For most of the day it looked like a total Cinderella story for unknown Jason Donald, but when the very last rider of the 2007 Tour of California (TOC) prologue crossed the finish line Sunday, it was Levi Leipheimer who had tears in his eyes.
A Credit Agricole rider suffers his way up the last 300 meters to the finish line atop Telegraph Hill. Photo from SF_Chris.
Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the national anthem, Jean-Marc Marino of team Credit Agricole rolled down the starting chute at 1:00 p.m. sharp and the prologue was on. In a time trial like Sunday's prologue, riders race alone and against the clock rather than against each other en masse. Following Marino, 144 more riders attacked the course at one-minute intervals for the next two hours.
Taking advantage of windless conditions, early riders Donald and Ben Jacques-Maynes put up some blistering sub-5:00 minute times. As it was last year, the 5:00 mark was the Mendoza line separating the men from the boys.
The rest of the day, nobody came within five seconds of Donald, and with a nasty crosswind picking up on the Embarcadero, it seemed unlikely that anybody could beat Mother Nature and Donald. But Leipheimer was not to be denied.
As he hit the final 500 meters with a very fast time, a jolt went through the crowd lining the finishing chute under Coit Tower, and everybody knew Levi was going to do it. Sure enough, Leipheimer appeared around the final corner, about 100 meters down course from the finish line, at the 4:40 mark. The crowd was ecstatic. The MC was screaming that he was going to make it. Leipheimer was pushing with superhuman effort. And with the James Bond 007 theme blaring in the loudspeakers, in a moment of sublime community, Levi, the fans, and all of racing was one as he burst across the line in a stirringly triumphant 4:48:86.
Said Leipheimer later of his effort, "it hurt . . . I thought I was going to make myself throw up, but I did OK." Yeah, he did OK. He pulverized his own record time from last year by four seconds. This is Levi's second consecutive TOC prologue win; he is the only rider ever to have won the TOC prologue. And like last year, this means that he will wear the leader's jersey into his hometown of Santa Rosa for the finish of today's Stage 1. It also means he is currently the overall tour leader.