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Leipheimer remains optimistic

Discovery Channel team leader Levi Leipheimer admitted on the Tour’s first rest day that he’s not yet riding to his top ability, but believes he will be by the time the race reaches the Pyrénées in its pivotal third week.

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By Neal Rogers

Leipheimer expects a lot from the Pyrénées.

Photo: Graham Watson

Discovery Channel team leader Levi Leipheimer admitted on the Tour’s first rest day that he’s not yet riding to his top ability, but believes he will be by the time the race reaches the Pyrénées in its pivotal third week.

From the lobby of his hotel in Tignes, not far from the finish of Sunday’s climbing stage, Leipheimer held a casual press conference Monday afternoon for about a dozen journalists. Leipheimer said he was generally content with his performance thus far, but admitted he had been put into trouble when Ag2r rider Christophe Moreau launched his attack on the lower slopes of the climb to Tignes.

“We had just come down the descent [of the Hauteville Climb] and I had spent energy closing down a gap when Moreau attacked,” Leipheimer said. “I was about 12th wheel when he went. I had just worked too hard to follow. It was an impressive move.”

Leipheimer admitted his form is not yet 100 percent, but said that represents a conscious decision to try to be at his best “in the second half of the Tour, where the difference will be made.”

“I would have liked to have been feeling a little bit better at the start,” Leipheimer continued. “But if I think back to a couple of weeks ago I have improved, there’s no question about that. I still have a chance to ride into form. If it looks like I have a chance to go for it, I will attack in the Pyrénées.”

Leipheimer meets the press.

Leipheimer meets the press.

Photo: www.kreutzphotography.com

Leipheimer’s teammates Alberto Contador and Yaroslav Popovych went with Moreau, Cadel Evans, Iban Mayo, Alejandro Valverde, Frank Schleck and Andrey Kashechkin. Popovych eventually faded and Contador punctured. Nonetheless, the young Paris-Nice winner managed to finish just behind the Moreau group, which crossed the line 46 seconds ahead of Leipheimer and even further ahead of Astana race favorites Alex Vinokourov and Andreas Klöden. Contador, a top climber in only his second Tour, may prove to be a vital wildcard if Leipheimer is to finish on the podium in Paris.

“[Having Contador] is great for me,” Leipheimer said. “Yesterday I could use him as an excuse not to move. He’s an aggressive rider; he’s got a lot of punch. That’s going to pay off one day. He can definitely accelerate away and win a stage. He’s got that explosive power.”

GC contenders Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov finished 24 seconds ahead of Leipheimer, who now sits 12th overall, 3:59 behind stage winner and overall leader Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), who attacked the race favorites on the Cormet de Roselend. Though Leipheimer doesn’t see Rasmussen is a major threat to the general classification, the Discovery rider said the lack of a clear favorite has made a race that lacks structure.

“There’s not a lot of control. A guy like Rasmussen took advantage of that. He’s strong enough to do it,” Leipheimer said. “He rode a great race. Obviously no one is going to let him attack 100 kilometers from the finish any more, but I think he will time trial better than normal. Having the yellow jersey has an effect, and I think in the past he’s never tried as hard as he could because he knew that he wasn’t going for the classification. I think he will ride faster. He will still lose time, but he has a chance. If he wins, the race was won on the Roselend.”

Asked his thoughts concerning the injuries sustained to Vinokourov and Klöden on stage 5, Leipheimer said, “That definitely set them back and I think that they’ve used that as a way to avoid taking responsibility. Obviously for good reason, because we saw that Vino is among the best right now. He’ll get better. I wouldn’t count him out, that’s for sure. It would be a mistake to write Vino’ off.”

Unlike Vinokourov, who said prior to this year’s Tour that his chances of winning the overall are “now or never,” Leipheimer said he’s not pinning everything on this Tour.

“I wouldn’t say it’s now or never for me in the Tour,” he said. “Every year I do a Tour, I realize I want it more and more. I always want to achieve my best performance. I know there’s a really good ride inside mye. I know I don’t have 10 years, but it’s not now or never.”

Without hesitation, Leipheimer said he still believes he can finish on the podium in Paris.

“I am optimistic, yes,” Leipheimer said. “I’ve ridden those [Pyrénées] stages. A lot of people thought yesterday was hard. It will get even harder. The tour is always hard. There’s always the Alps, always the Pyrénées. We can speculate on which climb is the hardest, which stage is the hardest, but in the end, the Tour is always hard, and the best rider always wins.”


For video excerpts from Leipheimer’s press conference, check VeloNewsTV.

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