Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) left no doubt on Mount Nebo Thursday when he rode away from an elite selection of six riders high on the summit climb to take the stage and the overall lead at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. Leipheimer countered an attack by 2009 overall winner Francisco Mancebo (Canyon Bicycles) 5km from the finish and held off Mancebo and Ian Boswell (Bissell) for the win.
Leipheimer, who said Tuesday that he is in Utah for stage wins and training, will enter the stage 3 time trial with a 56-second advantage over Mancebo. Darren Lill (Fly V Australia) made the final selection and climbed into the best Utah rider’s jersey, while Boswell took control in the best young rider’s competition.
Clouds, wind, hard racing on the flats
The 77-mile second stage took riders from the south suburb of Thanksgiving Point to the top of the Wasatch Range Thursday. The day began on the flats between the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake before riders tackled the 13-mile ascent of Mt. Nebo’s southern flank.
The peloton rolled out of Thanksgiving Point under cloudy skies at 10:00 a.m. Danny Summerhill (Holowesko Partners) kicked the action off early with an attack at the end of the neutral section. The U23 national cyclocross champion brought out a small group of riders and after a few miles of reshuffling, the day’s first dangerous breakaway was free.
The move looked to be dangerous enough to reach the summit climb in front. Most of the danger teams had at least two riders there: Ben Jacques-Maynes and Peter Latham (Bissell), Ivan Dominguez and Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home), Jay Thomson, Darren Rolfe and Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia), and Ben King and Taylor Phinney (Trek-Livestrong) were all there. Also in the move were Chris Baldwin (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis), Mike Friedman (KFAN-teamgive), Larry Warbasse (BMC Racing), Tayler Kneuven (Rio Grande), Ken Hanson (Team Type 1) and Bradley Gehrig (Canyon).
Strong crosswinds guttered the chasing field and splits broke as the race wound around the west side of Utah Lake. None of the GC contenders were put into danger as the bunch regrouped numerous times on the southbound march over near pancake-flat road. Stage 1 winner David Tanner (Fly V Australia) said “the wind wasn’t really strong enough to do it properly.”
Zajicek was the best positioned of the breakawayfor a run at the summit of Mount Nebo, but Holowesko chased the group down when they missed out. “I was for sure the strongest guy in that move and I was trying to sneak away,” said Zajicek of his early effort. “Unfortunately Garmin missed the move, so they weren’t happy. They rode well and brought us back and we weren’t going slow.”
The wind shifted as the peloton, all together, made a left turn into a moderate headwind on the lake’s southern end. Golden stands of wheat bent in the gusts and a new, four-rider move formed ahead of the day’s first sprint point. Phinney was active on the front of the race for the opening 50km and he jumped away with three others and took top points at the line. The effort drew him closer to Tanner’s copper sprint jersey.
The break went back to the field after the sprint and the day’s first casualty came as they wound their way through a shallow canyon west of the town of Nephi. U.S. national road champion George Hincapie (BMC Racing) crashed hard on the edge of the road and lay on the ground clutching his knee as the caravan rolled by. Hincapie, racing his first Tour of Utah in support of 2008 winner Jeff Louder, was evacuated from the scene by ambulance. He suffered a deep laceration and several abrasions and his national title defense was left in doubt.
The peloton reshuffled again as they passed the last feedzone before the climb and a group of as many as 17 riders formed off the front. Four UnitedHealthcare riders made the group: Marc de Maar, Adrian Hegyvary, Morgan Schmitt and Brad White. They worked hard to push the gap out for the break, which also included dangerous finishers Amaran, Beyer and Pat McCarty (Rio Grande Racing).
“It was a very difficult moment in the race,” said Tanner, who made the group. “It was after the crosswind and there were a lot of moves going. There wasn’t any tactics involved, really. Everyone was tired and it was a hard moment in the race and I followed a few moves and got a bit of a gap and thought I might as well have a go. Eventually it didn’t end up very well for our team, so I didn’t really ride.”
Tanner took the second intermediate sprint out of the group, securing the sprint jersey for another day, but after that he rode the tail. What was a 1:40 gap a handful of miles earlier was just :25 as the race left Nephi and began the gradual ascent to the out right base of the Nebo climb.
The 60-rider-deep peloton made the catch of the break on a long, straight section of three-percent grade. A year after winning on the north side of Nebo, Lill’s intensions were no secret as the Fly V Australia-led bunch drove a hard pace up through the high elevation desert. The cloud cover kept temperatures cool at the base of the climb, but thunderheads loomed high up on the ascent.
Onto the climb, into the pain
As the peloton passed by the winter closure gates and arrived at the beginning of a five-mile section of 10-percent-plus gradient, V Australia’s Jai Crawford attacked with McCarty. The move strung the thinning field out single file and popped overnight leader Alex Dowsett of the back. He would go on to finish more than five minutes down and change his focus to Friday’s time trial.
When the 21-rider field caught Crawford after a half-mile, Lill launched a move reminiscent of his 13-mile solo attack a year ago. Cesar Grajales (On the Rive-Ion) rode onto the South African’s wheel, but soon fell off the pace. At 7,300 feet, Lill was again solo with nearly 13 miles to go on the climb.
