With four days left in the Tour de France, RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer is realistic about his chances of moving up from seventh overall to finish on the final podium.
“It doesn’t look so good right now, but anything can happen,” said the American, who sits 5:25 behind race leader Alberto Contador. “You always have to hope for the best.”
Leipheimer and the rest of the riders racing for the overall have two chances to make up time: Thursday’s HC finish atop the Tourmalet and Saturday’s time trial. In the latter event, Leipheimer stands a great chance of overtaking the man in front of him, Rabobank’s Robert Gesink.
Gesink, a tall young rider from the Netherlands, is a great climber, but his time trial has never matched Leipheimer’s. At the 2010 Tour de Suisse, for example, Gesink lost the race lead in the 26.9km time trial on the final stage, losing 2:19 to stage winner Tony Martin of HTC-Columbia and ceding the overall to Saxo Bank’s Frank Schleck. Leipheimer, on the other hand, placed fifth that day, 48 seconds behind Martin.
Gesink is currently 24 seconds ahead of Leipheimer. Saturday’s time trial is 52km, roughly twice as long as the Suisse event. One could speculatively extrapolate that Leipheimer’s 91-second advantage at the Tour de Suisse could double to a three-minute split at the Tour’s final time trial.
The next three men ahead of Leipheimer on GC — Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega-Lotto), Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) — will be tougher nuts to crack. They are two and three minutes ahead of Leipheimer.
After the first big Pyrénéan finish on stage 14, Leipheimer said he wasn’t satisfied with his performance. He finished 11th, 1:53 back.
“I didn’t make any mistakes, I’m just not strong enough,” he said. “What do you say?”
The following two days in the Pyrénées saw Leipheimer finish in the second chase group behind Condator over the Port de Balès and in the main, 50-man yellow jersey group on stage 16 into Pau.
Stage 17, which finishes after a long, long HC climb up the Tourmalet, will be an every-man-for-himself situation towards the top.
“You know what? Ninety-nine percent of the people in the race are in this situation,” Leipheimer said. “There are only two guys who can play games on the last climb. Everybody else is at their limit. You do what you do, you try to hang on, you look for an opportunity to maybe go away early. You saw Carlos did that [on stage 14], but it didn’t get him anything. I race for the finish, I don’t race for TVs.”
The world’s TV cameras will again be mounted on motorbikes and cranes as the Tour zooms back up the Pyrénées on Thursday.