Levi Leipheimer's time trial performance yesterday was the kind of statement cycling fans have come to expect from him in Solvang. In his past two Tour of California victories, Leipheimer cemented his hold on the yellow jersey after a dominating ride in the time trial. As Odessa Gunn, Levi's wife, told our own Bruce Hildenbrand, "This is one of his favorite days. Certainly in the race, but in general. He loves this stage. He loves this town. He loves time trialing."
But in the past there has only been one stage to follow the TT. Never two. And both Stage 7 and 8 have significant climbs. With Garmin-Slipstream's David Zabriskie only 36 seconds back and Columbia-Highroad's Michael Rogers 46 seconds back in third, will either attack for the yellow jersey?
In yesterday's press conference, Zabriskie was mildy pessimistic at his chances: "It would take a lot of screwing up on their (Astana's) part. With the experience that they have and the depth of the team, they know what theyre doing. Like I said, it would take a huge screw up."
His assessment of today and tomorrow left some hope, though: "Tomorrow's stage is the same as last year. It's not crazy. It's fairly gradual, so it's probably going to be a field sprint. Everyone knows that stage. We did go down and checkout the last stage; it's very challenging and things could happen. It will be interesting."
But for "things to happen", Zabriskie would most likely have to take out a sizable chunk of time from Levi today.
As for Michael Rogers, he was a bit more optimistic in his St. 6 press conference quotes: "I think the race is not over until Sunday. You've got some tough mountains coming up. I'm sure it's going to be tough. I think maybe the general classification is starting to open up a little bit more, but anything can happen.
"There are some hard climbs coming. I haven't been over the last two stages, but I have a few teammates that have been over the course, so I'm sure they'll keep me well informed. With the experience that Levi and his team has, it is going to be hard to do something, but we never say never. We are just going to take each stage as it comes. We're always on the lookout to do something, so if the opportunity arises, we'll do it."
The climbs up Palomar Mt. and Cole Grand Road during Stage 8 are in the first half of the stage, early enough to cause many to say they won't be much of a factor. But if someone has the legs? Is it too early in the season to hope for some final-stage fireworks?
Astana is beast of a team. Zabriskie hit the nail on the head when he said "they" would have to screw up. It's not likely Lance, Levi, Chris Horner, et al are all going to have a significant lapse in judgement and tactics. But never say never. I'd love to be a fly on the wall in any of the Astana, Garmin-Slipstream or Columbia-Highroad buses as they plan their strategy. What wild cards will they have stashed in their jersey pockets?