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From the pages of Velo: The 2011 Velo Awards — North American Cyclist of the Year

Editor’s note: VeloNews.com is presenting selections from the January 2012 edition of Velo, the magazine’s 24th annual awards issue. It’s only a sampler — so if you want the full scoop, pick up a copy of the January 2012 edition of Velo.

Levi Leipheimer started the season with third overall at Ruta del Sol, and he closed it with an impressive fifth at the GP Cycliste de Québec, 15 seconds behind winner Philippe Gilbert. In between, he both struggled and succeeded, but he produced an impressive season worthy of our North American Cyclist of the Year award.

Leipheimer didn’t win his beloved Amgen Tour of California, and he didn’t have a standout Tour de France. But in both instances, he turned those disappointments into future success. After winning California’s queen stage, atop Mount Baldy, and finishing as runner-up to RadioShack teammate Chris Horner, Leipheimer returned in June at the Tour of Switzerland. He wore the leader’s jersey only after the final stage, winning on the strength of a final-day time trial performance that unseated race leader Damiano Cunego by just four seconds and made him only the third American to win the race, behind Andy Hampsten and Lance Armstrong.

“Winning Switzerland was huge,” he said. “I went there not expecting anything, just training for the Tour. I didn’t think I was riding that great. It just happened, and it happened right at the last minute, so that was exciting.”

Once it was clear that his GC hopes at the Tour had been dashed by a series of crashes that cost him both time and energy, Leipheimer eased off in the final week, treating the race miles as preparation for the remainder of the season.

He didn’t win a stage at the Tour of Utah, but Leipheimer finished second in the Miller Motorsports Park time trial, to Tejay van Garderen, and second on the Snowbird summit finish, to Colombia’s Sergio Henao; together those performances brought him the overall win. Two weeks later at the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Leipheimer won the uphill stage finish at Mount Crested Butte, and followed up with a win at the Vail time trial, tying Christian Vande Velde on time and trumping van Garderen to re-take the overall lead, which he would not relinquish. The win in Colorado brought his domestic stage-race tally to second, first and first.

“Looking back, it’s one of my best seasons, and that’s saying a lot since the Tour went so badly,” Leipheimer said. “There is so much out of your control. You can only control how well you train, eat, and sleep; and all that revolves around being a professional, but you can’t control whether someone crashes right in front of you.

“When you target a race, you want to win it, and when it all comes together, like in Vail, you should allow yourself to appreciate it, soak it in, and be happy for yourself, because you’ve put your life’s work into it. Those moments don’t come along all that often, so you might as well enjoy it.”

Check out the other 2011 Velo Awards

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