Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) won his third overall title of the season at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The American admitted that a mixture of unfortunate injuries and near-wins played a role in fueling his motivational fire for success at the seven-day event that concluded on Sunday in Denver, Colorado.
"This victory means so much to me," Leipheimer said. "The team rose to the occasion to defend this jersey against a super motivated hometown team in Garmin-Cervelo. It took every ounce of our energy to pull it off."
The USA Pro Cycling Challenge leader's jersey jumped around during the first half of the seven-day event. Patrick Gretsch (HTC-Highroad) was the first rider to top the overall rankings following his win at the opening prologue. Leipheimer moved into the race lead following his stage one victory at Mt Crested Butte. However, he lost the jersey the following day during the ‘queen' stage two to youngster Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad). He took back the leader's jersey during the stage three uphill time trial in Vail; a race he narrowly won ahead of Christian Vande Valde (Garmin-Cervelo).
Leipheimer maintained the race lead during the final three stages, which produced bunch sprints won by Italian duo Elia Viviani and Daniel Oss (Liquigas-Cannondale). Upon the conclusion of stage six, race organizers crowned him the overall winner, 11 seconds ahead of Vande Velde, an additional six seconds to Van Garderen, and four seconds to Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo).
"I have to say what a great job Garmin-Cervelo did here," Leipheimer said. "Of course it is their home town and it took some of the best form in my career to beat Christian and Garmin-Cervelo this week. Hats off to them, they are the local favourites and I really appreciate the race they put on. This is one of the best victories of my career, just the way it all played out, taking the jersey, losing the jersey, and really having to pull out one my best performances of my career to take the jersey back and hold on to it. Last and most importantly, my team was fantastic."
Leipheimer's victory marked the third Stateside win of the season for RadioShack beginning with the UCI 2.HC Amgen Tour of California in May, won by Chris Horner and the double UCI 2.1 stage races Tour of Utah and USA Pro Cycling Challenge won by Leipheimer. He attributed the team's success to hard work and strong support from sponsors RadioShack and Nissan.
"We couldn't have hoped for anything better," Leipheimer said. "We couldn't have asked for anything more. We were very fortunate to have had that much success this year. We had twice as many victories as we had last year. It's thanks to great team work and great sponsors, RadioShack and Nissan, that have been behind us the last two years and it made a big difference in our performance."
Season disappointments turn to success in Switzerland, Utah and Colorado
Leipheimer started the season in top form targeting the Amgen Tour of California in May. The sting of placing second in a race he won on three previous occasions was some-what soothed by the fact that it was his teammate Horner, who won the overall title. The team rode away with ample success having won the two mountaintop stages on Sierra Road with Horner, and Big Bear with Leipheimer.
"For sure I was disappointed, California was my race and I worked really hard coming from a low point just five weeks before that just to get to a point where I could win a stage and get second overall," Leipheimer said. "In the end, when it was all over with, I was satisfied because I couldn't have done it at a steeper trajectory to get to that point. A teammate winning was the best scenario, of course I wanted to win, and it was disappointing that I couldn't stay with Chris on the climb on Sierra Road. But, to be first and second and to win a stage, I am satisfied with that."
Leipheimer went on to win his first overall title of the season at the Tour de Suisse. He placed third during the ninth and final stage time trial and gained enough time to win the overall by a mere four seconds ahead of Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) and Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank).
RadioShack was on target to have a promising Tour de France with a series of overall contenders that also included Horner and Andreas Kloden, who won the Pais Vasco in April. However, crashes during the first week of the race took Horner, Leipheimer, Kloden along with Jani Brajkovic and Yaroslav Popovich out of contention.
"When you have some near misses and disappointments like that it is fuel for the fire," Leipheimer said. "Switzerland was a pleasant surprise and the Tour de France motivated me more. I had Utah and Colorado on my mind since stage four of five of the Tour when things started to go wrong for me."
Leipheimer went in to the Tour of Utah as one of a handful of race favourites. He took over the race lead during the stage three time trial, where he placed second to Van Garderen. He maintained the race lead through the final two stages and won the overall title, for the second consecutive season, by 23 seconds ahead of Sergio Henao (Gobernacion de Antioquia) and his teammate Janez Brajkovic. That performance was directly followed by the win at USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
His three overall victories combined were won by at total of 38. He attributed the marginal victories to the often-times good luck needed to be successful in the sport of professional cycling.
"Switzerland was one of those rare occasions when you pull it off in the last day by a couple of seconds," Leipheimer said. "I can't say that I clearly won that race because it was such a tight battle, it wasn't a minute or more. I guess I have had luck on my side for the last three of four races."
"Luck is always involved in this sport," he said. "We work really hard 365 days a year. You have to learn to love that hard work and you can't expect to have success all the time. You have to capitalize on it and appreciate it when it comes. That was the situation I am in right now. I have to appreciate that I've won the last three of four races. I just have to soak it in because this is really great."
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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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