With two days of racing to go, Discovery Channel’s Levi Leipheimer appears to have all but secured a victory in the second Amgen Tour of California, moving from a three-second advantage over second-place Jens Voigt to a comfortable 21-second lead by winning Friday’s time trial.
Santa Rosa native Leipheimer, who placed ninth in last year’s time trial in San Jose, blasted through the 14.5-mile course in Solvang in 29 minutes, 40.44 seconds, a full 18 seconds before the second-place finisher, CSC’s Voigt. Discovery Channel teammate Jason McCartney rolled in third, with a time of 30:05.14. McCartney is third overall, trailing by 54 seconds.
Leipheimer’s Stage 5 victory will keep him in the leader’s yellow jersey for the sixth day in a row. He has led since capturing Sunday’s Tour-opening prologue in San Francisco.
The time trials are individual races along a short course, which test riders’ raw ability. They are pivotal in stage races because each rider must perform individually.
"I didn’t want to have to tell my teammates, ‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t do it,’" said Leipheimer, who was the final rider to attack the time trial. "When I crossed the finish line, I had nothing left and that’s a great feeling."
Stage races include opportunities along the route for riders to collect bonus points, in the form of time credits. But with only two stages left, those points are scarce, meaning Leipheimer would have to be left behind in a big breakaway for another racer to overtake his 21-second lead.
However, Leipheimer and his teammates are guarded about the outcome.
"It is not that comfortable yet," McCartney said of Leipheimer’s lead. "CSC is still stacked in the top 20, so we’ve got to watch them and try to make it."
Leipheimer said his team director helped motivate him by feeding him false information about his lead over Voigt.
"With 5K to go, he said I was five seconds ahead. With 2 or 3K to go, he said I was two seconds ahead," Leipheimer said. In reality, his lead had already stretched into the double-digits.
With winds gusting up to 20 mph in the valley just northwest of Santa Barbara, riders had to struggle along the course, but the puddles left from the previous day’s rain mercifully dried by the race’s start.
"I gave it my best, but 18 seconds?" Voigt said. "[Leipheimer] was a little smarter than I was. We’ll meet with the team tonight at dinner and see what our options are. We’ll see if want to go strong from the start tomorrow."
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