After suffering the effects of going too deep on the first hors categorie climb of the Tour de France, Levi Leipheimer recovered to keep the gas on over the top of the 2,000-meter Col de Madeleine and drive the 30km to the finish in an elite chase group. He finished 10th on the day, 2:07 behind stage winner Sandy Casar.
More important than his position on the stage, however, RadioShack’s Leipheimer moved up from eighth overall at the start of the day to sixth.
As with everyone else in the race, Leipheimer suffered the aftershocks of the battle between two-time race winner Alberto Contador and 2009 Tour runner-up Andy Schleck, who went mano-a-mano up the 25km-long Col de Madeleine, shattering the race in the process.
“That was one of the harder finals I’ve had in a while in the Tour because they went full gas on the climb, yet it was so far to the finish,” Leipheimer said of the Madeleine, which peaked 30km from the line. “ I think Andy saw that Alberto wasn’t good the other day, so he knew he had to try now, instead of waiting for the Pyrénées where Alberto might be better.”
But unlike stage 8 where Contador couldn’t match Schleck’s pace in the final, on stage 9 he matched him acceleration for acceleration.
“It just made for a brutal final,” Leipheimer said. “You saw that it was in pieces, and everybody suffered today.”
Leipheimer said he was pleased with his performance.
“I tried to stay there a little too long with Alberto and Andy, and I paid for that the rest of the climb,” he said. “I suffered on the way up. But I found a good group, with the Rabobank guys (Robert) Gesink and (Denis) Menchov; they had to work together. Thankfully I was able to hitch onto their wagon. But I felt better and better on the flats here and the end, and I felt strong again by the end.”
Leipheimer came across the line with Gesink, Caisse d’Epargne’s Joaquin Rodriguez and Saxo Bank’s Jens Voigt, the latter two of whom faded back from an earlier breakaway. Menchov finished three seconds behind.
Another 43 seconds behind Leipheimer’s group, his RadioShack teammate Lance Armstrong came across the line with Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Juergen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma) and a few others.
“We are trying to get Levi up (the GC) as much as we can,” Armstrong said. “I was there with two guys who are threats to him, looking forward to the podium, Basso and Van Den Broeck. There wasn’t much I could do other than sit there, but I wasn’t exactly ready to jump away either.”
Looking towards the race’s conclusion, Armstrong said the 52km time trial on the penultimate day will benefit Leipheimer.
“He has the fortune of knowing that he’s got 50k at the end where he’ll go well,” Armstrong said. “It’s a good course for him. It’s flat and straightforward. He can use his position, his power, his recovery. He’ll be good in the last TT.”
In 2007, Leipheimer won the stage 19 time trial to slot in for third overall, behind then-teammate Contador and Cadel Evans.