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Kevin Livingston: Time to move on

Last summer 29-year-old climbing specialist Kevin Livingston announced hisretirement. The news, which came during the Telekom rider’s sixth Tour deFrance, was a surprise to many people around him, including long-time friendsFrankie Andreu and Lance Armstrong. Livingston, who turned professional in1994, said that he was ready to move on from cycling and to spend more timewith his family.After the Tour, Livingston completed his summer racing schedule and returnedhome to Austin, Texas, in September after competing in the San FranciscoGrand Prix. VeloNews correspondent Ted Arnold caught up with

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This article appears in the January 6 issue of VeloNews

By Ted Arnold, VeloNews correspondent

Livingston rode his final Tour this year.

Livingston rode his final Tour this year.

Photo: Cor Vos

Last summer 29-year-old climbing specialist Kevin Livingston announced hisretirement. The news, which came during the Telekom rider’s sixth Tour deFrance, was a surprise to many people around him, including long-time friendsFrankie Andreu and Lance Armstrong. Livingston, who turned professional in1994, said that he was ready to move on from cycling and to spend more timewith his family.
After the Tour, Livingston completed his summer racing schedule and returnedhome to Austin, Texas, in September after competing in the San FranciscoGrand Prix. VeloNews correspondent Ted Arnold caught up with the now-retiredcyclist to enjoy a warm November afternoon on an open-air patio in Austin.They talked about Livingston’s decision to retire, what his future holds,and where he’s been along the way.

VeloNews You seem very close to your family, did they make your retirementdecision any easier or harder?

Kevin Livingston It was a natural part of it. With my wife, and nowhaving a daughter — that’s where we are at this point in our life. It didhave its role in my decision, to stop competing and traveling.

VN Frankie Andreu said it took a great deal of guts to retire withso much unknown in front of you, that you almost had more to risk by retiringnow than by riding a few more years. Were you taking the tougher path?  

KL
Sometimes I look at it like I could have signed another two- or three-yearcontract, sort of make sure, and then maybe just ride it out. But anotheraspect I look at is that I have a jumpstart on the ideas I’ve always hadfor my life after cycling. I’m young to stop, but I had the experience andI can move towards something else.

VN You just mentioned you could have kept riding — were there offers?

KL
No, it wasn’t about that. It wasn’t a part of my decision.

VN You’ve said that your retirement was based on feelings that existedbefore the Tour, that you rode the Tour as a confirmation of those feelings.How hard was it dealing with that during an event as tough as the Tour?
      
KL It was hard, I think it came as a shock — everyone thought I decidedin the Tour that I was going to stop. I couldn’t put retirement out therebefore and see what people thought, sounding sort of unsure. I was goingto decide myself, and I was going to announce it. I can’t pinpoint an exactdate where I sort of saw myself struggle, but I would say it had been goingon for a while. I couldn’t really say anything before the Tour because Ihad to try and fulfill my professional obligations for the team. I don’tknow if the form was there, but I know that when the motivation and mentalside isn’t there then it is really a fight for me — and it was a fight. Idecided that looking back, regardless of what my results were in the Tourthe most important thing was that I finish. I had to let retirement and everythingelse come after I finished.
          
VN In terms of racing, did you achieve everything you felt you could?

KL Being a competitor, you always want to win; you measure your successon victories. You always want more, but I had three wins, and I am glad Ihad the experience. My role also became that of a support rider in the Tour.The opportunity with Linda McCartney would have been ideal, but it wasn’treality and it led me to Telekom. It was a new experience where I made friendsand raced with guys like Jan [Ullrich] and [Erik] Zabel. I don’t feel likeI have any regrets.

VN Did Jan’s extracurricular problems last year create any extra pressure?

KL With his knee he had not been with the team or raced since [theTour of] Qatar — he was sort of removed from the team without any trainingor racing going on. We would have loved for him to be at his top riding inthe Tour. That is where he was missed.

