By Andrew Hood
Levi Leipheimer (Astana) couldn’t quite stay with the elite group of GC riders on the upper reaches of the Joux-Plane and saw his chances of winning the Dauphiné Libéré for the second time and three years take a big hit.
Leipheimer hopes to bounce back in Saturday’s summit finish up La Toussuire to cap what’s been a wild spring for the veteran American.
Instead of preparing for the Tour de France as he’s done every season since 2002, his spring campaign was turned upside when he got the call to race the Giro d’Italia just a week before it started.
Now racing the Dauphiné with less than a week’s recovery, he’s still poised to finish on the top-three podium if he can ride well in the closing two stages.
VeloNews caught up with him Friday evening in Morzine before he had dinner with his teammates to talk about the Joux-Plane. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews.com: How did things go for you up the Joux-Plane, it looked like you were OK before Valverde attacked and almost got back on?
Levi Leipheimer: I’m recovered now. I just had a bad moment. I wasn’t feeling super and you have to feel 100 percent to be in a group like that. You saw who was there. You obviously can’t be perfect every day. You could see how select that group was by the guys who were there. If you’re not a 100 percent, you can lose those 20 to 30 seconds. I was doing okay. I was comfortable and I wanted to keep it like that to the top. Valverde threw down just to test everyone. I know myself pretty well and I usually come back in a situation like that.
VN: Evans said he attacked when he saw you suffering a little bit, how was it up the final part of the climb?
LL: I don’t understand what Cadel was doing. People who win the Tour de France don’t race like that. He was just doing Alejandro’s job for him. Now he has second instead of third. You have to race to win and he wasn’t obviously doing that. I was clawing my way back at my own pace and I was close, but with about one kilometer from the summit, Cadel started to pull those guys. I just exploded a little bit and I think I lost about 30 seconds there. The Joux-Plane kind of rolls across the top and there’s another uphill section after the King of the Mountain banner. They had a little group going and I could see Szmyd attacking. It’s always easier in a group than going alone. By the time I hit the descent, I couldn’t see them anymore. I was going pretty fast, but when you’re by yourself on the descent, it’s different. I don’t know who was leading in that group, but Zubeldia and Valverde can really descend fast.
VN: What are you expecting for La Toussuire in Saturday’s stage, it’s a climb you know well from the 2006 Dauphiné and the Tour?
LL: I just hope to be at my best. It’s a longer stage, like a Tour stage. La Toussuire isn’t that hard. It’s long and steady, but we have the Croix de Fer before that, which is hard. There won’t be such a big group at the bottom. Today we had the whole peloton at the bottom of the Joux-Plane, so that always makes it very fast. If I feel good and I have the legs, I’ll attack. If not, I’ll just try to hang on.
VN: Overall, how are your sensations so far in this Dauphiné, especially after coming out of the Giro, which you didn’t expect to be racing?
LL: I’m happy. I won the prologue and did a very good time trial the other day. It was a perfect course for Valverde. He’s very strong now, so be within 19 seconds of him is a good result. If it was a flatter course, maybe I could have won, but that’s just how the race is this year. Yesterday I was feeling much better. Today my legs were hurting and I just didn’t have any acceleration. Valverde is looking very strong. It looks like Evans is just racing for second. He figures he can’t beat him.
VN: So what’s next for you after the Dauphiné? Are you expecting a last-minute change from the Tour de France?
LL: I’m heading back to the U.S. and get ready for the Olympics. I’ll take it day by day. We’re not expecting anything to change. It certainly wouldn’t be ideal to try to race the Tour after the schedule we’ve had.
VN: How is it going to feel for you to watch the Tour this year from home?
LL: Right now, I don’t care because I’m focused on racing here. I’m sure when the Tour’s on, it’s going to hurt. I’m just going to try to focus on riding my bike and doing something different. It’s the first time in eight years that I will be home for the Fourth of July. Maybe I will have a barbecue and watch some fireworks.