Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stage 16: Pergola to Monte Petrano 237 km

A Couchemar for Astana

(Results and replays at www.universalsports.com)

It was debatable what was worse, Johann Bruyneel’s Astana team strategy or Levi Leiphiemer’s luck. But the combination of the two could not be overcome and the American dropped to 6th place overall, a devastating blow in his attempt to be the first American cyclist to reach the podium in all three grand tours.

Bruyneel wisely placed Yaroslav Popovich (UKR) in an early breakaway so Leipheimer would have a teammate marking any big accelerations. Inexplicably as the members of the breakaway tired, Popovich, who appeared strong, was sent up the road in search of the stage win. Unfortunately at the same time, Leipheimer flatted and was left behind the group containing the GC contenders. So at the time when Leiphiemer needed the group to slow down, Popovich was forcing the heads of the peloton to rush up the final climb to catch him.

Popovich showed excellent form on the final descent; but he should have been waiting for Leipheimer.

The only thing that went right all day for Astana was the selfless riding of international superstar Lance Armstrong. Armstrong went back and helped Leiphiemer regain the group of stars at the bottom of the final climb, a 10 km demoralizer up the 1100-meter Monte Petrano.

At a time when Popovich should have been holding up to help Leipheimer, he was pushing every stroke at the front of the race in a futile attempt to hold off some of the world's best climbers. Two km. into the climb, 2008 Tour de France champ Carlos Sastre (ESP – Cervelo) burst out a 100-meter sprint and was followed by Danilo Di Luca (ITA-LPR Brakes) and Maglia Rosa wearer, Denis Menchov (RUS – Rabobank). A few seconds later a group including the two Italian Liquigas stars, Ivan Basso and Franco Pellizotti ramped up their pace trying to cling to the kings of the Giro. Armstrong went with that group until he noticed that the lone King who could not make the group was his team leader, Levi Leiphiemer, who had spent all his effort regaining the race after his flat.

Armstrong dutifully stayed with Leipheimer as their teammate, Popovich, was pulling the race out of their hands three km up the mountain. Two clicks from the top, Sastre blew past a destroyed Popovich, and floated up the mountain for a second Cervelo win in three days.

With the favorites pouring over the finish line, Astana’s stars were painfully late to the tape. Popovich lost 3:21 in just the last two km. Armstrong drug Leiphiemer across the line 2:51 after Sastre crossed, but nine riders had since finished leaving Leipheimer looking up the standings towards his once sure podium spot.

When the dust cleared, Menchov was solidly in pink; Di Luca 39 seconds back; Sastre moved up to third (- 2:19); and even the two Liquigas climbers, Pellizotti (- 3:08) and Basso (- 3:19) had pulled ahead of Leipheimer who is now one minute and two seconds out of his podium dream.

Tomorrow is a much needed rest stage leaving only three opportunities in the last five stages for Leipheimer to regain his spot. Wednesday is a bizarre stage, a short 88km sprint up the 2100 meter peak at Blockhaus. Friday is the final climb of the Giro to the top of Vesuvius. And finally the tour ends with a miniscule 15.3 km time trial finishing at the Coliseum. The struggling Leipheimer cannot afford any more mountain collapses if he hopes to climb back into the 2009 Giro.

(Image is a Universal Sports screenshot)

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