Leipheimer discounts Aspen breakaway
ASPEN – While big-name pro cycling racers like Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck, Tom Danielson and Levi Leipheimer are being mentioned among favorites for the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge next week, Leipheimer on Friday added a surprise name to watch.
In a teleconference from his training site in Utah, Leipheimer said the Colombia-based team of Gobernacion de Antioquia “will play a big part in the race next week.” He noted they are the team best acclimated overall to compete at the high elevations of Colorado. He specifically mentioned Sergio Henao, the racer he duked it out with last week in the Tour of Utah, as someone he expects to do well in the Colorado stage race.
Leipheimer of Team RadioShack won the Tour of Utah last week for the second straight year. Henao of the Colombian team finished second and displayed his expert climbing skills. That makes Henao a threat in stage two, the “Queen Stage”, from Gunnison to Aspen, according to Leipheimer. That stage cross two passes that exceed 12,000 feet in elevation – Cottonwood and Independence.
Leipheimer said his first reaction after seeing the race route was that “it’s going to be too difficult for one person to get away” on the ascent up the east side of Independence Pass “and get all the way down to Aspen” on their own. Instead of a domineering breakaway by one rider, he expects there will likely be a small group of three or four riders traveling into Aspen together, ahead of the rest of the pack, he said.
The descent from the summit of Independence Pass to the finish line at the courthouse in Aspen has several relatively flat sections. That makes a one-rider breakaway less likely, Leipheimer explained, because other riders can team up to catch an individual in the lead.
Leipheimer hopes to be among the leaders at the finish in Aspen because he believes the individual time trial in Vail the following day will be the key to winning the overall classification title.
“The first four days are the most important in the race,” he said.
The Pro Cycling Challenge starts Monday with a prologue in Colorado Springs. Stage One on Tuesday gives the riders their first taste of Colorado’s high elevation with a trip from Salida to Mt. Crested Butte over Monarch Pass.
The Gunnison-to-Aspen stage on Wednesday and the time trial in Vail on Thursday are followed by a stage from Avon to Steamboat Springs on Friday. Stage Five takes the racers from Steamboat to Breckenridge. The conclusion will be Sunday, Aug. 28 with a stage in Golden and Denver.
Leipheimer, 37, has been in Utah racing and now training at about 8,000 feet in elevation for three weeks since the conclusion of the Tour de France. He said any rider with aspirations of winning the Pro Cycling Challenge has been training for some time now at elevation, as Evans and Schleck have done. “You can never count them out – the best climbers in the world,” Leipheimer said.
It’s tough enough training at elevations between 6,000 and 8,000 feet, Leipheimer said, but racing at 10,000 to 12,000 feet puts a real strain on the racers, even though they are world-class athletes.
“Your body is screaming to get back at a lower altitude,” he said.
Leipheimer has a history of performing well in U.S. races. He won the 2007-09 races of the Tour of California as well as the last two races of the Tour of Utah. He also has four top 10 finishes in the Tour de France. He finished third there in 2007, winning one of the individual time trials.
Early crashes made the 2011 Tour de France a disaster for RadioShack’s chances as a team. Leipheimer finished a disappointing 32nd.
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