CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. (AP) – Tour de France veteran Levi Leipheimer won the first stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge on Tuesday, pulling away with a sudden uphill surge in the final 500 yards.
Leipheimer, of Santa Rosa, Calif., finished the mountainous 99.3-mile road stage from Salida in 4 hours, 28 minutes and 22 seconds.
With a 10-second bonus time for his stage win, Leipheimer assumed an 11-second race lead over Christian Vande Velde of Lemont, Ill., who was fifth in the stage.
The 37-year-old Leipheimer rides for Team RadioShack, and Vande Velde competes for Garmin-Cervelo.
“I made the move early,” said Leipheimer, who won the five-day Tour of Utah last week and the Tour of Switzerland in June. “That was a first for me. I’ve never won a race with an explosive style. So, I guess in my old age, I’m learning new tricks.”
Cadel Evans of Australia, the reigning Tour de France champion, finished fourth in the stage, about seven seconds behind. Evans is fourth overall, trailing by 17 seconds.
Sergio Luis Henao of Colombia was second in Tuesday’s stage, with Frank Schleck of Luxembourg third.
Leipheimer, who has four top-10 overall Tour de France finishes in his 15-year pro career, is primarily known as a superior time trialist. He won the final time trial of the 2007 Tour de France and finished third overall.
After crashing numerous times early in the Tour de France last month, Leipheimer finished 32nd.
“I feel great. I’m in the best form of my year,” said Leipheimer, whose stage win was the 62nd of his pro career. “But that’s just one component. It’s now also about the strength of my team and the other competitors.”
Leipheimer, who finished seventh in the prologue, emerged from the final group of about a dozen riders approaching the final climb to the finish at the ski resort, elevation 9,383 feet. The opening stage also took the field of 130 over Monarch Pass, elevation 11,315 feet.
“It’s difficult to pick one rider,” Leipheimer said while assessing his competition with five stages remaining of the inaugural race. “There are a handful of very strong riders, potential winners.
“That’s not to say I’m afraid of any of them. But I’ve won a stage and if I don’t win, I’m satisfied. But of course I’m here to win the overall.”
The 518-mile event continues Wednesday with the 130.2-mile Gunnison to Aspen stage 2, the most difficult of the event. The stage includes two climbs reaching more than 12,000 feet.
The seven-day race concludes Sunday in Denver with 70.9-mile Golden to Denver road race.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)