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Levi Leipheimer took yesterday's key mountain stage of the Deutschland Tour, but then admitted he didn't think he had gained enough time on Jan Ullrich to hold on to the lead. The Gerolsteiner team leader finished 15 seconds clear of team-mate Georg Totschnig at the 2,670-metre summit of the Rettenbachferner, with Ullrich third over the line having been dropped by the two Gerolsteiner riders with three kilometres remaining of the brutally tough climb to the Austrian resort of Soelden.
Leipheimer, who finished sixth at the recent Tour de France and third at the Dauphin Libr before that, set a fierce pace up the final climb and was soon left with just Totschnig, Ullrich and Cadel Evans for company. Evans fell back with 4km remaining, and Ullrich could only follow the pace for another kilometre before dropping away. Leipheimer dropped local Austrian hero Totschnig a kilometre from the finish as he sought to gain as much time as possible on Ullrich with a long time trial still to come.
"Having 50 seconds' advantage on Ullrich isn't enough," said Leipheimer, "especially before Monday's time trial which suits him really well."
The tough stage, which also included the climb of the 2,020-metre Kuhtai, took a severe toll in hot conditions. Ullrich's team-mate Alexandre Vinokourov abandoned, while many others struggled on the 12 per cent slopes of the final climb, notably Tour de France King of the Mountains Michael Rasmussen.
Gerolsteiner team manager Hans-Michael Holczer admitted that the ideal result would have been for Austria's Totschnig to take the stage win just ahead of Leipheimer. "On an emotional level, I would have preferred to see Totschnig win, but you have to be rational," he said, adding: "Levi has no chance of keeping the lead in the time trial. Ullrich is definitely the strongest in this domain."
Ullrich acknowledged the difficulty of the stage, saying: "I can't believe that someone has put together a route as tough as this. Taking into account that I was ill a few days ago, I feel pretty good about finishing third."
Stage 4, Kufstein-Soelden
1 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 171km in 5.11.56
2 Georg Totschnig (Aut) Gerolsteiner 0.15
3 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile 0.50
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 1.12
5 Jrg Jaksche (Ger) Liberty Seguros 1.24
6 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) Phonak 1.41
7 Saul Raisin (USA) Crdit Agricole 2.46
8 Marco Fertonani (Ita) Domina Vacanze 2.48
9 Fabian Jeker (Swi) Saunier Duval 3.06
10 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) Quick Step
11 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 3.48
12 Wim van Huffel (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto
1 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 19.17.02
2 Totschnig 0.18
3 Ullrich 0.56
4 Evans 1.22
5 Jaksche 1.28
6 Valjavec 1.51
7 Raisin 2.56
8 Jeker 3.16
10 Van Huffel 3.58
14 Di Luca 5.23
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