By Andrew Hood
Leipheimer realistic about German tour
Going into Thursday’s grueling climbing stage at the Tour of Germany, Levi Leipheimer continues to have realistic expectations in what’s his final major stage race of the 2005 season.
The 31-year-old Gerolsteiner captain went into Wednesday’s action poised with the main leaders at just 23 seconds behind race leader Bram Tankink (Quick Step). Danielle Bennati (Lampre) won the bunch sprint while Tankink stayed in the leader’s jersey.
“The Tour of Germany is hard. I didn’t even look at the profiles until last week. It surprised me – it’s like a mini-Tour de France,” Leipheimer said. “I’ll just go and see if I get a result. If not, I’ll help out the team as much as possible. Maybe I’ll have some good legs.”
Leipheimer said if he’s not up to the task, especially in Thursday’s tough climbing stage to 2,600 meters high in the mountains above Solden, Austria, he’ll help teammate Georg Totschnig, who’s especially motivated because he hails from the region.
“Keeping the motivation high is hard, because the Tour is the big goal of the season,” Leipheimer said. “Then when the Tour is over, I started looking at some of the other races, but it’s hard when you don’t have the motivation as you do before.”
Following his strong Tour performance – when his fifth place finish was snatched away in the final day heroics of Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) – Leipheimer unplugged for a few days after the three-week pressure-cooker.
“I went home and relaxed,” he said. “I took it easy for a week, but I stayed on the bike. I only took two days off the bike. I went on some easy rides, built in some training. Nothing huge, but I did some long rides, enough to keep the legs going.”
Leipheimer said he was satisfied with his 2005 Tour, his best ever in four starts with sixth place. He was able to follow the strongest in all the decisive mountain stages, but admitted his strong form came on a year when most of the top favorites hit stride as well.
“It’s my best Tour ever, but everyone I spoke with agreed by far that it was the hardest Tour in recent years,” he said. “All the top 10 favorites, with the possible exception of Roberto Heras, came in with strong form and plus we had some new guys there like Rasmussen and Evans.”
Leipheimer said he’ll conclude his season at the G.P. San Francisco (“a good race to end the season with”) then regroup in his California home before returning to Europe next year for another run at the 2006 Tour.
“I’ll try to improve and get better,” he said. “I’m happy about the Tour, but I’m never completely satisfied. That’s part of sportsmanship. That’s what keeps you going, the desire to improve. When that’s gone, it’s time to stop.”
Saunier Duval optimistic for Vuelta
Saunier Duval, fresh off a nice winning streak in August, is optimistic ahead of this year’s Vuelta a España. Despite not having a clear team rider for the GC, the Spanish team promises to go on the attack.
“We don’t have a big leader, but we’ll have a strong team,” said sport director Joxean Fernandez to AS. “The Vuelta is very important for us. We’re going to attack and I’m sure we’ll be compensated. I hope that we’ll take at least two stages.”
The team is enjoying a nice run, with recent victories in the Tour of Burgos, the Clásica San Sebastián and the Urkiola one-day climbing race Sunday. The team has finally earned some well-deserved wins after finishing second in 24 races this season.
Simoni doubtful for Vuelta
Gilberto Simoni said he might not be up to the task of racing in the Vuelta a Espana later this month after to keep up in the Tour of Portugal this week. “I’ll see what happens, but now I feel tired and I only want to recuperate,” Simoni said in Portugal. “After the third stage I was thinking about abandoning, but now that the heat has decreased, maybe I’ll make it to the finale.” Simoni raced in the Portuguese tour to gain some fitness ahead of the Vuelta, but now he’s wondering if he’ll take the start Aug. 27 in Granada, Spain. “If I had known before, I wouldn’t have come,” he said. “This is a big race for the Spanish and Portuguese teams and every day they’re going at the maximum, always at a high speed.”
Attacking style pays off for Frenchies
Christophe Mengin, the 36-year-old veteran who crashed into the barriers on the wet stage into Nancy in this year’s Tour de France, has extended his contract with FDJeux for one more season.
Walter Beneteau, the Frenchman who was on the attack on the stage to Aix-3 Domaines in the Tour, extended his contract with Bouygues Telecom for two more seasons.