Leipheimer encouraged

American rider Levi Leipheimer looks on track for his target of a top five placing in this year's...

American rider Levi Leipheimer looks on track for his target of a top five placing in this year's Tour after yesterday's first big mountain stage. The Gerolsteiner captain had a gutsy ride on the race to Courchevel, losing contact with the Armstrong group when Popovych turned on the afterburners 11.5 kilometres from the top, but fighting all the way to the line.

He eventually finished sixth, a minute and 15 seconds back. Importantly, Leipheimer took time out of other GC contenders such as Cadel Evans, Andreas Klöden, Floyd Landis, Jan Ullrich, Chris Horner, Michael Rogers, Carlos Sastre, Alexandre Vinokourov and Bobby Julich. Winning this year's race is clearly out of the question, but a high placing is very much in sight. He starts today's stage to Briançon sixth overall, 3 minutes and 58 seconds down on Armstrong.

"Levi rode very convincingly, that was really a strong achievement", said team manager Hans Michael Holczer. "At this point his placing is what we expected."

Georg Totschnig placed 28th yesterday, suffering the effects of stomach problems. He was seen as possible dual leader before the race but Gerolsteiner will focus 100 percent on Leipheimer now.

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