VN You’ve commented before that Paris was an emotional experiencethis year. How hard was the final parade lap around the Champs-Elysées?
 
KL From a career standpoint, it was my sixth time. I always enjoyedgetting there, but this year I took one extra little look to tuck it away.

VN Is there anything that you’ll miss about being away from racing?

KL There are a lot of things that stand out like camaraderie, friendsand the staff. Sometimes it will just be the feel that you get about competition,the nervousness and anxiety. I liked the different cultures and being inEurope, but I can still get back through travel.

VN When you left U.S. Postal were things overblown because they playedout more in the media than directly between parties? How hard was it to hearthings from Lance like comparing your leaving to Schwarzkopf going to China?

KL When I heard that. I joked around in an article that at least heheld me in high status. We hadn’t talked, and I hadn’t seen him, so as farI was concerned he didn’t say it. In the end, it just made a little morepublicity around my transfer. We ended up talking that year so everythingwas all right.

VN During the same interview, Lance commented that he would have welcomedyou back “in a heartbeat.” Was there ever a time after Linda McCartney fellthrough that you considered returning to U.S. Postal?

KL No, I was at a point that once I decided to leave [Postal], I neededto keep moving forward.

VN How are things now with Lance?

KL We’re still friends and talk. Lance is extremely busy, but we seeeach other and if he wants to ride we’ll go out. It’s good.

VN How would you sum up the two seasons with Telekom?

KL This year was a little funny because of the retirement aspect,but it is a very professional team, super organized. Your only job is totrain and race your bike fast. The first year I felt like I was able to comearound in the Tour — to give back the confidence they had given to me. Thisyear was a little different with Jan not there, but I was still able to helpthe team.

VN With some of the older German riders leaving and Jan moving on,do you think the team will still have its strong German fan base, or willthey have a hard time accepting the more international flavor of the team?

KL The German fans will be more critical of the foreign riders forsure, Erik Zabel will have to take over the image of the German leader ofthe team. They will rely more on him and study the new riders they have —if they produce, the fans will follow.

VN Describe riding with Zabel.

KL I have a lot of respect for his ability; he is incredible. I don’tknow of many others that could handle his training. He’s intense and hasthe fearless mentality of a sprinter, but he won’t come in the room and tryand command attention.
                     
VN If Jan signs on somewhere, can he still be a force?

KL I think right now it’s a question of his knee rehabilitating, andI’ve heard through the press that it has, so I don’t see why he can’t.

VN Both yourself and Jonathan Vaughters left the European scene atthe same time; do you think that will have an affect on the way teams willlook at American riders?

KL It’s more coincidental — riders stop at all ages no matter thenationality, it’s just important that the influx of American riders continues.Just the fact that I was in Cofidis and Telekom helps the image that Americanriders can ride for teams of different nationalities. If anything, it makesit more open.

VN Who do you see in the current crop of American riders that couldhave a breakout performance similar to Levi Leipheimer in the 2001 Vuelta?

KL You never know, that was sort of a breakthrough that takes a guyto a whole other level. It definitely changed him as a rider and his confidence,I know U.S. Postal Service always seems to take on and develop new riders.

VN In terms of your future do you have planned?

KL I am going to take about a year off and then start training. ThenI’ll start racing again (laughing). No, in terms of a break I don’t thinkI want to take a year where I don’t do anything. I want to start slowly andget involved in some things that are cycling and fitness related. Then Ihave some other ideas about where my language skills can take me.

VN So, have you been riding?

KL Now and again.

VN How is fatherhood treating you?

KL Great.

VN Easier than a day in the Alps or tougher?

KL It’s not just easy or hard — it’s everything, a great experience.Along with Becky, it’s one of the best things in my life.

VN Austin is home right now; do you expect that to change?

KL I’ve made it my home since ’95, back then I didn’t know if I’deven stay a year, but right now we’d like to settle here and see where ittakes us.

