Levi Leipheimer snatched victory in the prologue time trial of the Tour of California on Sunday and so will wear the leader?s yellow jersey on the first road stage to his hometown of Santa Rosa on Monday.
Leipheimer beat raw talent Jason Donald (Slipstream) by a single second, stopping the clock for the 1.9-mile course to the summit of Coit Tower in a time of 4:49.05. Donald was the surprise fastest time for most of the day but then Leipheimer snatched the win after starting last in front of an estimated 250,000 crowd in downtown San Francisco. Another little-known American Ben Jacques-Maynes (Priority Health), was third at five seconds.
The big European names all finished out of the top placings. World time trail champion Fabian Cancellara tested a new position after working in the San Diego wind tunnel on Friday but was only fifth at six seconds. George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) was ninth at eight seconds and Jens Voigt (CSC) was 13th, ten seconds behind Leipheimer.
Ivan Basso rode his first race for the Discovery Channel team since winning the Giro d?Italia last May and emerging from being implicated in the Operacion Puerto doping investigation. He finished 23rd, 14 seconds down on his new team mate. World champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) punctured just before the climb to the summit of Coit Tower and finished 122nd at 42 seconds.
British riders Russell Downing (Healthnet) and Charly Wegelius (Liquigas) finished 61st and 57, some 25 and 23 seconds slower than Leipheimer. Downing is determined to fight for stage wins in the remaining stages of the race and told Cycling Weekly he is on good form after working hard in a pre-season training camp.
LEIPHEIMER LIFTS GLOOM
Leipheimer?s win lifted the gloom at the Discovery Channel and helped their search for a new sponsor for 2008 and beyond.
?This race is important for the Discovery Channel team because we need to come out swinging for 2007. I did feel more pressure because I won last year but I put pressure on myself because I want to win this race and because I wanted to lead into my hometown of Santa Rosa like last year,? he said.
?I would love to win the Tour of California but it?s more important that the team wins. We?ve got the A team here and we?ve four or five guys who could win the overall. We?ll keep our options open and take it day by day. The team will support me but we need to leave our options open for four or five other guys. It?ll be difficult to ride on front for 400m miles before Friday?s time trial, so we?ll have to be smart tactically.?
Monday?s 115-mile first road stage is from Sausalito, over the Golden Gate Bridge, to Santa Rosa. It is expected to finish in a bunch sprint.
Results and overall standings
1 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery 1.0 miles in 4.49.05
2 Jason Donald (USA) Team Slipstream 0.01.45
3 Benjamin Jacques-Maynes (USA) Priority Health 0.05.18
4 Rory Sutherland (Aus) Health Net Maaxis 0.05.62
5 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) CSC 0.06.05
6 Adam Hansen (Aus) T-Mobile 0.06.55
7 Mauricio Alberto Ardila Cano (Col) Rabobank 0.07.86
8 Hilton Clarke (Aus) Navigators Insurance 0.07.91
9 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery 0.08.19
10 Ben Day (Aus) Navigators Insurance 0.08.25