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Q&A with Levi Leipheimer, Part 2: Raising the bar

Levi Leipheimer is training this week in Mallorca, Spain, where he's lining up for his first of two seasons with Gerolsteiner. The German team was looking for another GC rider to complement Georg Totschnig, and Leipheimer was looking for new challenges after three seasons with Rabobank.Working on the upcoming VeloNews "Road Season Preview," European correspondent Andrew Hood came to Mallorca and spoke with Leipheimer this week as the American pro reflected on his years with Rabobank and what he's hoping for in 2005 and beyond. This is part two of the interview; to read part one, click here.

By Andrew Hood

Leipheimer's aiming higher with Gerolsteiner

Leipheimer’s aiming higher with Gerolsteiner

Photo: Graham Watson

Levi Leipheimer is training this week in Mallorca, Spain, where he’s lining up for his first of two seasons with Gerolsteiner. The German team was looking for another GC rider to complement Georg Totschnig, and Leipheimer was looking for new challenges after three seasons with Rabobank.Working on the upcoming VeloNews “Road Season Preview,” European correspondent Andrew Hood came to Mallorca and spoke with Leipheimer this week as the American pro reflected on his years with Rabobank and what he’s hoping for in 2005 and beyond. This is part two of the interview; to read part one, click here. Look for a complete profile on Leipheimer and his new team in the upcoming issue of VeloNews. – Editor

VeloNews: What do you think you learned from Rabobank and your experience there?

Levi Leipheimer: A lot of things I learned about myself. I learned a lot from guys like Dekker. Just seeing the different personalities and seeing how they achieve their goals. Like Freire, the guy does not stress about cycling at all. I don’t think he’s the hardest worker in the world. But it works for him. He’s relaxed, always rides well with a clear head. That’s something you can learn from. That doesn’t mean that working at the same level as him will work for everyone, because he’s so naturally talented. He’ll forget his shoes before the world championships. Last year, he was leading Tirreno-Adriatico, forgot that he had the leader’s jersey, and pinned his number on his regular jersey. There’s not just one way to do. You can’t read about Lance Armstrong and go copy it and win the Tour.

VN: You’ve reached a point where you want to step up your goals?

LL: Definitely, eighth in my first Tour, ninth in the my second to confirm it, there’s no reason to get seventh or sixth again. I want a top-five, and if you’re in the top-five, you never know what can happen with a little bit of luck. I’m not going to worry too much about holding on to a high place and risk a little more and go for the stage win, even if I’m sitting in eighth place in the third week, I’ll go for the break, if they want to chase from behind, they can chase.

VN: Is that something you’ve spoken with the Gerolsteiner staff or is that a personal decision that you’ve made?

LL: They’re looking for someone to step up. I’ve had my Tour de France apprenticeship at Rabobank, now I can put my experience to use and hopefully improve.

VN: Have you changed your training?

LL: Yes, I have. I’ve trained the same way the past three years so now it’s time for a change. I’ve learned to be more open and go with the flow, more willing to open my mind to new ways.

VN: Who are you working with?

LL: Always kept in contact with Max Testa, ever since he moved to Sacramento. I was talking to him a lot, doing some new testing. After a while, he just said, “Why don’t I help you write some training?” So far I’ve been doing it, I’ve been really happy. It’s more intensive than I’ve ever done. On the same side, it’s easier on my head I know exactly what I am going to do. It’s much more detailed than I’ve ever done. All the parameters are set. Everybody does their own thing. I’ve noticed a lot of guys are still doing the “old school” style, long, slow, seven-hours-a-day training, it does work. I’ve done that, I’m ready for something different.

VN: What are you goals this season?

LL: I’m going to look at the races that suit me best, possibly Romandie and Switzerland. Maybe I won’t go for the GC, go for a stage or two, try something new. Never Switzerland. The classics? If I am riding well, if I want to race … but they’ve never treated me well. No Giro, maybe the Vuelta, you can only plan up until the Tour and see how it goes.

VN: Looking back at the 2004 Tour, at Plateau de Beille, did you not eat enough?

LL: I think I started the day a little low in the tank. You’re doing six, seven major climbs, can’t eat on the climb, can’t eat on the downhill. You can’t eat enough to counteract what you’re burning. That’s something that I need to work on, devising a strategy to overcome that, because I am a little susceptible to running out of sugar on a hard day like that. It was six and a half hours, a lot of climbs, Jens Voigt was away most of the day, had his SRM on, kilojoules, over 7000 kilojoules, looking at 10K – you can’t eat that much in a day.

VN: For the 2004 Tour, that was the one bad day?

LL: I was with Lance, Azevedo and Basso, with about 10km to go, so I lost six minutes in 10km. That’s a lot. I don’t think I would have stayed with them all the way, but I think it would have been half that loss. A little bit better day at L’Alpe d’Huez, which is what I should have done, because that’s my strength is an uphill time trial. I think I had a poor warmup and just not a good day. Once in a while it happens. Without those two days, which I think can be corrected, I’m looking at a top-five.

VN: You feel have the ability and the experience to be there.

LL: It’s being prepared, is what it comes down to.

VN: Taking more chances – what’s it take to try to win a stage?

LL: My goal was to ride for the GC. When I looked at the Tour beforehand and studied the route, I picked out one spot where you could take a chance and attack and not risk too much of blowing. That one spot is where I attacked, the day to Villard del Lans, because it was a downhill, short lap through town and the final little climb. When you look at La Mongie, you couldn’t attack on Aspin, because the downhill was too gentle; Rasmussen did and got caught. We’re going to crush those first two mountains because it’s the first mountain day. If you could attack in the La Mongie, you’re going to be on the podium in the Tour. Same with Plateau de Beille. Sastre attacked on La Mongie, it didn’t work. No one attacked on Plateau de Beille, because when Azevedo was done, there were just two guys left and they worked together. I’m excluding the early breakaways, obviously. At Villard de Lans, I gave it a go when Rasmussen and Virenque were getting caught. That’s where I felt like I could be aggressive and not risk too much. The other spot was Forclaz, but Floyd Landis was too strong. Their whole team was smothering everybody. I thought the media in Holland didn’t understand. They called me lethargic for not attacking, but what they didn’t understand is that I am trying to stay in the race to where it’s down to the main players and it’s a real race. It’s too hard, I cannot attack. Besides Sastre’s attack on La Mongie, no one really attacked for the rest of the race.

VN: There was Ullrich’s move …

LL: That was a huge move. That was the best move of the Tour for someone being aggressive. It was amazing what he did. If he could ride like that every day, he’d be able to challenge Lance.

VN: Talk about how much that costs …

LL: I could have done what Virenque or Rasmussen were doing, going in the beginning of the stage. The reality is you’re going to get caught a few kilometers before Plateau de Beille, then you’re going to lose 10 minutes, then the GC hopes are gone. What do you want to do? Do you want to get on the camera and be aggressive? I’d rather see how high I can place, then it’s my race. I’d love to be aggressive in other races when it’s not really my main goal. Didn’t take a rocket scientist to see how strong Postal was — those early moves weren’t just going to work.