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Vuelta’08 St.5: Levi Launches Into Lead!
Race Report: Levi Leipheimer was always going to be a rider to watch, and we’ve always known that he has the capacity to win a Grand Tour, but today was the first time he did something that really said: I’m here to win. Because he, well, won – in FINE fashion. The lead is his after a sterling time trial effort!

Levi Leipheimer is finding success again in the race that gave him his big break around the turn of the millennium. It was seven years ago, that the ‘unknown’ rampaged through Spain onto the podium, and after today’s incredible time trial effort that earned him the stage, he’s also wearing Gold!

It was not surprising that an Astana rider found his way to the top, but we (well, at least I) expected Alberto Contador to be the top man. Contador admitted beforehand that this was not a time trial that suited him. Leipheimer said no such thing – and delivered one of the best days of his career.

Alberto Contador was by no means a slouch today, finishing within a minute of his American teammate and grooving into 4th place overall, 47 seconds back. Alejandro Valverde was also back on the plus side of his inconsistent riding – taking 5th on the day, 3rd overall at 30 seconds.

Bert was solid in 5th…consistent as always.

The biggest ride from a surprising source? Sylvain Chavanel. Chavanel is the French time trial champion, but one does not often associate Chavanel with a Grand Tour time trial favorite, but the upset was nearly his today – he finished 12 seconds down on Leipheimer missing the Maillot d’Oro by a mere 2 seconds.

Where did that come from? Recent Tour of Flanders hopeful, Manuel Quinziato blazed to 3rd today.

Tom Boonen also showed that he can turn in a solid ride in pretty much anything that motivates him with a 13th place ride and 4th overall.

Chavanel almost rode himself to Gold today, but came up two seconds short.

The real question: how did the favorites come out of this first test?

1. Leipheimer
3. Valverde .30
5. Contador .47
7. Sastre 1.27
12. Anton 2.17
20. Bruseghin 2.30
21. Gesink 2.30
24. Popovych 2.46
64. Kloeden 5.17

The top four riders are still fairly close together – we assumed this would be a race between Sastre, Valverde, Contador, and Leipheimer with the possibility of a few others (namely Kloeden). The time gaps are in no way substantial, but of course they can be significant if this Grand Tour plays out the way the first two Grand Tours of the year have gone: close.

Sastre wasn’t bad, but he’s already 87 seconds behind Levi…that’ll take some work to rectify.

As always, it’s nice to be the leader and nice to have some seconds on your rivals. Levi has to be content with almost 90 seconds on Sastre and half a minute on his nearest real challenger, Valverde.

The former U23 World TT Champ, Dominique Cornu had a good day to run 9th.

For his part, Sastre did a good ride and didn’t lose too much time. If he’s as good in the mountains as he was at the Tour, he should be able to make good on that withdrawal soon enough.

Up Next!
We have one more sprinter stage before they head into the mountains on Friday with a stage finish in that tiny little country of Andorra atop the Alto de Naturlandia – La Rabassa, at 2050 metres of altitude.

• PEZ-Man Ed Hood will be live on the slippery slopes all weekend, so keep it dialed to PEZ!

Stage Five Results
1 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 50.57 (50.049 km/h)
2 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis 51.09
3 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas 51.30
4 Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana 51.46
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 51.56
6 Jurgen Van Goolen (Bel) CSC-Saxo Bank 52.03
7 Michael Blaudzun (Den) CSC-Saxo Bank 52.04
8 Martin Velits (Svk) Team Milram 52.12
9 Dominique Cornu (Bel) Silence-Lotto 52.16
10 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner 52.16

General Classification After Stage Five
1 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 14.16.11
2 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis 0.02
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0.30
4 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 0.32
5 Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana 0.47
6 Jurgen Van Goolen (Bel) CSC-Saxo Bank 1.26
7 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC-Saxo Bank 1.27
8 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas 1.38
9 Dominique Cornu (Bel) Silence-Lotto 1.48
10 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Rabobank 1.51


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