Levi Leipheimer takes control of the Tour of California
(Photo: Roberto Bettini)
Levi Leipheimer settled for second place to countryman Thomas Peterson in Monday's second stage of the Tour of California but took the overall lead with a risky and difficult ride.
Astana's Leipheimer launched his decisive attack on the last climb in the 186.6km stage from Sausalito to Santa Cruz with Peterson holding on through wind and rain before speeding past him at the line to take the stage. "I was charging," Peterson said. "Levi just came off and I saw him and I just sat on his wheel and basically the whole way to the finish was easy because I just stayed on his wheel."
Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner making his comeback from retirement this year, was in the pursuit pack 21 seconds behind Peterson, who took the stage in 5hrs 6 mins 20secs with Leipheimer on the same time.
Two-time defending champion Leipheimer's overall time of 9hrs 23mins 2secs left him 24 seconds in front of Australian Michael Rogers with American David Zabriskie four more seconds back and Armstrong fifth, 30 seconds off the pace.
Leipheimer grabbed the overall leader's yellow jersey in brutal conditions. "Turn your shower on as cold as it gets then stand there for four hours. That's what it's like," Leipheimer said. "It's horrible conditions out there. We're freezing - shivering cold rain."
US veteran Armstrong was impressed with his Astana teammate, whom he trailed by some 30 seconds at the finish in a supporting role. "Levi is incredibly focused on the event," Armstrong said. "When he went on the last climb, he was untouchable. He clearly showed that he is the best rider in the race today. "You get a guy like that who is well trained and on top of his form and wants to win more than anything, I don't think you can stay with him.
Saying the suffering of thousands of spectators helped spur him onward, Leipheimer felt he lost critical time on the pursuit group in the windy final kilometers. "In the last 3k it was just this massive head wind. I was turning squares. I think I lost 30 seconds in the last 3k," Leipheimer said.
Leipheimer launched the break from the peloton on Bonny Doon, 30km ahead of the finish. "It became apparent to me that I felt pretty good and everybody else was at their limit," Leipheimer said. "I call it a Hail Mary. You have got to go for it because once you go you can't back up."
Garmin-Slipstream's Peterson went along for the ride and won the day but Leipheimer was fast enough to dislodge the yellow jersey from Mancebo, the Rock Racing rider who took the lead Sunday by winning stage one. "That's just how cycling goes," Leipheimer said. "He made it to the top and he made it with me when others didn't. In that respect you could say he deserved the win. I think I deserved the win as well. No hard feelings."
Armstrong, slowed at one point when a motorcycle spilled in front of him, said he was happy to play his role in the race instead of chase the leaders. "It makes life a lot easier," he said. "I didn't feel super. I was just trying to follow the wheels."
Leipheimer was appreciative of having Armstrong among his teammates. "Lance is an inspirational hero for millions of people around the world and definitely for the seven people on this team he's a hero," Leipheimer said. "He's just a unique character. He's driven. He wants to win and he raises the level among the team. I appreciate having him on the team."The Race
Stage 2 of the 2009 Tour of California started in Sausalito, California under rainy skies for the second day in a row. Heading south the peloton rode over the icon Golden Gate Bridge on their way through San Francisco. Just ten miles into the race the first break of the day formed with Jason McCartney (Team Saxo Bank), Steven Cozza, Thomas Peterson (Garmin - Slipstream), Carlos Barredo (Quick Step), Stef Clement, Grischa Niermann (Rabobank), Markus Zberg (BMC Racing Team), Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis), Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling) going clear of the peloton. Heading into the first sprint bonus of day, at mile 17, the break had already established a gap of over a minute.
Rabobank rider Grischa Niermann took the sprint bonus as the break continued to extend its lead. At the base of the Tunitas Creek Road ascent, the break was close to 3-minutes ahead of the Rock Racing lead peloton. The break stayed together up the climb with Steven Cozza taking the KOM points.
On the decent and the flat run up to the category 3 Bonny Doon Road climb the gap grew to close to 5-minutes. As soon as the break hit the bottom of the climb Carlos Barredo attacked and quickly dropped his breakaway companions.
When the peloton hit the climb 4-minutes later, Astana went to the front with Popovych leading the charge. As the gap began to close, Leipheimer charged off the front. As Barredo continued to lead on the road Leipheimer’s gap on the peloton began to grow. As the Leipheimer’s gap increased, only Vincenzo Nibali was able to bridge to Leipheimer. As Nibali sat on Leipheimer's wheel, Leipheimer increased his pace and halfway up the climb dropped Nibali.
As the climb continued, Leipheimer began picking up the remnants of the break. In the final kilometers of the climb, McCartney and Peterson pasted Barredo as Leipheimer made contact. Going over the top McCartney lost contact as Leipheimer and Peterson pushed the pace.
On rain soaked descent McCartney bridged back to Leiphiemer and Peterson but was unable to hold on as Leipheimer hammered the descent. On the run into to Santa Cruz, Peterson struggled to stay with a raging Leipheimer, while back in the chase group Armstrong lead the chase to catch Nibali. Once Nibali was back in the peloton Astana took control and set the pace, trying to assure Leipheimer took the leaders jersey.
Coming into the finish Leiphiemer and Peterson held just over a 20-second gap over the Armstrong group, with race leader Mancebo over 2-minutes further back. As they approached the line Peterson jumped clear and easily out sprinted Leipheimer. However, with his ride today Leipheimer took over the race leadTour of California, February 14-22 2009
Monday, February 16
Stage 2: Sausalito-Santa Cruz, California
Thomas Peterson (USA/Garmin) 5hr 6min 20sec
2. Levi Leipheimer (USA) same time
3. Michael Rogers (AUS) at 21sec
4. Christopher Horner (USA) s.t.
5. Oscar Sevilla (ESP) s.t.
6. Kevin Seeldraeyers (BEL) s.t.
7. Thomas Danielson (USA) s.t.
8. Robert Gesink (NED) s.t.
9. Grischa Niermann (GER) s.t.
10. David Zabriskie (USA) s.t.
13. Lance Armstrong (USA) s.t.
27. Francisco Mancebo (ESP) 1:52,
41. Floyd Landis (USA) 1:52.General Classification After Stage 2
Levi Leipheimer (USA/Astana) 9hr 23min 02sec
2. Michael Rogers (AUS) at 24sec
3. David Zabriskie (USA) at 28sec
4. Lance Armstrong (USA) at 30sec
5. Christopher Horner (USA) at 34sec
6. Janez Brajkovic (SLO) at 38sec
7. Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) at 38sec
8. Jose Luis Rubiera (ESP) same time
9. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) s.t.
10. Robert Gesink (NED) at 39sec
13. Ivan Basso (ITA) at 42sec
29. Floyd Landis (USA) at 6:04sec
111.Carlos Sastre (ESP) at 30:11sec