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Leipheimer takes Tour of California opener

The big names of American road racing made their message loud and clear at Sunday’s opening day of the Amgen Tour of California. Led by Gerolsteiner’s Levi Leipheimer — one of a handful of homegrown stage racers being touted as hopefuls to take the torch from the recently retired Lance Armstrong — American riders swept the top-five of the 1.9-mile prologue in scenic San Francisco.

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By Kip Mikler, VeloNews editor

Photo: Tour of California

The big names of American road racing made their message loud and clear at Sunday’s opening day of the Amgen Tour of California. Led by Gerolsteiner’s Levi Leipheimer — one of a handful of homegrown stage racers being touted as hopefuls to take the torch from the recently retired Lance Armstrong — American riders swept the top-five of the 1.9-mile prologue in scenic San Francisco.

Pain and Gain: Leipheimer gives it his all.

Pain and Gain: Leipheimer gives it his all.

Photo: Casey Gibson

Leipheimer, the leader of Germany’s Gerolsteiner team, showed that he’s serious about winning the high-profile first-year event that’s being hyped as the most important race in America. A Bay area resident, Leipheimer was untouchable in the short race from San Francisco’s Ferry Building at the Embarcadero Center to Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill.

“I’ve been training all winter and dreaming of winning the prologue here,” said Leipheimer, who earned the honor of wearing the first golden Amgen leader’s jersey in Monday’s stage 1 road race from Sausalito to his hometown of Santa Rosa, about 60 miles north of San Francisco. “It really was a dream come true for me. The crowds were amazing, when I hit the climb it was deafening.”

In an effort that took most riders between five and six minutes, Leipheimer’s time of 4:53.43 put him light-years ahead of the competition. Bobby Julich (CSC), a Tour de France podium finisher in 1998, finished second, more than five seconds off Leipheimer’s time. Third was 2005 Tour de France stage winner George Hincapie of the Discovery Channel team, followed by Phonak’s Floyd Landis in fourth and another CSC rider, David Zabriskie, in fifth.

It says something about the efforts of those five motivated American riders that the first foreign finisher was CSC’s Fabian Cancellara, winner of the 2004 Tour de France prologue and known as a prologue specialist. Leipheimer, Hincapie and Julich, three of the biggest American names in the ProTour peloton, each said they were inspired by seeing a race of this magnitude in the U.S.

“The Coors Classic was the race that got me started in cycling, and it started right here a couple of times with the exact same prologue we did today,” said Julich. “So it’s special for me to come and participate in this and have the next generation of American cyclists maybe being motivated in the same way I was motivated. It’s up to us to inspire that generation, and I think the Tour of California can help us do that.”

To prepare himself for his first major race of the season, Julich skipped the usual trainer warm-up and instead went for a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. “I must have passed two or three hundred people out on a bike ride,” he said. “I felt like I was just on a ride, hanging out in San Francisco. Then I thought I better hurry back and start this thing.”

Bobby J takes on Telegraph Hill

Bobby J takes on Telegraph Hill

Photo: Graham Watson

After several days of cold, rainy weather in San Francisco, the clouds broke for the start of the eight-day, 600-mile stage race that will spend several days in the Bay Area before heading south toward Los Angeles. The prologue started at 10 a.m., near the Embarcadero Center, the same location where this city’s previous international race, the recently folded one-day San Francisco Grand Prix, held its final edition in September. Gerolsteiner also took victory then, when Fabian Wegmann outsprinted Health Net-Maxxis rider John Lieswyn for the win.

The first stirrings of excitement for the large crowd on Telegraph Hill were caused by Aussie Nathan O’Neill. The Health Net-Maxxis rider posted the fastest early time despite losing his balance and crashing near the finish. While riding with his hands on his aero’ bars, O’Neill went to shift gears, lost his balance and plowed into the barriers with less than 200 meters to go. Even after losing at least 10 seconds while trying to get going again, his time of 5:10 was enough to knock off previous leader Viatcheslav Ekimov (Discovery Channel).

Prologue Results

1. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Gerolsteiner, 4:53
2. Bobby Julich (USA), CSC, 0:05
3. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel, 0:06
4. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak
5. David Zabriskie (USA), CSC, 0:09
6. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), CSC, 0:10
7. Jason Mccartney (USA), Discovery Channel
8. Hayden Roulston (NZl), Health Net, 0:11
9. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), Discovery Channel
10. Paolo Savoldelli (I), Discovery Channel
FullResults

The next rider to score the top time was Italian Riccardo Ricco, riding on Gilberto Simoni’s Prodir-Saunier Duval team. After that, Cancellara set and held the top time of 5:03 until he was finally knocked out of the lead by Julich.

