Garmin this week – the entire team was phenomenal. This is their home state and it took some of the best form of my career to win. These guys showed the Europeans that if they come to the U.S. to compete against Americans, they better expect a fight.”
Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad). “I think the USA Pro Cycling Challenge has been the most exciting race this year. The first four days the jersey changed hands every day – it was incredible. The crowds, the atmosphere, the competition level – everything was just unbelievable and it surpassed everyone’s expectations. This is the most fun race I’ve done and a race I’m looking forward to coming back to every year.”
On whether the race would have turned out differently for him if he had the Quiznos Leader Jersey after Vail. “I don’t’ know, it would have been interesting if I’d had the Quiznos Leader Jersey after Vail. It would have been good – I don’t know if my team would have been able to control it but they would have been motivated for it. It’s a lot of ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ but I can’t do anything about it now. Levi was super motivated and having him stay at home and keep in the bunch is a lot better than having him angry and wanting to get up the road. I have no idea how it would have played out if I’d had the jersey coming out of Vail, but that’s something we’ll have to figure out next year.”
On his advice to aspiring young riders. “You just have to love what you’re doing and you have to enjoy riding a bike. You have to enjoy getting out there and working hard – you just have to love it and keep at it.”
Rafael Montiel (Gobernacion Indeportes Antioquia). “I didn’t have expectations to get this jersey but I am very excited because this is a big deal race and I was impressed with the crowds. I am very happy today.”
Timmy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale). “This week Liquigas had two people going for the overall: Ivan Basso and myself. Neither of us did that well in the beginning, so at the end of the week we focused on our sprinters – Elia Viviani and Daniel Oss. We knew we had those cards to play, so we focused our efforts there.”
Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo). “It’s been an amazing week from start to finish. I don’t think any of us really knew what this week was going to be like, but it has been an amazing race from Colorado Springs to Denver. I had a lot of bridesmaids positions this week so that was hard to swallow, but it’s been great standing up on the podium with these guys, especially with the crowds in Denver today.”
On whether it has been frustrating for him. “The most frustrating moment was standing at the top of the Vail Time Trial and seeing Levi come by with almost the exact same time. Looking back, I can always say ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda,’ but at the end of the day it was a great week, I sacrificed a lot to come out and stay at altitude. It’s hard to be on the road for this long, but at the end of the day it paid off. Standing up here on the podium was great, but I still have blood in my mouth for next year, that’s for sure.”
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team). “Overall, when I first heard the idea of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge I thought: ‘A race in Colorado will be great – I wonder what sort of altitudes we’d be going to.’ I came in with ambitions, but no expectations because I hadn’t ridden my bike since the Tour de France. I didn’t perform my best, but considering the circumstances I thought it was a good result. I could have done better in the Time Trial in Vail but I think the race was very competitive, especially when you take into account the altitude. I give my full compliments to Levi, he prepared well and I imagine he was very motivated and focused.”
On the crowd. “I don’t know if I’ve ever raced in a place where the fans have been so appreciative. I want to thank the state of Colorado for coming out and supporting the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. People here were so appreciative and I will come away thinking that I want to come back because of that. It is something that stays in my mind – the ambiance that a race creates is not always controllable but in Colorado this week the culture and timing and weather all contributed to the race. From what I saw it was incredibly successful.”
On the performance of the U.S. riders.“They were so enthusiastic, it was incredible. Their motivation grows when they’re on American soil and I think to see George (Hincapie) do well here made a lot of people happy, including myself. Levi won so he was the man of the week.”
On his plans for the rest of the year. “This might be my last race for 2011. For personal reasons, I’d just like a little downtime and some family time, so today was probably my last race of the year.”
Shawn Hunter (CEO and Co-Chairman, USA Pro Cycling Challenge). “I just spoke to Steve Johnson and Mike Plant and they said that the crowd was the largest they’d seen in any stage race in U.S. history – that makes this a great first year event. We’re excited for the state of Colorado and for the communities we visited throughout the week. I’d like to congratulate Levi on another great victory and thank him for all he’s done for the sport. We will be back and we’ll be even bigger next year.”
On the whether the race will be coming back next year. “The race is definitely coming back, we have two very excited owners that are committed and were extremely humbled and gratified – we’re going to start planning tomorrow. Today reinforced the passion and I think it is safe to say the finish belongs here in Denver. The start had to be the largest crowd I’d seen on American soil. It was tingling to see what happened up top at the beginning and into Denver, we saw people six, eight and even ten deep – there were people in every direction. It was like that all along the circuit and it was very emotional for everyone.”
On the bid process for host cities next year. “It will be very similar. This year we invited 8-10 cities who were all very passionate about the race and I’ve heard from every LOC and they would all like to come back. The hardest part is that you can’t go back to the same places every year, you have to change it up to showcase this great state.”