“I lost a minute. That sucks.” — Levi Leipheimer on his stage six crash
Radio Shack came into the 2011 Tour de France as the hydra-legged beast, a team with four potential leaders.
Ageless Chris Horner, Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloden and Jani Brajkovik all had legitimate claim to being the GC boss and the usual story was the first mountain stage would decide.
However, the roads of the Tour de France have accelerated the decision-making process. Things may be decided in the first week, before the Pyrenees.
Yesterday, in stage 5, Brajkovik went down hard and stayed down for several minutes. The later diagnosis was a brain concussion and broken collarbone. Eight legs minus two.
Today in the rains of Basse-Normandie, 4 kilometers from the finish, with the peloton going full gas, Levi Leipheimer crashed, his tires skidding sideways on the slick white road-stripe. He narrowly missed hitting a steel guardrail, survived injury and remounted quickly.
Sadly, the damage was already done. Unable to make it back to the front, he rolled in a minute down, falling from 14th to 31st. That’s unfortunate but perhaps the worst part was his tumble within the Radio Shack pecking order.
“It was a silly crash,” said Leipheimer. “It was super-dangerous with the soaking rain and the small roads. We knew there was a 1.5km uphill at the end, so it was important to be right in front.”
In the battle to determine who will win the full support of the electronic gizmo squad, Leipheimer is now a minute behind Horner (13th at :18) and Kloden (5th at :10). That’s not where he’d hoped to be. (But the crash did produce a hilarious fake video with Levi explaining what happened.)
“You just try to shoot through some gaps and one time, it closed up on me, and I was pinned against the guardrail. I kind of surfed the guardrail for 20 metres. Thankfully that slowed me down,” said Leipeimer. “Eventually the guardrail ended, and then I fell onto the ground.”
The stage was the longest of this year’s Tour, 226 rain-soaked kilometers from Dinan to Lisieux. It was also another unlucky day. Team manager Joan Bruyneel tweeted: “Nervous & wet day @ the Tour. Bad luck again 4 @LeviLeipheimer. Crashed with 5k 2 go & lost some valuable time. No physical damage though.”
That’s right — no physical damage to the body but perhaps a significant hit to Leipheimer’s hopes of being the Man, the Protected One, He Who Shall Not Feel The Wind For Three Weeks.
Meanwhile, Chris Horner has to be feeling pretty good about his chances for a top five on GC. Andreas Kloden is rubbing his hands in anticipation. Four legs left, soon to go down to two.
In six stages, Radio Shack has gone from four potential leaders to perhaps two.
Former Team Sky director Sportif Scott Sunderland tweeted “RadioShack has the leaders jersey for the most unlucky team so far in the TdF 2011.”
Depends on how you define luck. Chris Horner and Andreas Kloden are consummate team players but they’re also highly competitive. They feel bad for Levi because they know the year of pain and sacrifice to get here be ready to ride the Tour.
That said, they’re not upset their chances of leading Radio Shack just got a significant boost.