Leipheimer defends Tour of Utah title; Henao 2nd

August 14, 2011 - 7:59 PM
Tour of Utah Cycling

Levi Leipheimer earns the yellow jersey in the fourth stage of the Tour of Utah cycling race in Park City, Utah, on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/The Deseret News, Kristin Murphy) SALT LAKE TRIBUNE OUT; PROVO DAILY HERALD OUT; MAGS OUT

SNOWBIRD, Utah (AP) — The last time Levi Leipheimer trained in Utah, he was battling snowy conditions up Little Cottonwood Canyon.

On Sunday in the final stage of the Tour of Utah, the heat was on, what with scorching temperatures and attacks all day from a strong Colombian team.

In the end, Leipheimer had just enough in him to successfully defend his title Sunday, locking onto Colombian Sergio Henao's back wheel on the final 6-mile, 3,000-vertical foot climb.

Henao won the final stage from Park City to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. But Leipheimer claimed the final yellow jersey, ahead of Henao and RadioShack teammate Janez Brajkovic, who took third overall and in the stage.

"It was vicious out there," said Leipheimer, from Montana but a local favorite because he attended high school and college in Utah.

"One moment Janez and I (were battling) five or six of them. It was a little daunting out there."

It helped that Leipheimer, who had a disappointing Tour de France after winning the Tour of Switzerland in June, had a 23-second advantage over Henao coming into the final day.

"I was in good shape," Henao said through an interpreter. "But I found out Levi was just as strong. He's a worthy winner."

Gobernacion Indeportes Antioquia was a late invite to the upgraded Tour of Utah this year and showed its merit.

Henao won the prologue and final stage and teammate Janier Acevedo won Saturday's Stage 4 race through the hills around Salt Lake City to give Gobernacion the team victory.

Now Leipheimer must contend with them and another Colombian team experienced at climbing in next week's USA Pro Cycling Challenge — the last of the top three stage races in North America.

"I can't imagine another team like this, and we're going to be at even higher altitude," Leipheimer said about racing next week in Colorado. "It's not my responsibility to control that race. It will be a much stronger field. I'll have to ride smart and follow because they're going to light it up."

The six-day, 409-mile Tour of Utah was billed as America's Toughest Stage Race as it included nearly 30,000 feet of vertical elevation gain.

It claimed its share of riders.

Stage 1 winner Jesse Anthony pulled out before Saturday's Stage 4 because of flu-like symptoms.

Team RadioShack was down to six cyclists entering the final stage as two team members were dropped after missing the time cutoff Saturday.

Though 118 started the race Tuesday, only 88 finished, with Leipheimer completing the course in 15 hours, 53 minutes, 12 seconds and also claiming the King of the Mountain jersey. He called Sunday's route worthy of a "Grand Tour stage."

BMC Racing's Jeff Louder won best Utah rider, finishing 10th overall. Gobernacion's Oscar Sevilla was fourth overall, and Garmin-Cervelo's Thomas Danielson fifth and teammate Christian Vandevelde sixth. Salt Lake City native David Zabriskie, racing a month after a terrible crash in the Tour de France, started Sunday but did not finish.

Last year, Leipheimer was racing by himself because the Tour of Utah was not a UCI 2.1-sanctioned race.

"This year I had someone to share the victory with. It was much more meaningful," Leipheimer said. "Last year was nice but at the same time a little lonely. This year the guys were there and believed in me. Today they really suffered to come back and control the race."

Among those in the record-setting crowd was Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, who skipped the Tour of Utah because it conflicted with an official celebration in his native Australia last week.

He admitted last week was quite a party.

"To have 25,000 to 35,000 people show up, it's quite something," Evans said.

The question now is whether he'll be ready for next week's race in Colorado.

"I've done a lot of traveling in the last few days so I just want to get on my bike and become an athlete again and get my legs back," Evans said. "Hopefully I can recover and adapt to the altitude. What I do in Colorado will depend on that. It's going to be hard."