October 9 - Weekly Rap Spotlight: A Spin with Levi Leipheimer
It's been another successful season for Levi Leipheimer. It began in February in San Francisco where the Butte, Montana native won the opening prologue, giving him the very first Amgen Tour of California leader's jersey to wear as the peloton raced into his current hometown of Santa Rosa during the first stage. Throngs of fans lined the streets to cheer on their local hero. He went on to win the King of the Mountains title en route to finishing 6th overall. In June, he won the prestigious Tour de France tune-up race, the Dauphine Libere, which instantly made him a favorite for Le Tour. But the 1999 U.S. National Time Trial champion had an uncharacteristically bad day in the first time trial, which cost him valuable time along and his shot at the GC win. But he re-grouped and re-focused on stage wins and scored an impressive 2nd place in a tough mountain stage. In August, he went back as defending champion of the Tour of Germany, this time taking 2nd overall. Leipheimer's season ended Labor Day weekend in Greenville, South Carolina where he finished 2nd at the USPRO National Road Race Championship.
Change is on the horizon for the member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team as he prepares to move from Gerolsteiner to the Discovery Channel team next season. Discovery Channel is the team that was formerly sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, who Leipheimer raced for when he made his Grand Tour debut at the 2001 Vuelta a Espana. It was in that race that he became the first American ever to finish on the podium, making a name for himself in the European peloton. He followed that performance up by finishing 4th at the World Championship Time Trial. The following season, Leipheimer joined the Dutch Rabobank team as Tour de France team leader, where he raced for three years, finishing Top 10 in Le Tour on several occasions. He spent the past two seasons with the German Gerolsteiner team. Leipheimer is excited about coming back home to race for the U.S.-based Discovery Channel next season at races such as the Tour de France and the Amgen Tour of California.
The Weekly Rap: What were your expectations coming into the Amgen Tour of California – both for yourself and of the race itself?
Levi Leipheimer: I was very excited about it and I knew it would be a huge success. Knowing the race organizers, Medalist Sports, they always put on great events. Knowing Amgen, knowing AEG, including Mr. Anshutz, these are people who I knew were going to do it right and in a big way. I knew the money would be there to ensure that things would be done at the highest level.
TWR: What were your goals for this year's Amgen Tour of California?
LL: I definitely wanted to win it.
TWR: Did you train specifically for the race? Did you preview any of the stages?
LL: Yes, I did. I knew that I was very good from the numbers I was putting up on my power meter in training. I wasn't peaking, but I knew I was very good. I previewed the first two stages. Of course I knew the first one in Santa Rosa very well. I knew the climbs in Solvang and San Luis Obispo as well.
TWR: Riding into Santa Rosa in the leader's jersey must have been a special feeling. Please tell us about your thoughts that day, especially when you saw the huge crowds who were there to support you.
LL: It was one of the best days of my career. To lead a world-class peloton into your hometown wearing the leader's jersey was amazing. That's a very rare and special thing for a cyclist.
TWR: What was your favorite stage of the Amgen Tour of California? How do the cycling fans in California compare to the fans in Europe?
LL: Like I just said, obviously I loved the Santa Rosa stage in my hometown. Technically-speaking, I liked the stage in San Jose although it was hard for the three of us to stay away since the climb was far from the finish and the roads were flat and wide. I wish it had been more of an uphill finish. The crowds were big, like what you see at races like the Tour of Germany. Actually there were more people along the T our of California route than at the Vuelta.
TWR: The Amgen Tour of California was your first stage race of the season. Did you use the race as a test or to try new equipment?
LL: I had trained hard through the winter and I used the race as an early season goal, which helped a lot with motivation. It also allowed me to go easier in the spring after training harder in the winter.
TWR: The Tour de France is your biggest goal of the season, but how did competing in the Amgen Tour of California help you this season?
LL: It was nice to have a shorter term goal for February, which really helped with motivation. It's hard to train in the winter thinking about the Tour de France in July. The Tour of California gave me something to train for throughout the winter.
TWR: You recently signed with Discovery Channel for next season, which is a homecoming of sorts since they were the U.S. Postal Service team you previously raced for. What most appealed to you about coming back to the team?
LL: They were the team that I started racing in Europe with. Then I went on my own path, which is really what it felt like being on a foreign team. I was on my own as the only American and I had to do everything on my own, but it made me who I am now so I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. But I'm completely different now and I'd like to take my experience and go back to the best team in the world.
TWR: Please tell us about your role on the team. Were you promised a leadership role at the Tour de France?
LL: Yes, I was. But depending upon who else they sign, it might be a co-leadership role, which isn't a bad thing. They might sign another high profile rider before the end of the year and if so, we'll share the leadership. But there are other races that I target as well that I'll be the leader for, like the Tour of California, (Tour of ) Georgia, the Dauphine Libere, and the Tour of Germany, which I love as well. I think I can do well at or win those races.
TWR: Was there anything that surprised you about the life of a pro cyclist that you didn't know before you became one?
LL: Nothing really surprised me, but it is a slow process and the level of commitment is huge. I've been a pro for ten years now and I get more and more focused and more and more committed each year. But the process is very slow.
TWR: What's your favorite place in all of California? What's your favorite place to ride in California?
LL: Well I live in Santa Rosa so that's my favorite place and I think we've got the best roads in the state to ride right here. But I also love riding in Monterey, Santa Barbara, Tahoe, Reading…north of here (Santa Rosa) along the coast is amazing also.
TWR: Many of your teammates are German. How did your foreign teammates like racing in California?
LL: The team came to Santa Rosa a week before the race started and they've been talking about it ever since. They loved it here and they were very impressed with the race. They've been saying that next year they want to come in a week early and stay for two weeks after the race. They all went home with iPods and all kinds of stuff.
TWR: Outside of cycling, what else are you passionate about?
LL: Animals. My wife, Odessa, is the co-director of an animal rescue called A Leg Up. We're rescuing all kinds of animals all the time. We've got three dogs and six cats here now.
TWR: Where do you spend the off-season? Do you have any special plans for the off-season? When does the real training for next season begin?
LL: Home in Santa Rosa. I travel so much during the season and we spend half our time in Spain so it's nice to just be at home. We'll do a few small trips here and there, but nothing major. I'll start training in the first half of November. For now, I take some time off the road bike and I'll ride the mountain bike 3 or 4 times a week. I also like doing Pilates during the off-season.
TWR: Looking down the road, do you think that the USA could successfully stage a prestigious three-week grand tour that would be the equivalent to the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana?
LL: We could in terms of quality, but probably not in terms of magnitude and history. The Tour of California already did it though in terms of quality, perhaps even better than some of the Grand Tours. The roads were great, the hotels were great and races were run very well.
TWR: Are you planning to come back to the Amgen Tour of California next season?
LL: Yes, for sure. I would love to win it.
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