Levi Leipheimer delivered a good old-fashioned drubbing in today's 15-mile individual time trial at the Amgen Tour of California (AToC). With only 20 or so seconds separating all the big names this was definitely the most exciting day so far in the race. And it was the defending champion Leipheimer who rode one of the best time trials of his career to put an authoritative stamp on the race. His winning margin of 29 seconds over Slipstream's David Millar was even more impressive than last year, when he bested an in-form Jens Voigt.
The much-anticipated duel between Leipheimer and Team CSC's Fabian Cancellara failed to materialize as the two-time defending World Champion finished fifth, 1:05 back and just behind his teammate, Gustav Larsson. After the finish, Cancellara indicated that his performance in staying with the lead group on Tuesday's mountainous stage over Mount Hamilton and Sierra Road had left him a bit flat.
There were a lot of other bright moments in Solvang. In addition to Millar's brilliant second place, Christian Vandevelde uncorked a super ride as well to put two Slipstream/Chipotle riders on the finish podium. Dave Zabriskie's sixth-place finish was another great result for Jonathan Vaughter's boys as well. The team's power guru, Dr. Allen Lim, indicated that the most important thing in the time trial for his riders was to go out a bit easier than normal then build towards the finish.
With two days of racing remaining, and lots of climbing to boot, it is probably too early to call the overall winner. Levi is clearly motivated and his team has been killing themselves to keep him in the leader's jersey. However, there are number of teams still looking to make Team Astana earn the victory. Look for Team CSC, High Road Sports and Slipstream/Chipotle to be very aggressive on Saturday's stage which includes a number of short, steep climbs.
There as has been a lot of sickness following the AToC. Teams like Slipstream/Chipotle and Gerolsteiner seem to have been hit the hardest, but Chris Horner is also fighting a bug that has left him down on his strength.
After the deluge on Thursday, Friday and Saturday are looking dry with Sunday potentially seeing more rain. With the race reaching its highest point at just under 5,000 feet on Sunday, hopefully, it will be a warm rain.
UCI President Pat McQuaid is attending the race. I asked him if there was a limit to the number of days to which the AtoC could expand and he replied that there is no limit. Before we start thinking that the Tour of California may become a three-week race like the Tour de France, hopefully, the race organizers will add a day and run Saturday to Sunday so that the event can head down south towards San Diego.