Team RadioShack's Levi Leipheimer Wins 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge
Strategically pedaling toward the front of the field to avoid crashes, American Levi Leipheimer won the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and his third stage race title this year with a seventh-place finish in Sunday's sixth stage.
After seven challenging days of racing through the Colorado landscape, American Levi Leipheimer of Team RadioShack was crowned the first-ever champion of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in front of cheerful crowds in downtown Denver.
Italian Daniel Oss of Team Liquigas-Cannondale outsprinted teammate Elia Viviani (ITA) and secured the victory in the final stage after an exciting battle for the lead on the stage route from Golden to Denver.
"It's hard to put into words and to describe the emotion and experience that I've had this week," race winner Leipheimer commented after the stage and added "Today has been the biggest crowd that I've seen in the U.S. and that is really saying something. This race really raised the bar for American cycling. This victory means so much to me because of the way we raced this week. It took every ounce of energy and motivation we had to pull it off."
Another highly anticipated course, the final stage took the riders 73.8 miles on the route from Golden to Denver where the overall race winner would be celebrated in front of the State Capitol Building. Against bright blue skies under a blazing sun the race began with a short neutral start and a northern loop out of town. The riders went past the start line in downtown Golden a second time then headed out of town to make the challenging ride toward the first and only climb of the day - the Lookout Mountain.
Heading up the mountain, a group of twenty riders pulled off the front, including future overall winner Leipheimer. At an average 6.1 percent grade and 1,300 ft. of elevation gain over more than 4.8 miles, this section provided an intense challenge on the final day of the race. On the beautiful climb filled with twisty switchbacks, Rafael Infantino (COL) of UNE-EPM pushed the limits, showcasing his climbing skills and crossed the line first, followed by Rafael Montiel (COL) of Team UNE-EPM and Christian Vande Velde (USA) of Team Garmin-Cervélo.
After a fast descent at 40 mph down the winding roads of Lookout Mountain, the cyclists passed through the start line in Golden a third time, giving spectators another taste of the race action in typical US racing fashion. A breakaway formed on the ride into Denver and included Oscar Sevilla (COL) of Gobernacion de Antioquia, Javier Megias (ESP) of Team Type 1-Sanofi, Lachlan Norris (AUS) of soon-to-fold Team HTC-Highroad and Matt Cooke (USA) of Team Exergy.
With fans lined up 5-10 deep along the entire route, those lining the finishing circuits in Denver were in for a great race as the route included six laps of a nearly five-mile circuit around the State Capitol Building.
With four laps to go, Megias made a move of the front of the break and took off leaving the others to get swallowed up by the chase group. Riding ahead of the group for a while, he eventually was reeled back in with two laps to go. Heading into the final laps of the race, Team Liquigas-Cannondale, Team HTC-Highroad and Team RadioShack lined up on the front to prepare to launch their sprinters into their battle for the stage victory. Another small break formed, but was quickly reeled back. In a battle to the finish line between Oss, Tejay Van Garderen (USA) of Team HTC-Highroad and Viviani, Oss took the stage win.
The overall jersey competitions were won by an interesting selection of riders. Leipheimer retained the Quiznos USA Pro Cycling Challenge Champion Jersey. Viviani took the Smashburger Sprint Jersey. Van Garderen kept the Sheets Best Young Rider's Jersey, which he held since day one of the race. The Nissan King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey was awarded to Montiel. Finally the Exergy Most Aggressive Jersey went to Timothy Duggan (USA) of Liquigas-Cannondale for his performance at the front of the chase group and his attack into the final lap.