Omega Pharma blows an engine in the Utah heat

Leipheimer sees overall chance ride away on the auto track under the blazing desert sun

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OGDEN, Utah (VN) — Garmin-Sharp’s feast was Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s famine at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah on Wednesday.

While the Garmin team saw its fortunes rise with a methodical team time trial performance in the desert west of Salt Lake City, Omega Pharma finished in last place and lost more than two minutes to the American team.

The Belgian squad, which came to the Tour of Utah with two-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer, never found its rhythm at Tooele’s Miller Motorsports Park during a hot, windy team time trial and paid dearly.

The team came to the stage — and the race — with only six riders. The front wheel of the fifth rider is the point a team’s time is based upon in a TTT, meaning Omega Pharma never could drop a struggling Jeroen Hoorne, who is stagiairing with the squad, even though the team could have gone faster without him. Italian sprinter Francesco Chicchi lost contact early and missed the time cut, meaning the ProTeam, one of six top-level squads in the race, has five riders left through Sunday.

At the end of the 21.7km stage, the defending champion Leipheimer, who took long pulls at the front, found himself down 2:04 to Garmin and Christian Vande Velde, who now wears the leader’s jersey. The time loss severely compromised the American’s GC ambitions and has him looking for a stage win instead of the overall.

“At least I saved some energy for the next few days,” he said with a smile after the stage. “Now, I’ll be able to jump away for a stage win. Hopefully they won’t be too concerned with me.”

Leipheimer did not seem overly upset with the result, and knew his team would lose time after it finished and before the heavy hitters had yet to shove off.

“It’s all you can do,” he said, with a smile.

Race leader Vande Velde said he was surprised Omega Pharma bled so much time, but chalked it up to the difficulty of racing at altitude, overseas.

“They had six guys — six quite strong guys,” he said. “But you know, that’s what happens when you come over here from Europe. You have jetlag, you’re going up to altitude. I’m sure they’ll be different in Colorado after they’ve been here a couple weeks, but people, I think, underestimate how hard it is on the body to come overseas and race.”

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