Saturday, February 23, 2008

ToC Stage 5: Don't Make Me Angry

Seeing Levi Leipheimer spitting fire in the start house, with that demonic look on his face, he very well could've turned colors and started to burst out of his golden skinsuit. But it was the field that ended up shredded and green with envy as Levi took a strong, defiant win in yesterday's fantastic Time Trial. Maybe his opponents don't like him when he's angry, but I love him!

Last year in California it was the Basso debacle, and Levi powered up Telegraph Hill with a fierceness I'd never seen before. He kept the fire stoked throughout the year, and with the added fuel of Contador's surge, laid down another beauty in the final TT of the Tour de France. And now this year, with the biggest blow of all in ASO's derelict decisions, Levi is turning the pedals in fury and it's awesome to watch. It's like Lyle Lovett's Road to Ensenada album - I hate that he had to go through heartbreak to get there, but the result is exquisite.

I don't want to give all the credit to the adversity, Levi has always worked hard and dedicated himself to being a top rider. Then there's maturity, and finally being on a rock solid team, and so on, but the anger has added that extra spark. He has also known what to do with it, using it to fire him up instead of burn him down. And wisely leaving it on the course, remaining the congenial, soft-spoken guy after the racing's done. Having Viatcheslav Ekimov in your ear doesn't hurt either, great to see the Iron Man still in the mix.

I'm so glad we got sunshine and dry roads for the top guys. They were able to go all out, and we got raw, pure competition from several of the best in the business - a true race of truth. The riders did still have the wind to contend with, which makes Levi's win all the more impressive, slight guy that he is. Christian Vande Velde was also mightily impressive, not feeling great at the start and getting blown sideways, but powering through for an excellent third place. If ever we can call second place triumphant, it has to be with David Millar's powerful performance. Phil and Paul's declaration that he is back was choked with emotion, rightfully so. Great day for Slipstream, going 2-3 with Dave Zabriskie not far behind.

Not so great for Fabian Cancellara - as Levi says, these guys are not machines. Fabian was backpedaling a bit in his post-race interviews, skirting the line of making excuses, but I'm trying to give him the benefit of the translation and the disappointment he was feeling. And poor George Hincapie didn't even get coverage on Versus. He's not far enough behind that anyone's going to let him go on a long break, but I'm sure he'll be trying a move today or tomorrow to try and salvage things.

Versus keeps running that commercial with Levi, they must be thrilled he's defending well. But I think they need to rework it a bit. Levi's voiceover declaring himself a "quietly confident" rider is passé. His confidence is loud and proud these days. He's looking like a voracious shark with a fire in his belly. CSC and Slipstream will throw their best at him this weekend, but they just might need a bigger boat.

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