Tour of California Prologue: Levi Delivers Again

Levi Leipheimer - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Jason Donald - (c) Ken ConleyThose of us who were there last year should have expected the finale to today's opener, but it still surprised the hell out of us. Virtually unknown Jason Donald set the fastest time as the seventh rider out. No one thought that their times would hold, but big rider after big rider came in much slower: Hincapie, Zabriskie, Julich, Danielson. I was sure that Danielson would post a better time after the six-or-so practice runs he did up to the top, but he came in about 10 seconds slower. Of the big names, Cancellara was the closest at 5 seconds back, but that still left the top three as Jason Donald, Ben Jacques-Maynes, and Rory Sutherland. We literally watched over a hundred riders attempt and fail to beat Donald's time. It seemed to us that the winds had probably changed direction to make it harder for the bigger riders that started later.

So with Levi the only rider left to finish, ota asked me whether or not Levi stood a chance -- I said, "no way, the course is too hard now."

Then everyone waited. We were listening for the sounds of the thundersticks and cowbells and general yelling that would herald Levi's arrival. We also watched the clock tick up past four minutes. If there wasn't cheering soon, there would be no chance.

Levi came screaming around the final bend. The crowd was never louder until it exploded as Levi froze the clock at 4:48.86 (officially 4:49:06) -- a second and a half better than Jason Donald.

Finishing Time

Levi's secret to success: Hincapie radioed back to tell him to change out of the big chainring sooner on the final climb -- Levi flew up the steep stretch in the easier gear. Levi's other secret (other than being Levi): no one wants to wear that jersey into Santa Rosa more than him.

Levi Leipheimer

It was still a big day for Slipstream/Chipotle even without the stage win. Jason Donald kept the team part of the coverage from nearly start to finish and also earned him a podium spot for the sprinter's jersey. Taylor Tollesen snagged them another podium spot by getting the best young rider jersey. Slipstream was also in our mind because ota and I spent the day standing next to Slipstream rider Steven Cozza's family. It's great to know that a team that is making waves with its anti-doping platform can hold the stage with race success as well.

Dave Zabriskie - (c) Ken Conley Stuart O'Grady - (c) Ken Conley Jen Voigt Danielson Bobby Julich Fabian Cancellara Michael Rogers Chris Horner Viktar Rapinkski Giovanni Visconti Michael Barry IMG_0138 IMG_0119 IMG_0110 Taylor Tolleson

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related articles: Tour of California 2007
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