Tour de France: Levi Leipheimer stays safe as crashes rip through the peloton
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Friday, July 06, 2012

Tour de France: Levi Leipheimer stays safe as crashes rip through the peloton

by Ben Atkins at 6:39 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
Omega Pharma-Quick Step still has its general classification cards to play as many favourites lose big time

Levi LeipheimerOmega Pharma-Quick Step was one of the teams to get off lightest in the carnage of stage six, with only Belgian rider Dries Devenyns caught up in the many crashes that ripped through the peloton.  Six of the team’s nine riders managed to finish in the front group, with team leader Levi Leipheimer staying in overall contact with many of his rivals, and making big gains on a number of others.

After a fast-paced first week, the race will hit the mountains for the first time on tomorrow’s seventh stage, and should settle down to a more predictable pattern.

"For [the general classification] for tomorrow it's definitely going to become clear who is strong, and who the favourites are," said Leipheimer. "It's pretty simple math, I think if someone gets dropped tomorrow big time they are obviously not in it. I feel good, but we haven't really been put to the test.”

Having conceded 28 seconds to Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) in the opening prologue - and so 21 seconds to big race favourite Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) - Leipheimer now sits in 22nd position, 45 seconds behind the Swiss rider.

“I feel like so far — knock on wood — I've been lucky on this Tour,” he added. “Been really close to about 5-6 crashes and I've missed it. Today was really important. We had five or six guys at the front at the right moment; so, we're still in it.”

If Leipheimer is on form then he will be counting on mountain domestiques like Kevin De Weert for help as the road starts to tilt upwards.

“Tomorrow will be a hard day,” said Weert. “Until now we’ve done a great job. My job is to stay with Levi and so far everything’s gone well. Hopefully it can be in the same for the coming stages.”

Slovakian Peter Velits also managed to stay with the lead group, but is still smarting over the time he lost on stage one.  A strong prologue performance, where he finished a fraction of a second ahead of defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), was wiped out by a late puncture in the closing kilometres of the stage to Seraing, Belgium.

"It's going to be less stressful than these days," he said as he looked forward to the mountains. "But I still feel a little bit cheated when I was at two minutes back the first stage. It's hard to start the mountains two minutes back, but okay, there's a lot of guys - GC contenders - who have lost time; some of them a lot of time, so it's okay, I guess.

“We need to see how I feel in the climbs because I can feel good now,” he added, “but you never know until the moment you are there fighting. It's a big test for everybody."

Sylvain Chavanel, one of the team’s two Frenchmen in the race, is still sitting pretty in third place overall, just seven seconds behind Cancellara.  He will likely make up that time on the big Swiss rider, but needs to take at least one second out of Wiggins to snatch the Maillot Jaune from the British rider’s grasp.

The current French time trial champion - and former road race champion - wore the jersey on two separate occasions in the 2010 race, after winning stages both times.  The climb to la Planche des Belles Filles at the end of tomorrow’s stage is similar in many ways to that to his second 2010 victory on the Station de Rousses and, with Team Sky unlikely to want to give Wiggins the pressure of yellow at such an early stage, the British team may well be happy to allow the Frenchman a little space.

“Tomorrow will be the first test for everyone for the GC because after a week without climbs, the first climb is always an important and demanding test,” Chavanel explained. “We will see what we can do. It depends on the situation, if there will be a good chance to do something.”

Devenyns, the team’s only real victim of today, will be nursing his body through the next few days but, aside from the lost time, appears to have come out of his crash without major problems.

"I have pain, for sure," Devenyns said. "I went down at a really high speed; 55 kilometres an hour.

“There was a crash in front, and I don't know what happened,” he explained. “I saw everyone braking and crashing in front of me. I had the reflex of protecting my head, and I was on top of [Garmin-Sharp’s Johan] Van Summeren, and then a few more fell on top of us.

“So far so good,” he added, “but I have some bruises on the right side of my body and then my shoulder. It could have been worse.”

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