By Kirsten Robbins in Solvang, California
Levi Leipheimer (Astana) smashed the Tour of California's 24-kilometre time trial for the third consecutive year, besting his previous course record by eight seconds with a time of 30:41. He extended his overall lead to 36 seconds over David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream), and according to the Santa Rosa native there is more to a time trial win than just knowing the course.
"I think we all know the course, we know the facts, the lefts and rights, ups and downs... that's not really about knowing it," said Leipheimer, who gave tips on how to prepare for a time trial. "It's more about the sensations and dealing with high expectations. It's about having the confidence and the history of having won it twice before. It's about dealing with the pressure and using it to continue the streak – that was my the big advantage."
The time trial was once again held on the well-known out-and-back course through the Santa Ynez Valley. Though short by many standards, the steep climb up Ballard Canyon combined with a technical descent separated the times. The quaint Danish town Solvang hosts some of the ProTour teams annually for training camps, so riders vying for the overall had previewed the course multiple times.
His winning time of 30:41 was fast enough win the event by eight seconds ahead of the US national time trial champion, Zabriskie. Gustav Larsson (Saxo Bank) finished 17 seconds behind Leipheimer with a time of 30:58 for third place.
"It gets more special every time," said Leipheimer. "This is more special because only eight seconds is not much. I consider Dave [Zabriskie] one of the best time trialists in the world and in the history of American cycling."
There was a flurry of emotion at the finish line when Zabriskie arrived with the fastest time of the day, with only one rider left on course – Levi. Zabriskie is the only American rider to have won a stage in all three Grand Tours, and has proved to be back on form after another potentially life-threatening accident in last year's Giro d'Italia. He recovered from a broken vertebrae in his neck to win the US national time trial title, followed by a bronze medal in the world time trial championships.
"Not to blow hot air against Dave, but I really respect him because he has been a three-time national champion and one of the best," he continued. "For him to show up here and be in great shape and be so tight to me makes this a special victory. Also Michael [Rogers] is a three-time world champion. It has been a big honour for me to win this with riders like that here. It really was a great race."