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Vuelta News forSeptember 8, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

Slow start for Leipheimer

The start of Levi Leipheimer's Vuelta España was not quite as bad as his Tour de France start, but the Rabobank captain still saw his GC chances vanish in the first road stage. Leipheimer was caught, along with others like Alex Zülle, Jose Luis Rubiera and David Millar, in the second half of the peloton when it split on the approach to the day's final climb of the Alto del Mirador. His teammates chased in vain, and the gap grew to 2'30 by the foot of the climb. But it didn't stop there for Leipheimer, who lost more time on the climb to eventually finish nearly 13 minutes down on the winners, dropping to 141st place on the general classification.

After crashing out of the Tour de France, Leipheimer was hoping for a good Vuelta to salvage his season. However it's clear that he hasn't recovered his form in time after breaking his hip bone in the crash. Rabobank's directeur sportif Frans Maassen said after yesterday's stage that, "Leipheimer was not good enough. That is naturally disappointing, for himself and for the team, but we must accept that."

Maassen didn't put all the blame on Leipheimer's position in the peloton, as he also realised that the American was not having a good day. "They were riding incredibly hard. In the lead up he already felt that he was not good. Then you sit a long way back, and then the peloton breaks...We couldn't get it back together again. But I must honestly say that if we had closed the gap he would have lost more than five minutes on the last climb. For on the climb it was also clear that he wasn't ready."

"But you still hope - maybe against better judgment - that it will come good. And he hopes that he can make the best of it, and that he gets a chance to improve in the race...He has assured me that he will certainly not abandon. He hopes that in the second half of the race he can still win a stage. But OK, now his loss is still fresh. He and the whole team are disappointed."

For the general classification, Rabobank will now rely on Danish rider Michael Rasmussen, who managed to finish in the front group yesterday. "Now we have just one man for a top 10 classification," said Maassen. "I knew that today at most four men could stay with the front. But Leipheimer and Beat Zberg were already dropped before the category 1 climb, and Addy Engels couldn't climb with the top 30. It's lucky that we still have a good man with Michael. He made a good impression, and he also had morale. He remains the only captain for this tour."

Time running out to join Vuelta Fantasy Game

There are just three more days left to join in the Cyclingnews Vuelta Fantasy Game, with registrations closing at midnight, European time after the end of Stage 5 on September 10. You must build and pay for your teams before stage 6 begins to be eligible for the prizes on offer. First prize in the game is a very nice Orbea Vertex bicycle, with supplementary prizes from fi'zi:k saddles and Rudy Project eyewear.

The Fantasy Vuelta follows the same rules as our Giro d'Italia and Tour de France games, where you select a team of 15 riders worth a maximum of 9,000 UCI points, from which you pick nine for each stage, the overall, points and mountains classifications. It's a great way to get involved in following the Vuelta stage by stage and you can increase your chances by adding more teams.

Join now at fantasy.cyclingnews.com.

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