By Andrew Hood
Levi Leipheimer is racing in this week’s Paris-Nice, where his Rabobank team was hoping to push Erik Dekker onto the winner’s podium.
That is until Team CSC blew the race apart in Stage 2, leaving Dekker and Leipheimer more than 5 minutes in their wake. Leipheimer entered Paris-Nice with a different frame of mind from last year, when he focused his entire season on the Tour de France.
Leipheimer crashed out of last year’s Tour in the first road stage, breaking a bone in his hip that later impaired his preparation for the 2003 Vuelta a España.
This year, Leipheimer is changing his tune somewhat. The Tour remains the top goal of the season, but he wants to score some early season results as well. VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood caught up with Leipheimer a few days before the start of the race. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: How was your winter, when did you start seriously training again?
Levi Leipheimer: “I always stay on the bike. About the middle of November I started to train hard again. I was back in Santa Rosa. It was normal training, nothing new or different. I’ve got a few rides there I like a lot and I have a good group of local riders I join. Sonoma County is the best, it’s just awesome. It’s always warm, it has good roads.”
VN: How is your schedule shaping up and did you start racing earlier this season?
LL: “I rode the last two days of the Mallorca Challenge. I usually start with the Tour Med, but this year I wanted to start a few days earlier. After that I rode Tour Med, Laigueglia, Haut Var, Haribo. Next I’ll do Paris-Nice, Setmana Catalana, Tour of the Basque Country, Fleche Wallone, Liège. We don’t do (Tour of) Romandie. I wish we did, it’s a good race. We’ll do something like Frankfurt instead. June is still a long ways away, but maybe we’ll do Luxembourg or the Tour du Suisse.”
VN: What are you season goals?
LL: “There’s a block between Paris-Nice and Basque Country that I’d like to get a good result in one or two of those. Of course, there’s the Tour. It’s the biggest race and it’s something I can do well in the GC. It’s one of my objectives and that hasn’t changed.”
VN: So it’s important to you get a result in the spring?
LL: “I’ve tried to push my form along much quicker this year. I’ve done more racing than before. I’m trying to prepare more for March. It’s really picking races that are good for me and hopefully get a result in one of those three.”
VN: Was that a decision you made or was there pressure from the team?
LL: “It’s a decision we made with the team and me. The last two years we just went for the Tour. The first year it worked out OK, I was eighth. Last year tried to do the same thing; it didn’t work out so well. We just want to try something different. It’s a long year; it’s good to stay focused in the early part of the year.
VN: Are the Olympics part of your season?
LL: “I’d love to go, but the reality is there are not many spots. You never know how they’re going to pick the riders. It would be very cool, but I’m not going hold my breath. If the Tour goes well and I’m strong and they feel like I can be part of the team in the Olympics, hopefully I’ll get to go, but it’s not always that simple. For cycling, the Olympics are never the pinnacle of the sport, but it’s something you’d want to experience in your life. I think there’s a little part that I don’t have any control over.”
VN: And the Vuelta?
LL: “We’ll see after the Tour. It’s too long to plan that far.”
VN: What’s your level of motivation going into this season?
LL: “I’m very excited. Last year was a bit of a throw away year. I’d like to just have a good year and put that behind me.”
VN: How difficult was last year for you?
LL: “There’s nothing you can do, you just have to keep going. I just tried to get away from cycling and forget about it for the few weeks that I couldn’t ride. The hard part was coming back too fast. I didn’t have enough time to get in shape in Vuelta; I rushed in and didn’t ride enough to support the intensity in the racing. I just never got going again, that was the hard part.”
VN: What’s your take on the Tour course?
LL: “It’s a good for me. I’ve always like uphill time trials, that was always my strong point. I’m excited about that, that’s part of the race I’m looking forward. In the Tour this year, one thing I’ve noticed about the race there’s only like two ‘beyond category’ climbs in the whole tour, which is surprising. There’s going to be less big climbs and more Cat 1 more Cat 2’s. Maybe that will make it a little more explosive, take away from the some of the pure climbers. The Cat 1’s are still hard and the Tour is always hard. In a race that that’s big and hard, the strongest guy always wins.”
VN: What do you like most about climbing time trials?
LL: “In Europe, I haven’t done that many. I did one in Vuelta last year and that was my best result in the Vuelta. That’s why I was hoping they’d bring back the climbing time trial at Paris-Nice at Col d’Eze. That was becoming somewhat of a tradition there, but they’ve changed it. Back in the USA, I would win them all the time. I can focus and put out a steady max over the course. I have a good power to weight ratio.”
VN: What would be more important to you if you had to choose, to win a stage or is the GC the most important goal?
LL: “It really depends on the place in the GC. If you’re fifth or sixth, maybe it’s better to win the stage. If you get on the podium, that’s worth it. I’d rather be on the podium than win a stage.”
VN: How will Rabobank be organized for the Tour?
LL: “I’m still the sole GC rider, but we have numerous stage winners, Dekker, Boogerd, Rasmussen, Hunter, Freire, we’ve got a very good team. Every person can get a result, win a stage and we’ve always done well in the team time trial.”
VN: What’s your opinion on the rule limiting the time losses in the TTT?
LL: “That rule is kind of stupid. If you can lose six minutes riding at 90 percent, you might as well go 90 percent. It’s a big difference riding a time trial at 100 percent. Then they just shouldn’t have a TTT if they’re discerning in that way.”
VN: What’s your best hope for the Tour?
VN: “To finish on the podium. I’m just doing the best I can. I know what I can do and I’m trying to do my best and get to that level and get those results. Just like last year showed, you never know what can happen.”