The American on training, traveling and two Tours
By Ben Delaney
Training in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his Astana teammates, Levi Leipheimer is looking forward to another season as America’s best active stage racer. Albuquerque police have been giving Astana rolling enclosures during training rides. When the team comes to stop signs or red lights, it doesn’t stop. At 34, Leipheimer doesn’t intend to stop, either.
As the Montana native’s performances have steadily improved over the past few years, so too have his roles within various teams. After two years with U.S. Postal Service (2000-2001), Leipheimer moved to Rabobank for three seasons. In 2002 he placed 8th overall at the Tour de France. In 2005, riding with the support of Gerolsteiner, he came 6th overall at the Tour.
Then, another key element shifted in the bike racing landscape. Lance Armstrong retired. Individuals’ and teams’ tactics at the Tour changed dramatically.
“The key factor was ‘with Lance, without Lance,’” Leipheimer said. “He was the strongest rider, bar none. If everything was going okay, he had a 99.9 percent chance he was going to win [the Tour]. His team had one job. And my tactic was simple: Try to hang on as long as possible. Now it is more wide open.”
After a few seasons racing against the strongest squad, Leipheimer is enjoying the prospect of racing within the strongest Tour squad this year.
VeloNews sat down in Albuquerque with the defending Tour of California champion for a quick chat.
VeloNews: You’ve been working for a few years with Dr. Max Testa. How much of your training is dictated by Max, and how much is determined by yourself or Astana?
Levi Leipheimer: On a day-to-day basis at home, Max gives me a schedule. One of my strengths as a cyclist is that I make my life work around that schedule. That’s priority number one for me, and I try to follow that to a T. Because more than anything, and the most important part of it, is that it gives me peace of mind that I’ve done everything right. And that I’ve done everything I can to prepare myself on the bike. Pushing myself hard. I think that’s important.
VN: Were you ever the type of person who would overtrain?
LL: There’s was certainly times when I overtrained. I think every athlete goes through that. You learn through it. It’s almost necessary. You teach yourself a lesson and you find out your limits. But in the last couple of years, I’ve just pushed myself harder and harder. I’m older now and I can take it. And the schedule that I have allows me to take it to the limit and get myself into condition to win a race like the Tour of California.
VN: How much of that is power based?
LL: A lot of it. Obviously your feelings and sensations are the most important, and you have to always defer to that ultimately. But the power meter is downloaded and checked every day. It’s a big part of it.
VN: ASO and the UCI have been engaged in a struggle for control of major races. How does this affect you?
LL: I wish I could say I knew more, but honestly I can’t follow it. Johan [Bruyneel] made an interesting comment the other day: As people inside the sport, we can’t understand it. I don’t understand how people outside can follow it. As a rider I hope there can be some resolution for the health of the sport.
VN: You’ve moved around to a number of different teams. How comfortable are you with the jump to Astana?
LL: I’m older now, and am certainly at a point where I know what to expect. I know what my job is, what my role is. I have switched to a lot of teams and been through that uncomfortable nervous feeling before, and that certainly has disappeared. But there’s still that excitement to come to camp, and to train with everyone. And to get on a brand new bike and put on brand new clothes. That is still a big part of it.
VN: You live out of the suitcase quite a bit of the year. A portion of being able to go well is being relaxed, being able to recover. Is there anything you do to relax when you’ve been on planes and busses and cars, or is it an experience thing?
LL: It is an experience thing. You’ve been there; you’ve done that. Being on the team bus, after a while it doesn’t feel like home but it is familiar. You just know what to expect and you feel more at ease with yourself and your surroundings. A big part of that, being in Europe and coming back home and recovering is my wife. Without that I would have never made it this far. She understands and she does all the work.
VN: Speaking of knowing what to expect, what do you expect this season?
LL: We have an amazing team. Like Johan said, the strongest team on paper, especially when it comes to the Tour de France. I’ve done the Tour a number of times. Being on a team that everyone looks to is something I’ve always wanted to be in that position. So I’m looking forward to that. I think we’re going to have a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure. But it’s going to be fun. I’ve been on the other side of it, many years. And I like challenges. Being the favorite.
VN: You’re going to the Tour of California as the favorite, and going to the Tour de France as a favorite. Between those two, what is on your schedule?
LL: Paris-Nice, Castilla y Leon and the Dauphiné Libéré.