Riding a carbon Cervelo Soloist with his trademark ovalized chainrings, Julich said he was surprised at being the first to break the five-minute barrier. “The big long straight before the climb felt long,” he said. “But once you got on the climb it was great because, even though it was a wide road, there were a lot of people making a lot of noise.”

Julich’s time of 4:58.19 was challenged by Landis, Zabriskie and Hincapie, but it wasn’t until Leipheimer, third from last, hit the course, that it looked like Julich might be beat. Leipheimer, who has made it no secret that he wants to win the first Tour of California, plowed across the flat section and into the climb with eye-opening momentum.

Even though he lives nearby and has scouted some of the stages, Leipheimer hadn’t ridden the prologue course until this morning.

Landis finishes in fourth

Landis finishes in fourth

Photo: Graham Watson

“I tried it on the road bike, and on the time trial bike,” Leipheimer said. “At one point I thought I might try to ride it on my road bike, but I felt comfortable on my time trial bike, so I went with it.”

The steepness of the pitch up Telegraph Hill made Leipheimer nervous, so he had his mechanic switch his small ring from a 44-tooth to a 42-tooth. It hardly mattered, though, as he steamed up most of the hill in his big – 54-tooth – chainring.

“I turned the corner with 1km to go in my 54-tooth, and I thought, I can go a little further in my big chainring,” he said. “I went all the way up to the next left, and I thought I still had some gas left, so I kept going. But I did switch to the 42 with about 500 meters to go. The only reason was because I looked down at my SRM, and my RPM’s were at 77. I thought that was a little low, and so I’d better switch, which was a bit of a risk on a steep climb.

“You never know what could happen, but it worked,” he continued. “I was surprised at how fast I was going, and how quickly the last bit went. I was giving it everything I had. At 150 meters to go I was giving it everything. I’d heard what the fastest time was before I left the starting house, and when I crossed the line I looked down and saw I had a 4:53, and I knew I’d won. It was a great feeling.”

After the race, 15th-place finisher Fred Rodriguez (Davitamon-Lotto), who just across the Bay Bridge in Emeryville, summed up the reaction to Leipheimer’s performance. “I was a little surprised to see that Levi has been training as hard as we’ve been hearing,” Rodriguez said. “And it shows.”

RACE NOTES
Fifth-place finisher David Zabriskie (CSC) was slowed by a shifting problem near the start of the climb to Coit Tower. Being touted as a favorite for Wednesday’s critical stage-3 time trial, Zabriskie gave up nine seconds to Leipheimer.

Rodriguez suffered a slight tear in his calf muscle that forced him to drop out of the Tour of Qatar, but he showed that he’s on the mend with a solid time of 5:07, good enough for 15th. “I think stage wins will be our main focus,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve put the energy into trying to ride GC here.”

Three-time world time trial champion Michael Rogers said Sunday’s prologue was his first hard test of 2006. Speaking for many who felt the same way, Rogers said, “That was my first real effort of the year, and my heart was in my mouth the last 100 meters.”

Zach Grabowski of Colavita-Sutter Home, 21, was awarded the leader’s jersey for the best young rider. Grabowski finished 43rd.

WHAT’S NEXT
Monday’s stage will take the peloton through some of the most scenic roads in the Bay Area. Starting in Sausalito, the route travels north through Muir Woods National Monument and Golden Gate National Recreation Area into Point Reyes, the location of the first Clif Bar sprint line. The course will hug the Pacific Ocean into Tomales, with an unclassified climb in Sebastopol before descending into Santa Rosa, Leipheimer’s hometown, for three 3.1-mile finishing circuits. Expect a field sprint, with Rodriguez looking to take his first win of 2006.

The buzz around the start line is already focusing around stage 2, from Martinez to San Jose, and its finishing category-1 climb up Sierra Road. Riders who have reconnoitered the route report on its steepness, but question how it may affect the general classification, given its summit almost 20 miles from the finish.

Kodakgallery.com-Sierra Nevada’s Ben Jacques-Maynes, who finished 16th atop Coit Tower, 15 seconds behind Leipheimer, lives close to the Sierra Road climb and said those who haven’t ridden it are in for a surprise.

