Fan favorite Leipheimer claims Stage 1 of USA Pro Cycling Challenge with climb up to Mt. Crested Butte

By Real Vail
Real AspenAugust 23, 2011

MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Enthusiastic crowds welcomed the field of 130 cyclists to Mt. Crested Butte for the Stage 1 finish of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge today, as Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Team RadioShack showed an impressive finish taking the stage win and claiming the lead in the general classification and sprint competitions. Known for his climbing skills and after a first place finish in this year's Tour of Switzerland and Tour of Utah, Leipheimer is a fan favorite in American cycling.

“I am very happy to get the win and get the Quiznos Leader Jersey,” said Leipheimer. “We're all proud to get this jersey and win the first stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.”

Levi Leipheimer triumphant in Crested Butte.
USA Pro Cycling Challenge

Leipheimer attacked out of the lead group on the steep mile-long trek up to Mt. Crested Butte ski station, as he out-climbed Sergio Luis Henao (COL) of Gobernacion de Antioquia by four seconds and Frank Schleck (LUX) of team Leopard-Trek by seven seconds. By winning, Leipheimer added a 10-second bonus to his overall time and leads fellow American Christian Vande Velde of Garmin-Cervelo by 11 seconds. American Tejay Van Garderen of HTC-Highroad and Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (AUS) of BMC Racing Team remain in third and fourth respectively.

With warm weather, blue skies and a picturesque backdrop, Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge got underway in Salida this morning with an outpouring of support from local residents and visiting fans. After a neutral start that included two laps through the city, the race headed out of town on a 99.4-mile route to Mt. Crested Butte.

Early in the stage, Bradley White (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, Will Dickeson (AUS) of Jelly Belly Pro Cycling Team, Jay Thomson (RSA) of Bissell Pro Cycling Team and Eduard Alexander Beltran (COL) of UNE-EPM formed a break that would stick for a good part of the race and in the first 25 miles built more than a five-minute lead.

After heading over rolling hills the route took the riders to their first climb of the race – Monarch Pass (11,315 ft.). Lined with throngs of cheering fans, some of whom had camped out to catch a glimpse of the top riders in the world, the first King of the Mountains (KOM) competition of the race was taken by Beltran. Following the KOM, Dickeson and Beltran eventually fell back, leaving White and Thomson in the lead.

“There was a bit of a headwind and I was kind of in the break,” said White. “We dropped the first two guys in the descent and we weren't sure if we should wait for them. We decided to ride and were going to see if they would come back, but they didn't.”

After a fast decent on which the riders reached speeds of 60 mph on one inch of rubber, they crossed a slightly uphill, windy valley leading into Gunnison, all while battling strong, up to 20 mph headwinds. Once in Gunnison, the location of tomorrow's start, the riders faced the first Smashburger Sprint Line, which was taken by White, at which point they took a sharp right and headed north to Crested Butte. A gradual climb, the course then wrapped around the historic town heading up a steep, but short climb to the small ski community.

With 15 km to go, the peloton caught the break and the race was on to the finish. At 5 km the riders reached the second and final Smashburger Sprint Line of the day and the points went to Elia Viviani (ITA) of Liquigas. Heading up the hill to the finish line the group saw several attacks, which eventually lead to a first place finish for Leipheimer.

“Today was a great day of racing that really gave the riders and fans a taste of what's ahead in the coming days,” said Shawn Hunter, co-chairman and CEO of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. “The USA Pro Cycling Challenge is going to take everyone to new heights, allowing us to showcase all the state has to offer while pushing the riders to their limit.”

Leipheimer claimed the Quiznos Leader Jersey and the Smashburger Sprint Jersey. Van Garderen kept the Sheets Best Young Rider's Jersey. The Exergy Most Aggressive Jersey went to Bradley White (USA) of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team. And the Nissan King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey was awarded to Beltran Suarez for his performance on Monarch Pass.

STAGE 2 TOMORROW:

Wednesday, August 24 – Gunnison to Aspen (130.3 mi/209.8 km)

Start Time: 10 a.m. MT

Estimated Finish Time: 3:20 – 4:30 p.m. MT

Satellite Feed Time: 5:30 – 5:45 p.m. MT

The Queen Stage is the crown jewel of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The journey from Gunnison to Aspen will be the hardest, longest and highest of the race, summiting two 12,000-ft. peaks in one day. This promises to be the toughest stage in America, and the toughest day of racing of the entire year. Starting at Main St. and Virginia St. in the authentic Western town of Gunnison, the cyclists will travel through Gunnison National Forest and then ascend 2,740 ft. over the course of 13.7 miles to reach the first King of the Mountain line of the day on top of 12,126-foot-high Cottonwood Pass, the highest point during this seven-day race. In a unique twist, the ascent up Cottonwood Pass is on a dirt road, an extra challenge for these racers' thin road tires.

After a tough climb and a fast descent comes another beautiful, but grueling climb up Independence Pass. The road is narrow and steep with a 6.5 percent gradient and numerous switchbacks. This second King of the Mountain line will certainly separate the true competitors from the peloton. At 12,095 ft., the oxygen level is only 60 percent that of what athletes inhale at sea level. After 131 miles, this take-no-prisoners stage ends in downtown Aspen on Main St. at Galena, in the shadow of the Maroon Bells, Colorado's most photographed mountain peaks.

How To Watch the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge

Fans can view the race on the daily VERSUS broadcasts. Stage 2 will air live on VERSUS tomorrow at 2 p.m. MT.

In addition to the broadcast, fans can follow the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge with THE SHACK Tour Tracker. Available on the race website, as well as through a free app in the Android Market and the iTunes store, the 2011 THE SHACK Tour Tracker includes:

Live video coverage of every stage
Up-to-the-minute text updates during the race
GPS tracking and interactive maps
Daily results and overall standings
Photo feed from the race
Stage previews, including overviews, maps and profiles
Team and rider listings

For full results, archived footage, GPS data, course information, race play-by-play and more, please visit the official race website www.usaprocyclingchallenge.com.


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