SNOWBIRD, Utah (VN) — After winning the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah as a solo rider last year, Levi Leipheimer brought his RadioShack

2011 Tour of Utah, stage 5
Brajkovic leads Montoya, Leipheimer, Sevilla and Danielson into the Alpine Loop. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

SNOWBIRD, Utah (VN) — After winning the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah as a solo rider last year, Levi Leipheimer brought his RadioShack teammates with him for 2011.

And boy did he need them.

Facing a surprisingly deep challenge from the Colombian Gobernacion de Antioquia team, Leipheimer fought off attack after attack over three categorized climbs before he was finally able to gently roll across the finish line on the wheel of his closest competitor.

“My number 1 goal, my only goal,” Leipheimer said after claiming the overall victory at the 2011 Tour of Utah, “was to win the race.”

And that meant he had no issues whatsoever following the wheel of Gobernacion’s Sergio Henao from the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon to the finish line at the Snowbird Ski Resort.

Henao got his second stage win of the Tour of Utah with Tour de France winner Cadel Evans watching, to finish off a week of racing along the Wasatch Mountains.

Leading by just 23 seconds when stage 5 started, Leipheimer’s strategy as the race began in Park City was simple: find Henao and fellow Gobernacion rider Oscar Sevilla and never let them out of his sight. The problem with that, however, was the Colombians had, by far, the strongest and deepest team in the Tour of Utah and launched attack after attack up the climbs trying to break Leipheimer and his RadioShack partners.

Janez Brajkovic, starting the stage only 29 seconds back, played the perfect partner to Leipheimer as they battled the Gobernacion squad and matched each attack perfectly.

“The strategy today,” Henao said through a translator after his stage 5 victory, “was to get ahead as much as we could. I felt good, I felt strong. But Levi was just as strong.”

With seven members of the Gobernacion team together through the first two climbs and shepherding Henao to the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Leipheimer needed all the help he could get. Brajkovic was right beside him for most of the stage and after the first monster climb over the Alpine Loop, Shack riders Philip Deignan, Ben King and George Bennet chased on to help their team leader.

“It was a little daunting at that moment,” Leipheimer said of the time he looked around the break and saw himself and Brajkovic against seven Gobernacion climbers.

The final climb was all about being patient and keeping an eye on Henao. One by one, the Gobernacion armada peeled off and finally it was just Leipheimer and Henao marking each other up the brutal climb that started after nearly 100 miles in the saddle.

“At that point, we wiped the slate clean and started over,” Leipheimer said.

Henao put in several digs, but none of them worked and Leipheimer simply kept his pace steady.

With a mile or two to go, Leipheimer knew he had secured his second straight Tour of Utah overall win and matched Henao’s pace, allowing the youngster from Colombia to earn the stage win.

“The way the Gobernacion team rode today and all week, they deserved to win,” Leipheimer said.

Brajkovic finished third on the day, just 18 seconds behind the winner, and slotted into third in the overall — 45 seconds back — as he showed his form is just fine prior to departing to compete in the Vuelta a España.

Gobernacion was an easy winner of the team classification with seven riders in the top 25 and Cristian Montoya claimed the Best Young Rider jersey.

PureBlack’s Roman Van Uden won both intermediate sprints during stage 5 to reclaim the points jersey he lost a day earlier and BMC’s Jeff Louder retained his Best Utah Rider jersey by placing 10th overall – just 7:31 off the winning pace.

Leipheimer, by virtue of chasing the leaders up the mountains, earned the King of the Mountain jersey.

The yellow jersey, however, was the one he treasured most.

“Last year was nice,” Leipheimer said, “but it was a little lonely.”

Brajkovic the rest of the RadioShack crew made sure he had plenty of friends to celebrate with this time around.

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