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Leipheimer bypassing Leadville 100 for Utah stage race

Leipheimer leads Horgan-Kobelski up the Powerline Climb at the 2010 LT100. Photo by Dave McElwaine

Team RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer, winner of the 2010 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race in his first attempt, is bypassing the opportunity to defend his title in order to compete at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado.

Leipheimer took the LT100 crown last year and went on to win the overall at the Tour of Utah the following weekend while riding without the support of a team.

However the addition to the calendar of the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a UCI 2.1 stage race held in Colorado from August 22-28, pushed the dates of the Utah race forward a week to August 9-14, creating a conflict with the LT100, held August 13.

As was the case in 2010, Leipheimer returns to U.S. racing coming off a disappointing Tour de France. The Santa Rosa, California, resident, who trains regularly on a mountain bike during his off season, was one of dozens of riders to crash early and often at the Tour, and the only of RadioShack’s initial four GC contenders to finish the race.

“It was a really stressful first week,” Leipheimer said. “You’ve got 25 guys aiming for the top 10, and their teams surrounding them, and then you’ve got 10 top sprinters, and their teams surrounding them, and the only way to ensure that is to be at the front, but there’s not enough room at the front for everyone. It gets really stressful and competitive.”

A podium finisher at the 2007 Tour, Leipheimer finished the 2011 Tour 32nd, the worst Tour result of his career.

And though Leipheimer won in Leadville in 2010 en route to an overall win at Utah, he told Singletrack.com that the effort required to topple second-place finisher Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, with both men breaking the course record in the process, took “a lot more than I thought it would.”

“Leadville is really all about altitude,” he said. “And at that elevation, it’s a totally different game. You can’t go easy, and you can’t go hard. You’re basically going at your time trial pace, which really hurts, especially on a mountain bike, where there is no drafting, and no momentum. You’re constantly pushing on the pedals, and for a six-and-a-half hour day, where you’re going up to 12,500 feet, that’s just not normal. We’re really not meant to be up that high, and when you are, you just want to get back down.”

A first-timer at Leadville last year, Leipheimer said his best advice for Leadville newbies is to make sure to have their nutrition and hydration dialed prior to the race.

“For such a long event, it’s important to have nutrition and hydration tested and nailed down before they get there,” he said. “On the last part of course, it plays a big factor in how well you do. Especially at altitude, hydration is key.”

Leipheimer said he’s optimistic that he can contend for the win at the Utah and Colorado stage races, although he admitted he is still fatigued from the Tour.

“The USAPCC is a bigger event, and it’s more important to RadioShack, and to all the teams, but Utah is a great race,” he said. “You could argue that the Utah course is tougher than Colorado. I’d love to win it again, but I need to recover between now and then. I hope I can.”

As for whether or not he’ll ever return to defend his Leadville title, Leipheimer said he would have to wait and see.

“I don’t know. It might be best to do it once, have the record, and just leave it at that,” he said. “It’s a very epic race, and I’m glad I did it, but at the same time it was pretty damn hard. I’m not sure I ever want to go and suffer like that again.”

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