Levi Leipheimer Racing Downieville Classic

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Look who showed up at the the Downieville Classic.

The big news Friday at the Downieville Classic? The presence of multiple-time Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer.

The former WorldTour rider, who retired earlier this year after being fired by his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team after admitting to performance enhancing drug use during a portion of his pro career, is now set to become the first cyclist to contest both the Tour de France and the Downieville Classic. And Leipheimer isn’t just racing the cross-country. He’s taking on the all-mountain category, downhill and all.

[Update: Leipheimer was first to the top of the cross-country climb by about 4 minutes. But a flat tire and slow repair dropped him to 10th by the finish. See full results from day one at the Downieville Classic here.]

Leipheimer says he’s only ridden the downhill course (including Butcher Ranch) two times. He’s been on the cross-country course once. The last time he rode the soul-crushing, eight-mile climb that gains nearly 3,500 vertical feet was five years ago — yet he still remembers the pain.

Leipheimer says he feels comfortable with the technical, fast 15-mile descent thanks to his Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper 29er with carbon SRAM wheels, SRAM XX1 drivetrain, and Rock Shox Reverb dropper post, adding that he rode both the downhill and cross-country course without putting a foot down. He even cleaned the notorious Waterfall section on Butcher Ranch.

But Leipheimer knows he’ll need a sizeable gap to hold off Downieville veterans like Carl Decker (Giant). How much of a lead? At least six minutes, he told RoadBikeReview.

Indeed, Downieville is one of the only races where a five-minute gap can be made up on the downhill, meaning Leipheimer will need to drop the hammer on the way up if he has any hope of winning.

That bike is definitely not UCI Tour de France legal.

So what are his expectations? He says he’s here to have fun, but he’s also an extremely competitive guy, so no doubt he’ll push himself as hard as possible in hopes of being first over the top of the climb. Then the goal is to survive the downhill without any flats, mechanicals or crashes.

And if he can pull that off, he’ll be due the respect only the Downieville Classic offers. Unlike the “mountain bike race” that is the Leadville 100, which Leipheimer won in 2010, Downieville is a true test of rider fitness — and technical skill. You must be an all-around rider to survive the beating handed out by Butcher Ranch, Pauley Creek, Third Divide and First Divide. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. Stay tuned…

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.

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