“I tried to do just a soft counter attack to that, just to try and kind of get guys to come with, but I guess because it was on quite a steep pitch, initially Cesar was with me and then I don’t know what happened,” said Lill. “He got dropped and I was on my own again, which isn’t exactly what I wanted, but when you have 15 or 20 seconds, you don’t just give it away for free.”
Grajales, who struggled higher on the climb, regretted playing his hand so early. “I think it wasn’t a smart move on my side,” said Grajales. “I saw Darren going and I went on the left side. I looked back and we had a gap, and we started to try to keep going and the gap was growing, I waited for the group a little bit and tried to recover.”
“Our team took control,” said Zajicek. “We rode a hard, hard tempo to the bottom and Jai put in a hard attack at the bottom that really separated things. Once we caught Jai, Lill put in a really good move, so Mancebo and Levi were forced to ride to bring back Lill.”
Mancebo, Leipheimer, Zajicek, Boswell and Timothy Roe (Trek-Livestrong) gave chase to the lone leader. Trek’s young Aussie came unhitched a mile later as the group continued over the consistently brutal lower slopes. Mancebo and Leipheimer led the chase, Boswell and Zajicek sitting on the veterans. “He got about 15 seconds on us and it took a pretty big effort to get back onto him, but I knew that as long as we could keep him in sight, it would be all right,” Mancebo said.
Bissell’s neo-pro rode comfortably with some of the top climbers in the U.S. peloton – and the world – as they drilled it low on the mountain. “I expected it to separate like that and I had the good legs and was able to follow,” said Boswell.
The chasers made contact with Lill just before heading over a false summit into Devil’s Kitchen descent, which carried them downhill for about one minute. Grajales, who went backward through the chase earlier, was able to clip onto the back high on the descent. He tucked onto Zajicek’s wheel, but as soon as the road tilted up again, the Columbian was gone for good.
“I started cramping, so I just tried to keep the pace and not lose too much time,” said Grajales.
Levi lights it up
The leaders passed the 5km to go sign as the road lurched up again and when Mancebo attacked, Leipheimer sensed his moment and stabbed out over the top of the three-time Tour de France top-10 finisher. “I could see the other guys hurting, so I went over the top of him,” said Leipheimer.
The attack was sharp and no one could match Leipheimer’s pace. His acceleration came at more than 8,000 feet and the altitude and the effort put the entire group into the red. Lill tried to follow the move, but soon came back. Zajicek slowly crept off Boswell’s wheel and with 3km to go, was alone in fifth on the road.
“He (Levi) was going really well,” said Zajicek. “It was just such a hard climb, it’s just so steep. We went full gas from the bottom to make that selection and when Levi attacked, it was just on another level.”
The three-time Tour of California champion continued pushing his lead out over the closing kilometers as he stooped low over his stem and powered up the rolling upper reaches of the climb. Behind, Boswell sat on Mancebo, knowing that the Spaniard had the responsibility to chase as the defending champ and uber-successful veteran.
“The last 5km it was windy, high altitude,” said Leipheimer, before admitting to struggling in the thin air. “I went away and felt good, but you do one big effort and altitude is crazy — it makes you hurt really bad. I just tried not to go too far over my limit and keep it steady. I knew that behind they were hurting and they weren’t working together well.”
Leipheimer came around the final corner onto the 100-meter, downhill finish straight looking not like a rider celebrating a stage win, but a man pushing open a gap after a hard day. He raised one arm as he approached the finish, exhausted from the attack high in the Wasatch. Fifty-one seconds later Mancebo led Boswell over the line. Lill and Zajicek followed 18 seconds apart before McCarty edged a group of five chasers that included Grajales and Roe 42 seconds later.
With his win and 10-second time bonus, Leipheimer took a 56-second lead over Mancebo in the GC standings. Lill sits in third, tied with Boswell, at 1:16, while Zajicek is :18 further back.
“I took the jersey, whatever,” said Leipheimer. “I probably won’t hang onto it until the end of the race, but I came here to win a stage and I saw the opportunity, so I had to take it.”
One of the world’s best time trialists, Leipheimer will see another opportunity in Friday’s stage 3 time trial, which returns to the Miller Motorsports Park for the second consecutive year. The 9.2-mile individual test is mostly flat and makes use of the banked auto track in the closing five miles. The stage starts at 6:00 p.m. and weather will likely play a big role. Late afternoon storms could turn the track into an oil slick, while the more likely hot temps will make hydration and cooling of great importance.
Please check back for Casey B. Gibson photos.
- 1. Levi Leipheimer, Mellow Johnny’s in 3.11:43
- 2. Francisco Mancebo Perez, Canyon Bicycles, at 3.12:34
- 3. Ian Boswell, Bissell Pro Cycling Team, at 3.12:35
- 4. Darren Lill, V Australia, at 3.12:43
- 5. Phillip Zajicek, V Australia, at 3.13:01
GC after stage 2: