Monday, August 15, 2011

Leipheimer Wins Tour Of Utah

By: Laura Weislo

Henao climbs to final stage win

Levi Leipheimer sealed the overall victory in the Tour of Utah with a tenacious ride in the face of an all-out assault by the Gobernacion de Antioquia team.

The RadioShack rider nullified the attack by Colombian Sergio Henao on the final climb to the finish at Snowbird Ski Resort to secure his second consecutive overall Tour of Utah win. Henao, who was 23 seconds behind at the start of the stage, took the final stage win just ahead of the American.

The winner of the prologue and leader of the race for two days, Henao ended up second overall, while Janez Brajkovic claimed third on the stage and third overall in the Tour.

The Gobernacion de Antioquia team was consoled by taking the overall team classification as well as the best young rider award with Cristian Montoya to add to their three stage victories.

Henao said his team's strategy was to put riders up the road and try to gain as much time as possible, but that Leipheimer was too strong. "We found a worthy opponent in Levi," Henao said. "I was in good shape and going well but Levi was just as strong. Levi was a worthy winner. It was a tough race but we just wanted to get to the top."

Leipheimer said he didn't contest the stage because Henao and his Gobernacion de Antioquia team were so strong that they deserved the win. After the first climb, Leipheimer and Brajkovic were profoundly outnumbered by the Colombian team, but the RadioShack squad battled back, reversing some of the tactical mistakes they made on stage 4.

"I think we learned our lesson yesterday, we misjudged it. I made a mistake of giving bad advice to my team. I though we'd be able to control it and it got out of hand. Everyone on the team rode flawlessly today."

The race came largely together at the base of the final climb, but the two strongest riders were soon alone in the race to the summit. Leipheimer found a strong challenge from Henao, but was ultimately able to neutralise every attack.

"You never know until you cross the finish line how it's going to end up," Leipheimer said. "Sergio [Henao] put in a few stinging attacks and it was hard - I had to temper my efforts and think about the whole climb. There were a few times when I had to come back to him, but when he saw that I was good enough to follow him, fortunately he knew he could win the stage and let off a bit."

Behind, Brajkovic took third on the day to move into the last podium spot overall after Oscar Sevilla cracked on the final climb. The result was a good indication that the Slovenian has fully recovered from his injuries from the Tour de France and is in good form ahead of the Vuelta a Espana.

"I loved the Tour of Utah. It's really hard because of the altitiude. The first stage was really hard as well. It was a hard race, very selective, which really suits me. I'll be back next year for sure.," Brajkovic said.

In addition to the overall Tour of Utah victory, Leipheimer also pulled on the jersey of the king of the mountains, surpassing the morning's leader Rubens Bertogliati (Team Type 1-Sanofi), whose aspirations of making the breakaway and contesting the mountain sprints dissolved as the PureBlack team controlled the first half of the race, keeping the peloton intact to seal the sprint classification victory for Roman Van Uden.

Van Uden succeeded in winning both sprints, but he still faced a long day's work to make it to the finish inside the time cut.

"The whole day was absolutely brutal," Van Uden said. "We did the first two hours flat out. I was struggling from the first kilometer, and needed the team all day to get me through and get the two sprints. At the bottom of Sundance climb we let the race ride away from us, and we had to dig pretty deep to come in under the time cut. I can't thank my team enough."

Jeff Louder (BMC) held off Tyler Wren (Jamis-Sutter Home), whose bad luck continued with three separate mechanical incidents and a flat tire, to take the Best Utah rider classification.

How it unfolded

The final stage of the Tour of Utah departed without BMC's veteran George Hincapie, who left the race to trade his team kit for a tuxedo as best man in his soigneur's wedding. The remaining 103 riders set off on a slightly longer stage due to road works, with an additional 11km to make 171.6km between Park City and the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.

Having lost the sprinter's jersey on stage 4, the PureBlack racing team took firm control of the race to keep things together for the intermediate sprints. Roman Van Uden was delivered perfectly to the first sprint by his teammates to take back the points lead.

Van Uden also took the second intermediate sprint ahead of Jay Thomson (Bissell) and lead-out man Timothy Gudsell to secure the sprint classification.

It wasn't until the first climb 92km into the stage that the peloton began to shatter when the Gobernacion riders started attacking: Henao launched the first move and was marked by Garmin-Cervélo's Tom Danielson. When that move failed to go clear, it was Sevilla who went next with Danielson going again.

Leipheimer and Brajkovic chased the pair down with two more Gobernacion riders in tow: Henao and his teammate Janier Acevedo, while another Gobernacion rider Rafael Montiel was attempting to bridge with Lucas Euser (Spidertech) and Montoya behind.

When the front group came together it was Henao who went on the attack, but the Colombian gained only 30 seconds by the top of the first KOM and after the descent four groups of chasers came together and bourght Henao back.

"It was vicious out there. At one point it was Janez and me and six of them, and that was a little daunting," Leipheimer said. "We had to be as smart as we could and stay calm. At the bottom of the first climb, I thought we should wait and let more of our riders catch back, but Janez made a good call to go hard.

"In the end it was smart because it forced the others to race, it blew the race open and everyone had to work hard. Janez controlled the gaps and then in the valley we could slow things down and let more of our riders catch back on."

Gianpaolo Cheula (Geox-TMC) attacked ahead of the next KOM and opened up a minute on the yellow jersey at the top, and as the road once again tilted up it was time for Acevedo to jump. He got halfway across to Cheula on the climb, took second place over the top and then caught and passed the Geox rider as the final climb began.

Behind the two leaders, a large group of riders bridged across to the yellow jersey group, including some reinforcements for the race leader, Leipheimer, as well as the rest of the Gobernacion team. The group eventually managed to pull Acevedo back as the final climb began only to have Acevdeo's teammate Oscar Alvarez go on the attack.

"Philip Deignan, George Bennett and Ben King really suffered to come back, and wipe the slate clean so everyone was together," Leipheimer said. "Then it was just up to me on the final climb, and I didn't want to let them down."

While Leipheimer was diplomatic about the race situation, Brajkovic wasn't happy with the way the race unfolded in between the climbs.

"I've never seen racing like this," Brajkovic said. "Every team was against us and they were all wheel suckers. No one wanted to pull they all just wanted to flick us.

"We are happy with the results, but we are definitely not happy with the way other teams raced against us. That is racing, they can do whatever they want, but I think we deserved the win and we won, that's all that counts."

Still, RadioShack's trainee George Bennett set the pace as long as he could hold on, and then dropped off leaving Brajkovic as Leipheimer's bodyguard for the finale. He pegged the gap to the leader back to 10 seconds, but that only served to put a stick in the hornet's nest and when Henao attacked, only Leipheimer could follow.

With Henao 23 seconds behind on the overall classification, all Leipheimer had to do was hold onto the young climber's wheel. Brajkovic chased to the line, leaving Danielson in his wake to claim the final podium spot as Sevilla struggled in more than a minute behind.

"The team was very intelligent and concentrated a lot this week just trying to get ahead. Acevedo took off first and then we reacted later," said Henao. "It was up to whoever felt better at the time of attacking today. Oscar [Sevilla] was not really up to it today."

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