Even after Utah stage win, Leipheimer says Colorado defense is daunting

Defending Pro Challenge champ sees a difficult road to another Colorado overall win

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TELLURIDE, Colorado (VN) — Watching Levi Leipheimer tear away from the front of the group on Utah’s steep Empire Pass and blister the snaking descent, easily holding off the chase, it was abundantly clear on Sunday that the defending USA Pro Challenge champ will be hard to dethrone in Colorado. He characterized the Colorado defense as “daunting,” but his strength on Utah’s final day was clear nonetheless.

Leipheimer won both the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and the inaugural Pro Challenge last year. He was denied the chance to defend his Utah title when his Omega Pharma team bled more than two minutes to Garmin-Sharp in the stage 2 team time trial and more than a minute to BMC Racing, which produced eventual overall winner Johann Tschopp.

There is no team time trial in Colorado, and it’s reasonable to expect the Omega Pharma crew to be stronger in Colorado than it was in Utah, given its two-week exposure to elevation. Brian Holm, the team’s director in Utah, said he fully expected Leipheimer to challenge for the general classification next week.

Leipheimer knows what’s ahead will be tough. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) also hopes to be better at the Pro Challenge, as do the Garmin riders, including Christian Vande Velde, Tom Danielson, who lives in Boulder, and Peter Stetina, a Boulder native. Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) skipped Utah all together, but is coming off fifth place overall and white jersey at the Tour de France.

“It’s a little daunting. And the Tour of Utah didn’t go very well for us as a team,” Leipheimer said. “So, the other riders see that. They’re going to take advantage of that. And that’s a bit of a challenge for us, I guess. I’ll have to ride smart, and sort of factor in what happened here, and we’ll use that tactically in Colorado. It will be tough. It will be really tough.”

Surely not as tough as Leipheimer’s overcoming a broken leg he sustained earlier this spring when he was hit by a car while training in Spain.

“As far as fully recovered, the bone is fully recovered, but it definitely took a lot out of me. I think you loose a lot of energy and momentum when you have an injury. It takes a lot of time to come back from that. It’s hard to say right now if I’m still missing something or not.”

As he was riding away on the Utah steeps, it sure didn’t seem like it.

“Today,” he said after the winning ride in Utah, “I felt pretty darn good, so I’m happy.”

The USA Pro Challenge starts on Monday in Durango and ends the following Sunday in Denver with a 9.5-mile time trial.

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