“I’ve been riding Sierra Road and Calaveras Road two or three times a week,” Jacques-Maynes said. “I basically start and finish every ride on those roads. There won’t be any surprises there for me, but for people who don’t know it, or have only seen it once or just drove it in the car, they are going to have no idea about how hard it is to go through that road. It’s like a cyclo-cross race, actually, it’s about 45 minutes of just rallying. You make it to the top of the climb, and there’s a good half-hour of back and forth, up and down, little half-mile and one-mile punchy climbs, a lot of twists and turns. Some people are going to have their eyes opened. It’s going to be impossible to get a pack through there. Even if it’s together at the bottom, it’s going to be a small, select group to emerge from that little bit of wilderness with a good lead.”

Leipheimer agreed with Jacques-Maynes’s assessment of the climb, and stage 2’s likely outcome.

“The word is out about stage 2,” he said. “Sierra Road is very difficult. I was one of the first to ride the route, and told my friends, ‘Don’t tell anybody.’ It was really an unknown road. With everyone going out and pre-riding the course, the cat’s out of the bag. But it is 30km from the finish, so it’s a little bit tricky. A small group can make it to the finish, and from there, [the general classification will be decided by] who can time trial within that group.”

(VeloNews senior writer Neal Rogers contributed to this report)

Leipheimer gets congrats from the Guvernator

Leipheimer gets congrats from the Guvernator

Photo: Graham Watson


To see how today’s stage developed, simply clickhere to open up our Live Update Window.Official Top 10
1. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Gerolsteiner, 4:53
2. Bobby Julich (USA), CSC, 0:05
3. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team, 0:06
4. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak
5. David Zabriskie (USA), CSC, 0:09
6. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), CSC, 0:10
7. Jason Mccartney (USA), Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team
8. Hayden Roulston (NZl), HNM, 0:11
9. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team
10. Paolo Savoldelli (I), Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team

FullResults

Photo Gallery

Results

Prologue Results

1. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Gerolsteiner, 4:53

2. Bobby Julich (USA), CSC, 0:05

3. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel Pro Cycling, 0:06

4. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak

5. David Zabriskie (USA), CSC, 0:09

6. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), CSC, 0:10

7. Jason Mccartney (USA), Discovery Channel Pro Cycling

8. Hayden Roulston (NZl), HNM, 0:11

9. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), Discovery Channel Pro Cycling

10. Paolo Savoldelli (I), Discovery Channel Pro Cycling

11. Thomas Danielson (USA), Discovery Channel Pro Cycling, 0:12

12. Cadel Evans (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto

13. Robert Hunter (RSA), Phonak, 0:14

14. Heath Blackgrove (NZl), Toyota United

15. Fred Rodriguez (USA), Davitamon-Lotto

16. Ben Jacques-Maynes (USA), Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada, 0:15

17. Gordon Fraser (CAN), HNM, 0:16

18. Stuart O'Grady (Aus), CSC

19. Haselbacher René (A), Gerolsteiner, 0:17

20. Pauriol Rémi (F), Credit Agricole

21. Riccardo Ricco (I), Saunier Duval

22. Christian Vandevelde (USA), CSC

23. Christopher Baldwin (USA), Toyota United

24. Martin Perdiguero Miguel Angel (Sp), Phonak

25. Nathan O'Neill (Aus), HNM

26. Michael Barry (CAN), Discovery Channel Pro Cycling, 0:18

27. Karsten Kroon (Nl), CSC

28. Phil Zajicek (USA), Navigators Insurance, 0:19

29. Frank Hoj (Dk), Gerolsteiner, 0:20

30. David Kopp (G), Gerolsteiner

31. Gilberto Simoni (I), Saunier Duval

32. Michael Rogers (Aus), T-Mobile, 0:21

33. Christopher Horner (USA), Davitamon-Lotto

34. Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus), Discovery Channel Pro Cycling

