By Andrew Hood
Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) will enter this year’s Tour de France with a much different profile than his three previous starts.
After what he calls a three-year apprenticeship at Rabobank, a newly confident Leipheimer is ready to aim for the podium
After his impressive performance at the Dauphiné Libéré, where he finished third overall and missed winning two stages by less than a second, Leipheimer knows he can ride with the best under any conditions.
Leipheimer answered journalists’ questions about his past, his present and his future… at least through July. Here’s what he had to say:
Question: What have you done since the Tour de Georgia and is your progression on target for the Tour?Levi Leipheimer: I haven’t raced since the Tour de Georgia and I actually took 10 days of rest, because it’s important to recharge mentally and physically. I’ve been training really hard since then, sometimes I thought too hard, but obviously not.
Q: What are your expectations for the Tour?LL: After last year, when I finished ninth, I said to myself that I want to be in the top 5 and with a little bit of luck, I can be on the podium on the Champs Elysées. I don’t want to finish eighth or ninth again. If I find myself in that position, maybe I will risk it a little more and go for a stage-win.
Q: What difference has it made switching to Gerolsteiner?LL: I don’t think we can say it’s that one team works better than another for the reason why I’m riding better. I’ve matured. I’ve changed teams, which has given me new motivation, a fresh start and a clean slate. As soon as I did that I had more motivation that ever, because I had a rebirth, I could leave all the mistakes I had behind, but take that experience with me.
Q: You seem like a new rider this year, is that true?LL: I am more confident. To explain a little bit, when you’re a rider and when you’re on a team, like when I was on U.S. Postal, I was not a big rider. I was the rider to do small races that no one else wanted to go to. Then I had my grand tour in the Vuelta and I really showed what I could do. I was a bit thrown into the fire, by going to Rabobank and leading in the Tour de France. It’s very stressful, it’s a bit scary. I wasn’t afraid, to be honest it’s all a bit overwhelming. Then I had the bad crash, so it takes a couple of years to get to that level and being comfortable riding next to Lance and Jan. I think it’s a question of maturity. I’m still the same person; I just have a different mentality.
Q: Three or four years ago, you made the transition from helper to team leader, has that gone as well as you’ve hoped?LL: When I earned third place at the 2001 Vuelta, it was my first grand tour. The next year, in my first Tour de France, I was eighth place. I thought that was pretty good. The next year I had a big crash and broke my hip. After that, I had another ninth place. For three years, I’ve had the chance to learn about the Tour de France and learn all the things about preparing, etc. Now I have all the confidence and another mentality about the Tour. It’s not normal to think about winning the Tour the first time you race it.
Q: How do you see Armstrong this year?LL: He’s definitely the favorite. You can’t win six Tours in a row and not be the favorite, even if he’s a little bit behind, which apparently he is. You can’t be so sure he went 100 percent today. Maybe he was 99 percent. For sure, he’s only using this race for training and I have no doubt he will be his best in July when the real mountains start at the Tour. He’s the favorite.
Q: Who can win the Tour this year?LL: After Lance, there are many. I see Ullrich, Vinokourov, me, Landis, I have no idea. The thing that’s sure about the Tour is it will be a big spectacle.