PARK CITY — Pain and suffering are not pretty.
But Levi Leipheimer embraced the agony with everything his battered body had left, and gave himself, his teammates and the hundreds of cycling fans who lined the streets of Park City Sunday a beautiful moment.
"I was suffering a lot," he said of the final climb from Midway to Park City of the final stage of the Tour of Utah which he rode out front, alone and to a Stage 6 victory. His Hurculean effort was not enough to overcome the two-minute deficit to the 2012 Tour of Utah winner Johann Schopp.
"When I saw the sign "5K" (left in the race), I thought, what did I do to myself?" said Leipheimer, who won the tour in 2009 and 2010. "It's horrible to be out there pushing yourself that hard, and under the pressure of, 'I've got a stage win in my hands; I've just got to keep pushing and don't make a mistake.' At the same time, I think that's why we all race our bikes. Suffering like that is actually a beautiful thing."
Leipheimer had no one to blame but himself for the torture he endured Sunday. It was the Utah native who suggested the route to race organizers after he rode it for training.
One of the oldest, most experienced and accomplished riders in the field of 130, Leipheimer, who rides for Omega Pharma-QuickStep, said he knew the overall title was likely lost to him after the team time trial put him behind the leaders by two minutes, but he hoped for a stage win Saturday or Sunday — two of the most brutal days of riding in the six-day event. It has been a difficult year for 38-year-old who was hit by a car in April and broke his leg. He and his team have struggled, and he admits that will make defending his title in their next race in Colorado "very difficult."
Despite the difficulties, Leipheimer intended to give every stage his best effort. Saturday did not go as planned and he finished in the top 10, but didn't win the Queen Stage that traveled from Park City to Snowbird.
Sunday, however, unfolded just the way he imagined it would in his nearly two dozen training rides.
And despite the moments where it looked like he might be finished, head down, searching for another gear, he said it was the kind of ride every cyclist appreciates.
"When you can be off the front, and you're pushing yourself that hard, it's not pretty," said Leipheimer, who ended up finishing sixth overall, 1:08 behind Tschopp on the week. "I felt ugly on the bike, but I won the stage. I've ridden that course about 20 times and every time I've come up to the top of that hill, and come down (into Park City) I've imagined myself in this scenario like I was today — off the front, you know, coming out of the corners hard, taking risks on the down hill and then raising my hands at the finish line. That's really why I do this. And I'm pretty happy about that."
When Leipheimer took off on his own during the final 4,000-foot climb, the eventual tour winner, Schopp, and his BMC teammates let him go.
"Our strategy (BMC Racing Team) was to stay together the longest possible, the whole team as long as possible, to limit the damage. Levi had two minutes (down on G.C.), so for us that gave us a security margin," said Tschopp, who finished with a time of 21:26:32. Radioshack-Nissan-Trek rider Matthew Busche was second with a time of 21:27:15, while Leopold Koenig, Team NetApp, was third with a time of 21:27:21. "We told each other that if he attacked, we would let him go but still limit the gap to the finish. There was (a gap of) one minute and twenty seconds and I couldn't let him get more time so as to not lose the jersey. I thank my whole team for this magnificent day."
Tschopp finished Stage 6 in fourth place, behind Leipheimer, who was 46 seconds in front of the next finisher, Steve Kruijskijk, Rabobank, and Koenig, Team NetApp. Ben Jacques-Maynes, Bissell Pro Cycling, won the King of the Mountain jersey. Michael Matthews, Rabobank Cycling, won the sprinters jersey.
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