Livingston was the consumate teammate

In a career that stretched over 14 years (starting as a junior in 1989),Kevin Livingston had many high points. But the stats don’t reveal the Missourinative’s all-around ability, the strength of his climbing, or the understatedhumor that made him a perfect teammate.

Livingston raced for the national team as a junior, and in his first senioryear, at age 19, he won New Mexico’s tough Tour of the Gila and finishedfourth at the mountainous Tour of Guatemala behind a trio of Colombian climbers.The following two years he did double duty for the U.S. national team andthe Saturn trade team, before becoming a full pro with Motorola in 1995.
He had two high points in 1994. Livingston won the “alternative” nationalchampionship, promoted by the USCF as an “open” race in Seattle. Finishingbehind Livingston in the hilly event were three men who would earn the USPROChampionship: Chann McRae, Bart Bowen and Eddy Gragus. Also that year, Livingstonwon a mountaintop stage of the Tour of Austria, taking seventh overall, andhe was 17th at the Tour DuPont.

With Motorola, Livingston earned the biggest win of his pro career in themountainous 172km third stage of Spain’s Tour of Galicia. He made a lateattack to finish four seconds ahead of Francesco Casagrande, AndreïTchmil, Fernando Escartin and Abraham Olano.

Livingston debuted at the Tour de France in 1997 with the French team Cofidis.His role was to support team leader Tony Rominger, but the Swiss star crashedout early. The young American was the team’s best rider in the Pyrénées,where he rode support for teammate Bobby Julich in the Alps. Julich finishthat Tour 17th, Livingston 38th.
It looked as though Livingston would become a contender himself, especiallywhen that September he finished second to Laurent Roux at the Tour de l’Avenirwith top-three rides in the two toughest stages. But Livingston remaineda team rider. At the 1998 Tour, he again rode for Julich, helping his fellowAmerican take third overall, while finishing 17th overall himself. That ledto his signing for U.S. Postal and two years of riding the Tour for his friendLance Armstrong.

Livingston’s Tour highlight came in 1999 on the very first mountain stagewhen Armstrong had to defend the yellow jersey he won in the Metz time trial.After Armstrong won the stage to Sestriere, he said about Livingston’s performanceon the mighty Col du Galibier, “Kevin pulled for 19.5 of the 20 kilometers.”

Livingston was just as effective in Armstrong’s second Tour victory, in 2000,particularly in the Alps. He then was then offered the role of team leaderat Linda McCartney by its team director Sean Yates, who raced with Livingstonat Motorola. Unfortunately the deal fell through when the team’s sponsorshipdidn’t materialize, and Livingston switched to Telekom where he was Jan Ullrich’sgo-to man at the 2001 Tour.

Full of physical talent, perhaps Livingston didn’t have the burning ambitionthat could have filled his palmarès with many more victories.
— John Wilcockson

***factfile***
KEVIN LIVINGSTON — FactFile
Born: May 24, 1973 at St. Louis, Missouri
Resides: Austin, Texas, with wife Becky and daughter Kate
Height: 5 foot 10
Weight: 150 pounds
Pro since: 1995
Teams: Saturn (1993-94), Motorola (1995-96), Cofidis (1997-98), U.S.Postal Service (1999-2000), Telekom (2001-02).
Career Highlights:
2002: 56th overall, Tour de France
2001: 43rd overall, Tour de France; 114th overall, Giro d’Italia
2000: 37th overall, Tour de France
1999: 6th overall, Dauphiné Libéré; 36th overall,Tour de France
1998: 12th overall, Route du Sud; 17th overall, Tour de France; 18thoverall, Dauphiné Libéré
1997: 2nd overall, Tour de l’Avenir; 14th overall, Bicicleta Vasca;18th overall, Tirreno-Adriatico; 38th overall, Tour de France
1996: 1st, Stage 3 of Tour of Galicia; 4th overall, Tour of Castilla-León;8th, Tour of Veneto; 61st, Vuelta a España