Levi Leipheimer Wins Tour of California Individual Time Trial
Fans lined up ten deep in some places along the 24.1 kilometer individual time trial route in Solvang to welcome world-class cyclists from 17 professional teams for the critical Stage 6 individual time trial of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California. After completing the longest day of the race yesterday, the riders were faced with a course that was dominated by Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Team Astana for the third consecutive year. Besting four-time U.S. National Individual Time Trial Champion David Zabriskie (USA) of Team Garmin-Slipstream by eight seconds, Leipheimer further built on his overall lead in the 2009 race to 36 seconds and will wear the Amgen Leader Jersey going into Stage 7 tomorrow.
Moving into second and third overall were Zabriskie and three-time individual time trial world champion Michael Rogers (AUS) of Team Columbia-Highroad, respectively.
“This is the fourth year for the Amgen Tour of California and every year this stage is important,” said Leipheimer. “The overall race this year has been tougher. We’ve had one more day before the time trial and we’ve had some bad weather; the race is split up this year. Of course we have two hard days to come, but today has made the biggest difference.”
“I think I was happy with my ride today. It was a well balanced course. It was flat, fast, there were uphills and downhills, it was a good all-around circuit. My hat goes off to Levi, Dave and everyone really, because it’s a tough tour. I think we’re all looking forward to Sunday. I think the race is not over until Sunday. You’ve got some tough mountains coming up. I’m sure it’s going to be tough. I think maybe the general classification is starting to open up a little bit more, but anything can happen,” Michael Rogers told Roadcycling.com.
Rogers added that “There are some hard climbs coming. I haven’t been over the last two stages, but I have a few teammates that have been over the course, so I’m sure they’ll keep me well informed. With the experience that Levi and his team have, it is going to be hard to do something, but we never say never. We are just going to take each stage as it comes. We’re always on the lookout to do something, so if the opportunity arises, we’ll do it.”
With the start and finish lines located only one block apart, the individual time trial provided fans with an ideal opportunity to watch riders both start and finish the race. The route showcased the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, winding through quaint towns, vineyards, farms, and one short, but steep, climb up Ballard Canyon. The short, flat and fast time trial created a challenging test for the riders in a decisive day cycling.
Racing on a 15-mile course, Leipheimer rolled out of the start gate with confidence. Coming off a demanding and challenging stage on Thursday, most of the cyclists struggled to beat the 30-minute barrier. Of the early riders, Gustav Larsson (SWE) of Team Saxo Bank posted 30:57, which was only good enough to keep the lead until Zabriskie and Leipheimer left the start house.
But in this ‘race of truth,’ each rider alone against the clock, the competition became tougher as the race went on, with the top-three finishers ultimately cracking the 30-minute barrier.
Larsson was the first rider to break through, but that time would soon be beat by another strong rider, Zabriskie. Zabriskie, the only American to win a stage of all three Grand Tours, whipped into the finish stretch and posted a seemingly untouchable 30:48.
“The course today for me, compared to last year, was much easier,” commented Zabriskie. We had a rainy day before last year’s time trial, but today was a good day. It was the good kind of pain where you’re really enjoying it; it’s like energy, energy, energy. We had good weather, good people and good crowds. I had a good time.”
On the possibility of him winning the 2009 Tour of California, Zabriskie told Roadcycling.com that “It would take a lot of screwing up on their (Astana’s) part. With the experience that they have and the depth of the team, they know what they’re doing. Like I said, it would take a huge screw up. Tomorrow’s stage is the same as last year. It’s not crazy. It’s fairly gradual, so it’s probably going to be a field sprint. Everyone knows that stage. We did go down and checkout the last stage; it’s very challenging and things could happen. It will be interesting.”
The most anticipated rider of the day, seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong (USA) of Astana came in 14th today with a time of 31:56, which put him in sixth place overall going into tomorrow’s stage.
Leipheimer hit the tape to post an amazing time of 30:40. Despite wind, turns and hills, he had powered his bike nearly 30 mph for a half hour and crushed the competition at every time split.
“I think it gets more and more special,” added Leipheimer with regards to winning the individual time trial for the third consecutive year. “In fact, this win is the most important, the most special to me because it was so tight. There were only eight seconds separating us. Dave is the best time trialist in the world, in the history of American cycling really, and for him to show up and be in great shape and be so tight with me, it makes this the most special of three victories.”
Going into the final two stages, the Astana team will work to help Leipheimer keep the Amgen Leader Jersey and defend his title as the two-time champion of the Amgen Tour of California.
Actor Evan Handler, a cancer survivor, was on hand to present Amgen's Breakaway from Cancer jersey to George Hincapie (USA) of Team Columbia-Highroad today at the awards ceremony.
“I love nothing better than to spend a gorgeous Friday afternoon surrounded by people in better physical condition than me,” said Handler. “The Amgen Tour of California time trial in Solvang provided me with the non plus ultra of that experience. It was an awe-inspiring race, on an awesome day.”
Today’s stage brought only one change to the jersey leaders. George Hincapie (USA) of Team Columbia-Highroad was awarded Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider Jersey. The other jerseys were unchanged with Leipheimer in the Amgen Leader Jersey, Mark Cavendish (GBR) of Team Columbia-Highroad in the Herbalife Sprint Jersey, Francisco Mancebo (ESP) of Team Rock Racking in the California Travel & Tourism Commission King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey and Robert Gesink (NED) of Team Rabobank in the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey.
“I was blown away by the crowds in Solvang this year,” said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports, presenter of the race. “The crowds continue to get bigger and more enthusiastic. Although Levi seems to be riding as strong as ever, with two challenging days ahead of us, and riders like Dave Zabriskie, Michael Rogers and Lance Armstrong close behind, the race is far from over.”