Thursday, August 25, 2011

Heated Time Trial in Colorado

Vande Velde and Leipheimer
America’s top veteran cyclists are duking it out with the nation’s up-and-comers at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, while the top three finishers at the Tour de France are greeted with huge cheers as they appear comfortable with the altitude in this inaugural race. At Thursday’s time trial in Vail, Colorado, Levi Leipheimer drove hard to secure the stage win and recapture the race lead. The 37-year-old snatched the leader’s jersey back from Tejay Van Garderen, the 23-year-old heartbroken by his drop to third place.

The race started Monday with a prologue time trial won by Van Garderen’s HTC-Highroad teammate Patrick Gretsch. RadioShack’s Leipheimer jumped to first place with an energetic burst on Stage 1 into Crested Butte, but the Californian fell back during a rapid, rainy descent on Stage 2 into Aspen. Big George Hincapie won the stage for BMC Racing, and the crowds went wild for the 38-year-old who is arguably America’s favorite cyclist. Close behind was Van Garderen who gained enough time on Leipheimer to take the leader’s yellow jersey in the hometown of fiancé and fellow cyclist Jessica Phillips.

Ryder Hesjedal prepares to start
Stage 3 in Vail posed an unusual challenge for the riders who were already contending with the high elevation in Colorado. From a start in the heart of this cozy European-style ski village, the 10 mile course rose steadily uphill, demanding a climb of 1,783 feet. Throngs enthusiastic spectators surrounded the riders in the final yards, mirroring the crowds at mountain stages of the Tour de France.

The time trial is a race against the clock, as each cyclist rides the course alone with the ten best-placed riders starting last. Time trial specialist Dave Zabriskie produced a solid ride as predicted, and his time was tough to beat. The 32-year-old Utah native suffered a broken wrist at the Tour de France in July but recovered to compete at the Tour of Utah earlier this month.

Evans warms up
The crowd roared for Luxembourg brothers Andy and Frank Schleck, who finished second and third at the Tour de France, behind the new champion, Australian Cadel Evans. At every move, from the team bus and race warm-up to the finish line, Evans and his BMC team were surrounded by fans and photographers. This is the first race on American soil to feature the top three finishers of the Tour de France, but the competition remains focused among the American contenders.

Pre-race favorites included Leipheimer and Van Garderen, as well as Tommy Danielson of Garmin-Cervelo. Living in Colorado, the 33-year-old Danielson aimed to win the USA Pro Cycling Challenge to top off his best pro season but is suffering from a stomach bug. He finished ninth at the 2011 Tour de France. Leipheimer is riding high after his recent Tour of Utah victory, as is Van Garderen who drove home his first professional stage win at that race’s time trial. These Americans were joined by countrymen such as Christian Vande Velde, as all are hungry for more results at the twilight of the 2011 racing season.

Van Garderen, Leipheimer, Morales, Steensen
In Vail on Thursday, Leipheimer appeared to have the best form out of the gate and over the course. Van Garderen struggled midway and could not recover. After the finish, the Washington state native sat down on the roadside for several minutes, openly frustrated and disappointed by losing the leader’s jersey. He retains the best young rider jersey for the best placed cyclist aged 23 and under. Leipheimer won the day, while Garmin’s Vande Velde came in second and Colombian Rafael Infantino finished third. The top three finishers all received skis as prizes, while Leipheimer was awarded a free lifetime ski pass, to the envy of the crowd.

Given the stage results, Leipheimer took the overall lead with Vande Velde jumping to second and Van Garderen slipping to third. The stage did not affect the standings in the king of the mountains competition led by UNE-EPM rider Walter Morales; the sprint points competition led by Leipheimer, or the most aggressive jersey currently worn by Saxo Bank's Andre Steensen.

With the most aggressive roads behind them, the riders dive into an opportunity for the sprinters on Stage 4 into Steamboat Springs on Friday. A tough climb on Saturday may be the last chance for the contenders to shake up the overall standings before the finale in Denver on Sunday. Television coverage continues on Versus until the last stage which will be broadcast on NBC.


View current overall standings:


  1. Great job! Feel like I'm reading a one on one in Sports Illustrated!!! xxooo


  3. "Ryder Hesjedal prepares to start" photo: never seen so many people all in the same crowd.. love your pictures..