It's one thing to sit in a team's slipstream or ride the momentum of the peloton, but the truest measure of a cyclist is how he (or she) performs in an individual time trial (TT). On Friday, in Stage 5 of the 2007 Amgen Tour of California (TOC), 127 bicycle riders looked into the face of destiny to see who would crack and who would emerge triumphant. When the dust settled, it had become clear to all that Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel) is the best bicycle rider in the TOC.
In an individual TT, it's just the bicycle rider against the clock. No drafting, no group tactics, no jockeying for a sprint finish, no using other riders for motivation. Finishing position is irrelevant, it's all about the time. It is cycling distilled down to its most primal essence: how fast can you go?.
Time trials also provide an effective means for thinning out a tightly packed leader board. As with mountain stages, racers can lose huge chunks of time to their rivals in a time trial. Friday's Stage 5 was no exception.
Coming to the finish line in yesterday's Stage 5 time trial, Levi's face said it all: this year, he is not going to be denied. Photo from Pez Cycling News.
Beginning at 11:00 a.m. under beautiful blue skies, rider after rider blasted down the start ramp at one-minute intervals for the 23.4-km TT circuit through the quaint Danish town of Solvang. Sporting solid disc wheels and aerodynamic helmets, each racer also wore a grim look of determination borne from the knowledge that they alone would be responsible for their performance. No place to hide in a TT.
The most determined of the group was Leipheimer, who lost the leader's gold jersey and ultimately the tour last year when he cracked on the Stage 3 individual TT, losing 1'15" to Floyd Landis on the streets of San Jose. After winning the Stage 3 TT, Landis never relinquished the lead en route to his TOC victory, so before he ever turned a pedal in anger yesterday, Leipheimer knew that if he wanted to win the Tour, he needed to win Stage 5.
Though he came into the day as the race leader, Leipheimer faced a formidable field of TT competitors, including three-time former World Time-Trial Champion Michael Rogers (T-Mobile), current World Time-Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara (CSC) and of course, German strong man and Stage 3 winner Jens Voigt (CSC), who came into the day lurking just three seconds off Levi's wheel in second place overall.