Editor's Note: Thanks to our title race coverage sponsor Acura supporting this today's reporting from the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Despite winning bike races from California to Germany and Switzerland to Utah, Levi Leipheimer has often been criticized as a rider whose style is less than aggressive.
He's ridden to mountaintops in the Tour de France with the best in the sport, for example, but has rarely moved to the front to dictate the pace. Instead, he's won overall titles via his time trial skills.
But now at age 37 and 15 years into his pro career, Leipheimer, the Santa Rosa, Calif., rider who competes for RadioShack, is well aware of his detractors. And three times this season ridden aggressively in stage races to silence his critics.
Leipheimer finished second in the Tour of California in May after winning the race's most difficulty stage to Mt. Baldy, the highest point ever contested in the six-year event.
Last week, en route to winning the overall title of the Tour of Utah for the second straight year, he finished second in the race's most strenuous stage when a victory wasn't necessary to claim the overall title.
And Tuesday in the first stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Leipheimer attacked the lead ground in the waning meters of the 93.3-mile Salida to Mt. Crested Butte (Colo.) road race to win the stage and take the race lead.
Leipheimer, who has an 11-second race lead over Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo) of Lemont, Ill., addressed his winning style shortly after stage. He described his solo attack and triumph as a career first.
"I guess at this point in my career, I can still learn tricks," he said.
Of course, five stages of the race remain, including Wednesday's second stage, the most difficult of the event. It will include two climbs peaking at more than 12,000 feet.
Leipheimer said he's racing at his top form this season and that he would be contend even if his opening stage win didn't lead to the overall title.
With little hesitation, Leipheimer added that his goal was still try to claim the overall title. Yet, he also sounded simultaneously relieved and confident.
He spoke of growing up at and training at altitude in Montana and Utah, and he spoke with reverence to cyclists like Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault and Davis Phinney, riders as a boys he watched compete in the Coors Classic. It's the 1980's race after which this week's race is patterned.
And he spoke, despite his long tenure in the sport, as a rider proud of the way he rode his bike on Tuesday.
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