35. David O'Loughlin (IRL), Navigators Insurance

36. Sebastian Lang (G), Gerolsteiner, 0:22

37. Koldo Gil Perez (Sp), Saunier Duval

38. Nicolas Vogondy (F), Credit Agricole

39. Josep Jufre Pou (Sp), Davitamon-Lotto

40. Danny Pate (USA), TIA

41. Saul Raisin (USA), Credit Agricole, 0:23

42. Michael Jones (USA), HNM

43. Zachary Grabowski (USA), Colavita-Bolla

44. Mads Kaggestad (Nor), Credit Agricole

45. Janez Brajkovic (SLO), Discovery Channel Pro Cycling

46. Mark Walters (CAN), Navigators Insurance, 0:24

47. Tyler Wren (USA), Colavita-Bolla

48. Timothy Johnson (USA), HNM

49. Alexandre Moos (Swi), Phonak, 0:25

50. Mark Mccormack (USA), Colavita-Bolla

51. Marco Pinotti (I), Saunier Duval

52. Glen Alan Chadwick (Aus), Navigators Insurance

53. Aaron Olsen (USA), Saunier Duval

54. Charles Bradley Huff (USA), TIA, 0:26

55. Craig Lewis (USA), TIA

56. Greipel André (G), T-Mobile

57. Pieter Mertens (B), Davitamon-Lotto

58. Viktor Rapinski (Blr), Colavita-Bolla, 0:27

59. Nicolas Jalabert (F), Phonak

60. Scott Moninger (USA), HNM

61. Torsten Hiekmann (G), Gerolsteiner

62. Valery Kobzarenko (Ukr), Navigators Insurance

63. Gomez Marchante José Angel (Sp), Saunier Duval

64. Justin England (USA), Toyota United, 0:28

65. Taylor Tolleson (USA), TIA

66. Todd Herriot (USA), Colavita-Bolla

67. Brian Jensen (USA), JBC

68. Andrew Bajadali (USA), JBC, 0:29

69. Mc Carty Jonathan Patrick (USA), Phonak, 0:30

70. Korff André (G), T-Mobile

71. Garcia José-Manuel (MEX), Toyota United, 0:31

72. Olaf Pollack (G), T-Mobile

73. Gregory Henderson (NZl), HNM

74. Bastiaan Giling (Nl), T-Mobile, 0:32

75. Michael Creed (USA), TIA

76. Preben Van Hecke (B), Davitamon-Lotto

77. Jean Marc Marino (F), Credit Agricole

78. Jens Voigt (G), CSC, 0:33

79. Sergey Lagutin (UZB), Navigators Insurance

80. Fabian Wegmann (G), Gerolsteiner

81. Portal Sébastien (F), Credit Agricole

82. Vassili Davidenko (Rus), Navigators Insurance

83. Bernhard Kohl (A), T-Mobile

84. Matthew Rice (Aus), JBC, 0:34

85. Caleb Manion (Aus), JBC

86. Davide Frattini (I), Colavita-Bolla

87. Steve Zampieri (Swi), Phonak, 0:35

88. Michael Friedman (USA), TIA, 0:36

89. Michael Dietrich (USA), Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada

90. Sven Krauss (G), Gerolsteiner

91. Antonio Cruz (USA), Toyota United

92. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Phonak

93. Kyle Wamsley (USA), Colavita-Bolla, 0:37

94. Bart Dockx (B), Davitamon-Lotto

95. Gustavo Artacho (ARG), Colavita-Bolla, 0:38

96. Dominique Perras (CAN), Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada

97. Lars Ytting Bak (Dk), CSC

98. Haedo Juan José (ARG), Toyota United, 0:40

99. Scott Zwizanski (USA), Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada, 0:41

100. Lucas Euser (USA), TIA, 0:42

101. Nick Reistad (USA), JBC, 0:44

102. Kilian Patour (F), Credit Agricole

103. Jackson Stewart (USA), Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada, 0:45

104. Fausto Esparza (MEX), MEX

105. Mike Sayers (USA), HNM

106. Benjamin Brooks (Aus), Navigators Insurance

107. Alex Candelario (USA), JBC

108. Benitez Roman Jose Alberto (Sp), Saunier Duval

109. Domingo Gonzalez (MEX), MEX, 0:48

110. Thomas Peterson (USA), TIA, 0:50

111. Martin Gilbert (CAN), Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada, 0:51

112. Mariano Friedick (USA), Toyota United

113. Kirk Albers (USA), JBC

114. Brice Jones (USA), JBC, 0:52

115. Scott Davis (Aus), T-Mobile

116. Peter Lopinto (USA), Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada, 0:54

117. Antonio Aldape (MEX), MEX

118. Frantisek Rabon (Cz), T-Mobile

119. David Robinson (USA), Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada, 0:59

120. Ivan Dominguez (CUB), Toyota United

121. Arquimides Lam (MEX), MEX

122. Charles Dionne (CAN), Saunier Duval, 1:01

123. Manuel Hernandez (MEX), MEX, 1:05

124. Florencio Ramos (MEX), MEX, 1:09

125. Olivier Kaisen (B), Davitamon-Lotto, 1:13

126. Miguel Mesa (MEX), MEX, 1:16

127. Jesus Zarate (MEX), MEX, 1:27