Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) is heading into the ‘queen' stage two with a small lead ahead of his main competitors at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The American is sitting in yellow, four seconds ahead of Colombia's Sergio Henao (Gobernacion de Antioquia) in second and Luxembourg's Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek) in third. He believes, however, that additional contenders will arise over the two decisive ascents Cottonwood and Independence Pass, both positioned above 12,000 feet of elevation.
Leipheimer placed seventh in the opening prologue but took over the race lead following his stage one victory on Mt Crested Butte. He will rely heavily on his RadioShack teammates to help control the race over the two significant ascents before descending into the Aspen finish line.
"Obviously I am very happy to win and take the jersey," said Leipheimer who recently won the Tour of Utah. "It makes it difficult for my teammate tomorrow, but at the same they are fresh off of Utah, they know how to do it and they have done it. We are going to give it our best shot tomorrow. It will be a tough day, the queen stage, but I think we are all very proud to have this jersey and to be leading the first ever USA Pro Cycling Challenge."
"Physically I feel great and on the best form of the year, but that is not everything, that is only one component to the bike race," he said. "Tomorrow will come down to the strength of my teammates more than anything and the strength of my competitors. There are a lot of things that are out of my control. All I can do is ride to the best of my ability and try to be as smart as possible."
Despite stage one's challenging ascent to the top of Mt Crested Butte, the general classification contenders are only separated by seconds. Riders who could potentially move higher in the ranking include Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), who finished fourth on the stage along with Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo), Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad), Janier Acevedo and Oscar Sevilla (Gobernacion de Antioquia), among others.
"Things can get out of control and out of hand," Leipheimer said. "There could be a big group that goes and there could be any number of people in that group. If I try to control [Sergio] Henao and Christian [Vande Velde], then it will be [Janier] Acevedo and Ryder [Hesjedal] up the road. It is too difficult to pick one person because there are a handful of potential threats. I think Christian is riding well, he did a good time trial. But, I can't pick, I'm not saying that I am not afraid of anybody, but there are a lot of strong guys."
The USA Pro Cycling Challenge boasts high elevation between 6000 and 9000 feet and each stage accumulates a minimum of 5000 feet. Stage two will begin in Gunnison and include 9746 feet of elevation gain stretched over 210 km before finishing in Aspen. Leipheimer attributes his ability to race well at high elevation to his upbringing in Butte, Montana, along with many years of training and racing at higher elevations.
"I think you get accustomed to the sensations and your body must acclimate to that over the years," Leipheimer said. "I can't generalize for everyone but you can't deny that most likely the altitude is playing a big factor with everyone. But Frank Schleck was third today and he hasn't been here that long. Then again it's Frank Schleck and he can come in and ride great. I think it was a good sign that I could put some time into [Sergio] Henao. I kept thinking that we would all lose a handful of seconds to him, and not the other way around. I was pleasantly surprised and happy about that. If guys came here hoping to do well but not acclimated then that was probably not a good choice."