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One last try

Tour of California - 2.1 USA, February 19-26, 2006

Stage 5 - February 24: San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara, 169.5km

Today had the last big climb of the race and it was the last climb [of the day], so I had do something to shake the race up because there's not many opportunities left.

I had two team-mates sprint full-out on the climb and they were going real fast. When they pulled off, I just kept it going. I think what happened was that the people on my wheel lost my wheel, and the GC riders weren't in the position to grab my wheel or they couldn't, so a gap opened up. I was hoping someone else would come with me...

Also, everyone knew the downhill was long and wide open and not very technical; you had to pedal the whole thing, so a group could easily come back and they [the GC riders] were counting on that. But I had to give it a try, because like I said, that was really the last big opportunity to do something.

I think George [Hincapie] is in good shape, but I don't think he's exactly peaking - I just think these stages have been great opportunities for him, because it's reduced the group down to 20 or 30 riders and he's still a very fast finisher. And with the team strong enough to prepare the sprint for him. What he's doing doesn't take super form; I definitely think he can be in better form.

There's a picture of me on the podium where it looks like Floyd and I are having a joke at George's expense. In actual fact, all three of us were joking around! We were standing up there and all three of us had a jersey, and George had mentioned it would be a cool picture to have. We're all really good friends, we've spent a lot of time together, we've all been team-mates... I think we all realised it was a pretty cool opportunity for three friends to be on the podium together like that; we were just having fun. We definitely compete against each other to the best of our ability, but we're also great friends.

Getting the mountain jersey is definitely a consolation prize. It wasn't what I was really going after, but I'll take it and I'll defend it. Another satisfying thing is that I think I've proved on the big climbs I'm clearly the best climber, but that's not what's going to win this race - it was all about the time trial and I knew that beforehand and I trained for that, but I just didn't have a very good day that day. Realistically, it wasn't really a course for me, either.

Maybe there can be a few changes next year. But in saying that, I think the organisers have done a great job; the race has been spectacular... the weather, the hotels have been awesome, and the first year, they didn't want to make it too difficult. It's February and people are just starting - and they [the organisers] want to finish in these different communities like Santa Rosa or San Jose, so it makes it difficult to make a challenging course with an uphill finish. For me personally, I hope in the future that they can put in a real mountain stage with a really hard uphill finish, balance it out a little - but I still think it's a great race nonetheless.

From the beginning, I've supported this race a lot and I've tried to promote it as best I can. Whenever they've asked me to attend a press conference or give advice on different aspects of the race, I've been more than happy to help, and I think a lot of the people and a lot of the fans have recognised that. It's been really cool to have that support along the way at the start and finishes - and especially the day in Santa Rosa... it was indescribable, it was really a phenomenal day to have that support.

Tomorrow, it's hard to say... I think one of these days, a group is going to make it to the finish and I think tomorrow could be that day, because there's a lot of little climbs during the race and it makes it hard for teams to chase. I would say breakaway.

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After a great 2005, Levi Leipheimer is back in 2006 with his German Gerolsteiner team, and looking for even more success. A sixth place finish in the 2005 Tour de France, along with a big win in the Tour of Germany saw Leipheimer establish himself as one of the European pro peloton's main men and possibly America's number one male stage racer. With a supporting cast that includes wife Odessa and three Chihuahuas, Levi will be out to conquer more stage races in 2006, so follow Levi's progress to the Tour and beyond on Cyclingnews. Australia UK USA