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By Andrew Hood
Levi Leipheimer couldn’t be in Paris last week to watch the official unveiling of the route of the 2009 Tour de France, but he was certainly following the news.
Like just about everyone, the Astana captain was keenly waiting for details of the 96th Tour. VeloNews caught up with Leipheimer while he was in Utah this week to gauge his reaction to the route. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: What was your first impression after seeing the route?
Levi Leipheimer: First of all, the Tour is always hard. You always have Pyrenees, the Alps and a time trial. The strongest man always wins. In that sense, it’s always the same. But when you start looking at the details, starting in Monaco is a big deal. It will be a highlight. Having the team time trial back is cool to see again, especially now that I am on a team that has a good chance of winning and putting time into everyone else. Going to Girona is something special for all the American bike racers because it’s our adopted home. The big highlight will be Mont Ventoux on the second-to-last day.
VN: Along with Garmin, Astana should be one of the top favorites for the TTT, what will be like to be on a team with real chances to win after racing before with Rabobank and Gerolsteiner?
LL: I don’t want to come off like we’re talking a big game, but we have a strong team. And there’s the experience of this organization of having won the team time trial in the Tour before, that goes a long way. I’m not going to say we’re going to win because that’s bad karma. I’m excited about it.
VN: Do you enjoy racing in a team time trial?
LL: It’s very, very exciting. It’s nerve-racking, there’s a lot of anxiety, but it bonds the team really well. It’s just a great experience. For the fans, it’s cool to see the team together with all the specialized equipment going at full speed.
VN: The first week and final weeks are loaded, when do you think the most important part of the race is?
LL: Everything is kind of spread out. There’s no big concentration of difficult climbing stages back-to-back like we’ve seen in the past. There are some hard days, but there’s nothing like a hard stage with six climbs, 220km with an uphill finish. I don’t see that.
VN: Do you like the Ventoux, many times have you raced up Ventoux?
LL: In racing, I would say once in the Tour and three or four times in the Dauphiné. It is an amazing climb. I’ve always had a good ride up Ventoux. One year in the Dauphiné I defended the yellow jersey and another year I took the yellow jersey. In my first Tour, I did a pretty decent ride. It’s always been fair to me.
VN: How much do you think having Ventoux on the penultimate stage will shape the race?
LL: One thing for sure, it will create a lot of suspense and tension in the race. Whether we look back with hindsight to say it made a difference in the winner, I don’t know. No matter who’s winning, unless they have a 10-minute lead, everyone will be on pins and needles. In the second to last day of a three-week race, anything can happen.
VN: How will things be for you in the 2009 Tour?
LL: I think that the Tour is a big goal for the team. I’m in this philosophy to be the best I can be. And there’s the Tour of California, the Tour and other races I’d love to win. I will take it as it comes, just as I did in the Vuelta. I went into it not expecting much, I was just totally relaxed and I had a good race. I’m trying to approach my career more and more like that.
VN: Do you still believe you can win the Tour?
LL: I’d love to win the Tour. It’s not so easy just to say you’re going to win. You can’t just stand up and predict what you’re going to do. That’s just not possible. There are a lot of great riders. We cannot overlook that. Everyone looks to Astana if we have to fight within themselves to win the race. That’s not the case. There’s Sastre, Evans. There are other great riders who can win as well.
VN: Do you expect Lance Armstrong to race the Tour?
LL: I don’t know. It’s something the Tour and Lance need to work out together. It’s not so simple for Lance to come back. He’s not like a rider like myself who can just go with the flow. He needs some special circumstance. I would love to see him there. I hope that he can race it.
VN: Astana will be stacked with Tour podium finishers, who is going to lead?
LL: I think it’s pretty cool. It’s kind of an historic situation. What other team has been that strong? Maybe La Vie Claire in the 1980s. That was really strong. We’re not going to win everything, but on paper, it’s pretty impressive.