By Andrew Hood
Levi Leipheimer came to the Giro d’Italia as part of the last-minute invitation for Astana that included Alberto Contador and Andreas Klöden as co-leaders.
Leipheimer was at home in California when he got the call and he quickly made arrangements to fly to Sicily. No one knew what to expect. The team wanted nothing more than to make the most of the unexpected situation.
Flash forward three weeks and Contador is poised to become just the second Spanish rider to win the Giro.
With the race primed for victory, Leipheimer and the rest of the Astana team now ride to help his teammate carry the maglia rosa all the way to Milan.
VeloNews caught up with Leipheimer before the start of Wednesday’s stage. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: So the plan now is to carry the maglia rosa all the way to Milan?
Levi Leipheimer: That’s the idea. There are two very important days, Friday and Saturday. We’ll focus on keeping the jersey. It’s going to be huge for us if we win this race. Under the circumstances of how we were invited so late, I cannot think of anything more satisfying.
VN: Things obviously didn’t go as well as you would have hoped?
LL: I did my best. You can’t come into a big race like the Giro, and not be prepared physically and mentally. I just doesn’t work. I came straight from the United States to Sicily. I just I didn’t have the form. I’ve raced mainly in the States, I didn’t do Paris-Nice, so I didn’t do a lot of racing at this level this year. The truth was just there, that I just didn’t have it. I wanted to make the best out of it.
VN: What does it say about Contador to be in the maglia rosa?
LL: We came here with no pressure. We just said, we’ll do our best and see how it goes. There’s no argument on who is the best rider in the world. For him to come here and to be leading the race, it’s just amazing to me.
VN: Who would you compare Contador to as a rider?
LL: I’ve never seen anything like him before. He did País Vasco, so he had the form. He came in very fresh. Just like the rest of us, if he’d known, he wouldn’t have come in so under-prepared. It’s amazing to see how he was really suffering in the beginning and how he’s getting better and better. That really assures us he can win this race.
VN: Riccò is second at 41 seconds back, is he the rider you have to watch most?
LL: Alberto has to worry about him. When it comes down to that, it’s going to be mano-a-mano. Our job is to make sure that battle comes as late in the stage as possible.
VN: Who’s more dangerous, Simoni or Riccò?
LL: Simoni has nothing to lose, so he can definitely go for it all. For Riccò, this will be his first podium. He might try to conserve that a little more.
VN: Do you buy into talk of alliances?
LL: I think it’s going to be the other way around. I think we’re going to count on the Italians riding against each other. Maybe they’d rather see Contador win than each other. At least that’s the hope. Nobody wants to work against Alberto to see someone else win. People will start to think about second and third place. That’s how it usually works.
VN: There have been a lot of complaints about the transfers and other hassles, what’s your impression of your first Giro?
LL: The transfers have been ridiculous. What more can you say? It’s not organized very well. They’re thinking about one thing but not another. A lot were complaining about Plan de Corones, but I thought it was kind of cool. It was a spectacle and you could see that a lot people were interested. If one of the favorites would have had a flat, that would have ruined everything. With that in mind, I don’t know if it’s a good thing. It’s not fair at all. For me, I wasn’t really racing. I was kind of enjoying it. I love to ride on dirt and it was cool to ride on top of a mountain. It was kind of cool up there. It was different. It was more like riding a mountain bike.
VN: So now you reload for the Dauphiné?
LL: That’s the plan. I don’t know about what Alberto will do. It depends on what happens here.