Leipheimer embraces dark horse role in Tour de France
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Friday, June 29, 2012

Leipheimer embraces dark horse role in Tour de France

by VeloNation Press at 7:17 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
American rider hopeful of hitting top form in race

Levi LeipheimerHaving been sidelined due to a fracture but then showing strong form in the Tour de Suisse, netting third overall, Levi Leipheimer begins his tenth Tour de France knowing that he could end up being one of the big contenders. The 2007 runner-up sounds a little uncertain about his chances, but also hopes that his form will continue to grow after the Swiss race.

“Already in California, my condition was better than expected, and in Switzerland I was better than I expected,” he said. “So hopefully I can continue that trend. I think in Switzerland I didn't expect to be as good as I was. In fact, I felt pretty good on the climbs, so I am hoping for the best.”

Leipeheimer’s move to the Omega Pharma Quick Step squad meant that he was always likely to be the designated leader of the team in the Tour. Tony Martin has made it clear that he will target the time trials rather than the overall classification, with the German never showing thus far that he can climb with the best in the Tour.

Leipheimer’s buildup was affected when he was hit by a car in Spain on April 1st, one day before he was due to begin the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. He flew back to the US and was told then that scans had revealed a fractured left fibula.

He recovered in time to ride the Amgen Tour of California, where the three-time winner finished a solid sixth in the general classification. He was then third on the Arosa stage and third overall in the Tour de Suisse, showing strong mountains form there.

Leipheimer crashed in last year’s Tour and doesn’t want to make any predictions this time. “I’ll take it day by day, and sometimes kilometre by kilometre,” he said, “because it's going to be a long few weeks. A lot will happen. There will be crashes, there will be drama. I'll just take it day by day and try to relax as much as possible.”

The 38 year old’s move from RadioShack to Omega Pharma Quick Step came at a time when the previous Quick Step team had an influx of new faces and backing. After a relatively quiet 2011, the team has thrived this year and clocked up over 38 wins, including Tom Boonen’s Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, Tony Martin’s Tour of Belgium and Leipheimer’s Tour de San Luis.

And while Boonen won’t be present at the Tour, the American believes that the momentum will continue there with the other riders.

“We have a much more diverse [and] I guess bigger team than before. It's fun to be part of it,” he said. “For example we've seen the rebirth of Tom Boonen, which I think has to do with all the changes that have happened. He's very motivated, you can tell he's very happy and it has translated to one of the best seasons for anybody. It's been fun to be a part of — the team has supported me, and I think everyone has got tremendous support from the team.”

Leipheimer will be joined by Martin, former stage winner and Maillot Jaune Sylvain Chavanel, twin brothers Peter and Martin Velits, Kevin De Weert, Dries Devenyns, former world TT champion Bert Grabsch and Jerome Pineau.

He said that he didn’t intend to instruct his team to take charge of the race. “For someone like myself, who is maybe a dark horse, it's better to maybe wait, wait, and play off of the others,” he said. “For sure their teams will have a lot more responsibility, but that's part of it. It's a give and take.

“Anything can happen, and the race itself is more difficult than anyone can tender. We're not battling each other so much one-to-one — sometimes you are — but you really have to battle the race the elements, and all the factors that come with racing across France for three weeks.”

The race is regarded as a real test of physical endurance, but Leipheimer also emphasises the mental aspect. He’ll bank on his experience of the Tour and being in a high overall position to help him deal with that. “The race puts all of us under pressure equally. The one who wins is the one who stood up to that pressure the best,” he said.

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