Six weeks ago Levi Leipheimer's leg was broken when his bike was hit from behind by an elderly driver in Spain. On Sunday he wasn't just back on his bike — he completed the opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California with a strong finish.
Leipheimer was cheered wildly as he approached the finish line in his adopted hometown of Santa Rosa after a 4-hour ride in his extended back yard.
Less than six weeks after the accident fractured his left fibula on a training ride in the Basque region, Leipheimer finished 46th in the main field.
Avoiding a late-race crash, reminiscent of late stage crash in a Santa Rosa stage a few years ago that took him down, Leipheimer finished in the front peloton among more than 60 riders just behind the lead threesome.
“Good and bad,” the Santa Rosan said of the return he confirmed only Saturday. “Obviously (it was) great, because we're here in Santa Rosa, my hometown. It was a huge success, the course was beautiful. But to be honest, I suffered a little bit.”
Leipheimer, 38, returned to training April 20 and was unable to gain to the form that has propelled him to six Tour of California stage wins and three race titles — both the most of any rider in the annual race, which began in 2006.
The four-time top-10 Tour de France finisher endured, but he's far from healed. He's walking with a prominent limp, including emerging on the finish podium after the stage to receive a special award for the race's most courageous rider.
Leipheimer's recovery training occurred on Sonoma County's backroads, the undulating, sometimes steep asphalt canvas he used to build his career since moving Northern California in 1996.
Yet the comfort of riding on the roads he knows well wasn't enough to offset the pain from his injury.
“That always sucks, especially when you suffer on your own roads,” said Leipheimer, racing in his first season for the Belgium-based Omega Pharma-Quick-Step team. “It was good and bad, but I'm happy to be here.”