Leipheimer on top of a "cruel climb"
Gerolsteiner's Levi Leipheimer could really call himself 'King of the mountains' today as he won the season's highest mountaintop finish on the Austrian Rettenbachferner climb at 2670 metres above sea level. In doing so, the American took the yellow jersey as well as the polka-dot, crossing the finish line 15 seconds ahead of his teammate Georg Totschnig and taking 50 seconds out of German Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile).
The two Gerolsteiner riders proved to be the strongest over a group including Ullrich as well as Jörg Jaksche (Liberty Seguros), Cadel Evans (Lotto-Davitamon), Tadej Valjavec (Phonak) and Marco Fertonani (Domina Vacanze) - but Totschnig's forces just weren't great enough to continue the ascent together with Leipheimer, so the American decided to go for the maximum time bonus over Ullrich instead of letting his teammate win in his home region.
"I can understand Georg's disappointment," said Gerolsteiner manager Hans-Michael Holczer after the stage, for whom it was enormously successful day. "But he accepted it pretty fast, because Levi was simply stronger in the end. With these rivals every second counts so sometimes it's necessary to let go of the result one wished for."
Team Gerolsteiner dominated the stage with relentless attacks from Fabian Wegmann and Markus Fothen, and the final top two placings. Meanwhile, they also lost one rider, Sebastian Lang, who had to give up after a crash.
The Rettenbachferner mountaintop finish proved to be fatal for some of the race favourites such as 2004 winner Patrik Sinkewitz, ProTour leader Danilo di Luca or Tour de France KOM Michael Rasmussen. Team CSC's Bobby Julich also sustained a substantial time loss towards the finish at an altitude of 2,670 meters. "This was not a good day for us," said CSC team director Kim Andersen after the stage. "Bobby didn't have the legs at all. It was a cruel climb towards finish and if you're having an off day on that type of stage, you end up paying the price. There are no excuses, now we have to abandon our ambitions about an overall victory and try for a come back with a stage win."
T-Mobile didn't have a great day either, although it was not catastrophic. Ullrich lost nearly a minute to Leipheimer to finish third, and will be looking to lose no further time before the final time trial next Monday. "I can be very satisfied with my third place just the same," Ullrich wrote in his diary on the t-mobile-team.com website. "After all, the cold last week was a little setback for me and my nose is still stuffed. However, I keep feeling better. So it was important to have put myself in a good position today. If it goes on like this, I can launch an all-out attack on the Feldberg and the time trial."
T-Mobile did lose Alexandre Vinokourov, who has not been in good shape since he started the race, and pulled out on the final climb.