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Tour Tidbits: Leipheimer still aiming for top-5; No ’06 Tour for Heras; Karpets burned?

Leipheimer aiming for fifthLevi Leipheimer needs a strong ride in Saturday’s 55.5km individual time trial at Saint Etienne to reach his stated goal of finishing among the Tour’s top five. Standing in front of him is Spanish rider Francisco Mancebo, fifth overall at 1:04 ahead of sixth-place Leipheimer. Under normal conditions, Leipheimer is a stronger, more consistent time trialist, but the final week of the Tour is something else altogether. “It will be difficult to make up more than a minute in the time trial,” Leipheimer said. “It's not a normal time trial. It's hilly and that

By Andrew Hood

Leipheimer aiming for fifth
Levi Leipheimer needs a strong ride in Saturday’s 55.5km individual time trial at Saint Etienne to reach his stated goal of finishing among the Tour’s top five. Standing in front of him is Spanish rider Francisco Mancebo, fifth overall at 1:04 ahead of sixth-place Leipheimer. Under normal conditions, Leipheimer is a stronger, more consistent time trialist, but the final week of the Tour is something else altogether. “It will be difficult to make up more than a minute in the time trial,” Leipheimer said. “It’s not a normal time trial. It’s hilly and that makes is tougher” On Thursday’s climbing finish to Mende, Leipheimer opened a bit of a gap on Mancebo, but the Illes Balears-Caisse d’Epargne rider clawed back in the final kilometer to finish 18th and maintain his fifth position overall. Leipheimer said the last several days of this year’s Tour have been a struggle for him. “I didn’t feel too bad, but I didn’t feel good in the Pyrenees, either,” he said. “But the past two days (stages 16 and 17) were not good. I didn’t have good legs and it’s hard to get them back.” Leipheimer has ridden with new consistency and strength in this year’s Tour, but so has the others fighting for the Tour’s top 10. More so than in previous years, the fight for the top 10 is deeper than ever. One familiar face is none other than Mancebo. He’s keen to hold his top 5. “Normally I will lose one minute to Leipheimer at such a long distance, but I hope I can have a strong ride,” Mancebo said. “The final time trial is always decided by who’s the strongest. My legs are finished yet.” If the results from last year’s final time trial is any indication, held on a similar 55km course in Besacon, Leipheimer is the safe bet. Last year, Leipheimer finished 2:19 faster than Mancebo. Heras to skip Tour next year
Roberto Heras, the three-time Vuelta a España champion who’s suffered through another disappointing Tour, said he won’t be back next year. Heras started Friday’s stage a distant 45th at 1:31:22 back and never was a factor in this year’s Tour. “I am tired of losing of the prestige of winning the Vuelta in the Tour. I will not race the Tour next year,” he said. “I will concentrate on the Giro and then the Vuelta, then we’ll see in the future.” Karpets flames out
Vladimir Karpets, the angular Russian who won the best young rider’s competition last year and finished 13th overall, is nowhere near those lofty heights this year. Karpets, 24, faded in the first mountain stages and has been moving backward ever since. He started Friday’s stage 50th at 1:40:40 off the winning pace. “He never recovered from the Giro,” said Illes Balears sport director Eusebio Unzue. “His wife gave birth two days after the Giro and he’s never been able to get strong again.” Karpets chose to race the Giro d’Italia rather than take a more traditional Tour buildup that might have gone through Romandie and Dauphine Libere. The tall, lanky Russian – who seems to be taking over for the peloton’s mullet-man from veteran Laurent Brochard – simply prefers to race. “He went to the Giro strictly for preparation, but then he started to figure in the GC and went deep to go as hard as he could to make a result,” Unzue said referring to Karpet’s eventual top 10 at the Giro. “He’s only 24, it was too much for him,” he said. Unzue said the team is confident their Russian flier will be back to his best at next year’s Tour. What’s sure is that Italy won’t be seeing him come May. Basso ready for time trial test
Ivan Basso knows he’s not going to erase the 2:46 difference to Lance Armstrong. What he’s more worried about is losing second place to Jan Ullrich, who’s looming at 3:12 back. “This is the most important time trial of my career so far,” Basso said. “It’s important for this Tour and it’s important for me.” Saturday’s race will be a similar scenario to last year’s Tour finale, with one major exception. Basso is a lot better in the time trial. Last year, Basso started the final time trial in second, only to be passed by Andreas Kloden in the GC. In last year’s Tour at Besancon at 55km is similar to Saturday’s course in St. Etienne. Ullrich was second, 1:01 slower than Armstrong. Kloden stopped the clock at 1:27 and Basso came through sixth at 2:50. The major difference this year is that Basso has made even more strides in the time trial. Under the tutelage of Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis, Basso has trained extensively on improving his time trial performance for the past two years. Basso is more confident he’ll be able to hold off Ullrich. Third-place Michael Rasmussen at one minute back isn’t considered a threat “It would have been nice to have gotten a little more gap, but Ullrich was strong,” said Basso, referring to Thursday’s climbing finish above Mende. “Ullrich is always strong, he’s a classy rider.”