Levi Leipheimer isn’t used to racing in Europe so early in the season, at least not since the inception of the Tour of California in 2006.
Since then, Leipheimer has been Mr. February, winning three consecutive Tours of California to open each season with a major victory.
With the California tour now set in May, Leipheimer is adjusting this racing and training schedule accordingly.
Leipheimer is making his 2010 season debut this week at the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal. VeloNews caught up with Leipheimer before the start of Friday’s third stage.
VeloNews: This is quite a different start for you compared to the past few years?
Levi Leipheimer: Yes, it is. I am not in the same shape I normally am at this part of the year, but that’s the plan. I am suffering a little more than I normally am in February, but I am still pretty good.
VN: Will it help you later in the season not having peak so early?
LL: It is easier. I have enjoyed training really hard in the winter for the Tour of California. It was very intense training. I just had it dialed and I really enjoyed it. I am not complaining that it was hard, I actually kind of miss it.
VN: What was your reaction when the race organizers moved the event from February to May?
LL: I can totally understand, especially with the weather we’ve had the last couple of years. That’s not the California that everyone knows. It makes sense. I think it’s a good spot. It goes up against the Giro; I think it’s a good place on the calendar.
VN: How has your schedule changed to make the adjustment?
LL: I’ll do Algarve, Paris-Nice, using these races to build the form and build the base, then at some point I will go back to the States and I will train really hard for the Tour of California and do what I’ve been doing these past three years.
VN: Now that you’ve won three straight, how much pressure is there to four-peat?
LL: There’s more and more pressure each time. You build a longer streak and the expectations are higher and higher. Eventually someone is going to come along, right? I think Dave (Zabriskie) is the number-one favorite this year. He’s focused on it and he’s shown that he’s improved. He’s come out and said he wants to win. I’d say he’s the big favorite. At this point, it’s his race to lose.
VN: When will you return to Europe?
LL: Maybe the Tour de Swiss makes more sense, but we haven’t decided yet. After the Tour of California, I will need a rest. Especially considering that the Tour is another six weeks away, you got to make sure you build up again for July.
VN: How are things coming together with the new project at RadioShack?
LL: I wouldn’t call it a new project. It’s a team that’s always been here. We certainly have the big American sponsor again in RadioShack, so it feels more like the days of U.S. Postal and Discovery Channel. RadioShack has been superb so far, they’ve really been behind the team. As riders, we’re in contact with them. They’re big cycling fans, and as riders, we can feel their support. That’s really nice.
VN: The team will be very strong in the Tour, what are your personal goals?
LL: We don’t have the favorite on our team, that’s Alberto, so we’re going to have to devise a different strategy than what we’re used to. It’s going to be fun and exciting. I think people will get their money’s worth.
VN: RadioShack will have three favorites for the podium, how will the team manage that?
LL: We don’t have the biggest favorite, so we have to play all of our cards. There might be moments when we have to sacrifice one or the other, but the ideal situation is that we keep all those cards in play as long as possible and somewhere, somehow, we look for the opportunity to win.
VN: How much do you think Contador will miss of the support the team gave him during four grand tour victories?
LL: I cannot speak for Alberto, but I am proud of the support that we gave him in those races. I was with him in all four of those grand tour wins. That’s something I am proud of. In that Vuelta victory, I was a key part of that and I made some sacrifices, and I know that’s part of the sport. I share the victory that he had there. I know that we supported him the best as possible.
VN: What kind of things did he do to thank you?
LL: For example, I have a jersey signed by him from all four grand tours. That’s a nice piece of memorabilia. There are some other personal things that I’d rather not say.
VN: How difficult was it for you to crash out last year?
LL: It’s tough, it’s really tough. I’ve had to do it before. It’s not easy to be in the race, and the next day you’re watching it on TV. You don’t think about that happening beforehand, so when it does, it’s a shock.
VN: So overall, how are you feeling coming into the season?
LL: Physically I am OK. Well, I lost one of my dogs a few nights ago. We think an owl took him, so I am kind of distracted. It was Trooper, the little short-haired Chihuahua, he was kind of my dog. Odessa let the dogs out before bed and the owl tried to take one of our other dogs, and we think Trooper tried to step in and the owl took him. He basically just disappeared with no trace. Other than that, I am fine.