Levi Leipheimer claims Stage 1 at Crested Butte
Enthusiastic crowds welcomed the field of 130 cyclists to Mt. Crested Butte for the Stage 1 finish of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge on Tuesday, as Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Team RadioShack showed an impressive finish taking the stage win and claiming the lead in the general classification and sprint competitions. Known for his climbing skills and after a first place finish in this year’s Tour of Switzerland and Tour of Utah, Leipheimer is a fan favorite in American cycling.
“I am very happy to get the win and get the Quiznos Leader Jersey,” said Leipheimer. “We’re all proud to get this jersey and win the first stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.”
Leipheimer attacked out of the lead group on the steep mile-long trek up to Mt. Crested Butte ski station, as he out-climbed Sergio Luis Henao (COL) of Gobernacion de Antioquia by four seconds and Frank Schleck (LUX) of team Leopard-Trek by seven seconds. By winning, Leipheimer added a 10-second bonus to his overall time and leads fellow American Christian Vande Velde of Garmin-Cervelo by 11 seconds. American Tejay Van Garderen of HTC-Highroad and Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (AUS) of BMC Racing Team remain in third and fourth respectively.
With warm weather, blue skies and a picturesque backdrop, Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge got underway in Salida this morning with an outpouring of support from local residents and visiting fans. After a neutral start that included two laps through the city, the race headed out of town on a 99.4-mile route to Mt. Crested Butte.
Early in the stage, Bradley White (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, Will Dickeson (AUS) of Jelly Belly Pro Cycling Team, Jay Thomson (RSA) of Bissell Pro Cycling Team and Eduard Alexander Beltran (COL) of UNE-EPM formed a break that would stick for a good part of the race and in the first 25 miles built more than a five-minute lead.
After heading over rolling hills the route took the riders to their first climb of the race – Monarch Pass (11,315 ft.). Lined with throngs of cheering fans, some of whom had camped out to catch a glimpse of the top riders in the world, the first King of the Mountains (KOM) competition of the race was taken by Beltran. Following the KOM, Dickeson and Beltran eventually fell back, leaving White and Thomson in the lead.
“There was a bit of a headwind and I was kind of in the break,” said White. “We dropped the first two guys in the descent and we weren’t sure if we should wait for them. We decided to ride and were going to see if they would come back, but they didn’t.”
After a fast decent on which the riders reached speeds of 60 mph on one inch of rubber, they crossed a slightly uphill, windy valley leading into Gunnison, all while battling strong, up to 20 mph headwinds. Once in Gunnison, the location of tomorrow’s start, the riders faced the first Smashburger Sprint Line, which was taken by White, at which point they took a sharp right and headed north to Crested Butte. A gradual climb, the course then wrapped around the historic town heading up a steep, but short climb to the small ski community.
With 15 km to go, the peloton caught the break and the race was on to the finish. At 5 km the riders reached the second and final Smashburger Sprint Line of the day and the points went to Elia Viviani (ITA) of Liquigas. Heading up the hill to the finish line the group saw several attacks, which eventually lead to a first place finish for Leipheimer.
“Today was a great day of racing that really gave the riders and fans a taste of what’s ahead in the coming days,” said Shawn Hunter, co-chairman and CEO of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. “The USA Pro Cycling Challenge is going to take everyone to new heights, allowing us to showcase all the state has to offer while pushing the riders to their limit.”
Leipheimer claimed the Quiznos Leader Jersey and the Smashburger Sprint Jersey. Van Garderen kept the Sheets Best Young Rider’s Jersey. The Exergy Most Aggressive Jersey went to Bradley White (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team. And the Nissan King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey was awarded to Beltran Suarez for his performance on Monarch Pass.
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