Editor's Note: Thanks to our title race coverage sponsor Acura supporting this today's reporting from the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Levi Leipheimer has won more 60 professional bicycle races. But Tuesday for the first time in his long career, he found a new way to win. He attacked the lead group, pulled away from the leaders on the final climb and became the second leader of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Leiphimer's decisive uphill surge in the final 500 yards proved victorious in the mountainous 99.3-mile road stage from Salida by three seconds in 4 hours, 29 minutes and 22 seconds.
With a 10-second bonus time for his stage win, Leipheimer assumed an 11-second race lead over Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo) of Lemont, Ill., who was fifth in the stage.
"I made the move early," said Leipheimer, 37, who last week won the five-day Tour of Utah and also the Tour of Switzerland in June. "That was a first for me. I've never won a race with an explosive style. So, I guess in my old age, I'm learning new tricks."
Sergio Luis Henao of Colombia (Gobernacion de Antioquia - Indeportes) was second in the first stage, with Frank Schleck of Luxembourg (Leopard-Trek) third, trailing the winner by seven seconds.
Leipheimer, who finished seventh in the prologue, eight seconds behind winner Patrick Gretsch (HTC-Highroad) of Germany emerged in final group of about a dozen riders in the final climb to the finish at the ski and mountain biking resort, elevation 9,383 feet. The opening stage also took the field of 130 over Monarch Pass, elevation 11,315 feet.
Cadel Evans (BMC) of Australia, the reigning Tour de France titlist, finished fourth in the stage, also about seven seconds behind. Evans is fourth overall, trailing by 17 seconds.
Leipheimer, who has four top-10 overall Tour de France finishes in his 15-year pro career, is primarily known as a superior time trialist. He won the final time trial of the 2007 Tour de France and finished third overall, the best of his seven finishes in cycling's biggest race.
Leipheimer also won the Tour of California three straight years, beginning in 2007. He won five time trials during that tenure, but didn't win a road stage of the race until finishing second overall last May to Chris Horner.
After crashing numerous times early in the Tour de France last month, Leipheimer finished 32nd overall, the lowest of his career
"I feel great; I'm in the best form of my year," said Leipheimer, whose stage win was the 62nd of pro career. "But that's just one component. It's now also about the strength of my team and the other competitors."
"It's difficult to pick one rider. There are a handful of very strong riders, potential winners. That's not to say I'm afraid of any of them. But I've won a stage and if I don't win, I'm satisfied. But of course I'm here to win the overall."
The 518-mile event continue Wednesday with the 130.2-mile Gunnison to Aspen stage 2, the race's most difficult. The stage includes two climbs reaching more than 12,000 feet.
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