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Sixty seconds, that's what Levi Leipheimer figures.

On April 1, one minute before he and his bicycle were hit by a car near Bilbao, Spain, the ugly thought raced through his head like a nasty virus.

"I had a visualization," Leipheimer recalled Monday. "Like I was going to get hit. It was really crazy, very weird. Then, no more than 60 seconds later it happened. Afterward, one of my first thoughts was, 'Did I do it to myself?' "

Of course, he didn't, but then again Leipheimer, the world-class cyclist who lives outside Santa Rosa, didn't have much of a frame of reference for getting hit by a car going 40 mph.

After all the miles and all the years he has been on a bike, the 38-year-old never had been hit by a motor vehicle. As he now rests -- mostly -- at home with a broken left fibula, Leipheimer has played and replayed that accident over and over like a broken record. The things that made him nervous then still make him nervous.

"It wasn't a road I normally would have ridden on," he said. "I felt very uncomfortable."

It was to be a training ride through Spain's Basque region in the north-central part of the country. It was to be an "easy" ride -- no more than two hours, Leipheimer said. It was the day before the six-day Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, a good, competitive spring prep for the Tour de France. Leipheimer picked a type of road he prefers -- a two-lane through the countryside.

After a time, however, the two lanes suddenly gave way to four. Leipheimer's comfort zone was immediately threatened.

"It's like starting on Highway 12 with two lanes and then opening up to four lanes toward Sebastopol," Leipheimer said. "I avoid roads like that because cars go a lot faster."

His nervousness increased. He knew he had to get off the road as soon as possible. Up ahead, he noticed, was a road sign. A spur road was about 800 yards away. Leipheimer decided to take that spur, get off his bike, check his GPS and find a safer route to return to the hotel in Bilbao used by his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team.

He would never make it, at least not on his bicycle.

That ugly thought crept through his head. Sixty seconds later, Leipheimer was being rocketed forward off the bike.

"I didn't hear anything, I didn't see anything," he said. "The edge of the car's bumper must have got me, must have caught my left leg, got underneath me. It was violent."

On the ground, Leipheimer noticed the car braking and stopping. Then came the rush of emotions, engulfing him.

"I started to hyperventilate," he said. "I started to panic. I felt scared. I felt angry. I just felt kinda overwhelmed. Fear was definitely one of those emotions. You really don't know what happened."

Leipheimer struggled to his feet.

"My leg was swelling, there was pain in my back, above my butt," he said.

A car with four people stopped to help. Leipheimer yelled at them to get his bike into their car. They told him there wasn't much bike to get into the car.

"I kept pleading with them, 'Get my bike in the car!' " he said. "But the bike was in pieces. It didn't make sense what I was saying. I just couldn't think straight."

He had just been hit by a car, after all. His bike was thrown into the bushes. The frame and wheels were trashed. A few parts were salvageable.

"The people were trying to calm me down," Leipheimer said. "I was in shock for quite a while."

The 82-year-old driver who hit him came over and said something in Basque. Leipheimer didn't understand. But what he found out later still irritates him.

"He told the police he didn't see me," Leipheimer said.

"It was a bright, sunny day," Leipheimer said. "There were no shadows. I was wearing my team colors (blue, white and black). My white shoes were going around and around on the pedals. I was riding on the far right edge of the bike lane, as far to the right as I could without going off the road. To show you how wide that bike lane was, when the people stopped to helped me, they parked their car in the bike lane. The traffic went past them without anyone having to move over."

"I think it's possible," he said, "that since this was a Sunday and there were a lot of cyclists out, he became annoyed at all the bikes on the road. Maybe he tried to scare me. Least that's what my gut tells me. I mean, why else would he be so close to the shoulder?"

Police told Leipheimer the man had no alcohol on his breath. Leipheimer doesn't know if the driver was arrested, charged, warned or let go.

Leipheimer was taken back to the team hotel for treatment by a paramedic and the team doctor, then transferred to a hospital an hour later. When he returned to Santa Rosa, a chipped tooth was repaired by a good friend, Healdsburg dentist Roger Bartels. He was told absolute rest for two weeks but, owing to his competitive nature, Leipheimer was on a training bike in a week.

"I spin the wheels a lot," he said. "Once in a while I get a bolt of pain, a sharp pain."

The three-time champion of the Tour of California doesn't know if he'll be ready for the 2012 race, which starts May 13 in Santa Rosa. The doctors tell him his condition is a "day-to-day thing."

But the time off a bike and off roads has not been all bad.

"To tell you the truth," Leipheimer said, "for the first week, it was a little relaxing. I succumbed to it. It was kinda nice not to do anything."

Now, he said, he's getting the itch. And he would like to do something besides think about the accident. On his Twitter page, Leipheimer wrote, "it's been playing in my head since." He is experiencing what far too many cyclists have had to experience as well, getting past the memory and the anxiety.

"Being bummed definitely makes it worse," he said. "I am doing my best to stay positive."

It helps that Leipheimer has been inundated with texts, emails, calls, tweets and Facebook contacts. On Twitter, 137,153 people are following him. The 2010 Santa Rosa Businessman of the Year has cast a wide influence, and he's not reluctant to use his stature for a little influence-peddling.

"People sit in their car, feeling comfortable," he said, "but they need to realize what can happen on the road. You don't need to go fast to hurt someone on a bicycle. People were going 50-60 miles an hour on that road. The guy who hit me was probably going 40. It doesn't take much to hurt someone on a bicycle. Even if a cyclist is doing something, give him space. We are very vulnerable."

That vulnerability was apparent in the way Leipheimer spoke. Always polite and respectful, there was a reverence in his voice for how fragile life is and how fragile he felt and is still feeling. One doesn't simply hit the delete key and April 1 magically disappears.

"I was following the rules, and I still got hit," he said. "This could happen to anybody."

"I basically got run over," he said. "I am lucky to be alive."

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat. com.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@ pressdemocrat.com.