Interview with Levi Leipheimer

Levi getting in some early season training miles
Levi getting in some early season training miles CREDIT:Al Crawford

Two stage races and two wins for Levi Leipheimer. After taking victory at the Amgen Tour of California, next up he was scheduled to compete in Paris-Nice. However Leipheimer discovered that he had fractured the sacrum in his stage 3 crash, scraping plans for competing. Once he had healed up and was race ready, Leipheimer took the line in the Spanish race Castilla y Leon but not as a threat to the overall in the Spanish race. Astana had an all-star line up which included Contador and Armstrong. However that race took an unfortunate turn of events for the Astana team. Armstrong broke his collarbone in stage 1 of Castilla putting his chances of a first time entry into the Giro at risk. While the team took a hit with Armstrong unable to continue, Leipheimer stepped up and won the time trial solidifying his leadership on the team for this race. Contador than became his super-domestique. I talked to Levi once he had returned home to Santa Rosa before his next race, the Giro d’ Italia. We discussed Castilla y Leon, having three leaders on the same team, the possibility of doing the Hour Record and my influence on persuading Lance to compete in the US Pro road race championships in Greenville.

Neil: You bounced back from fracturing your sacrum to winning the Castilla y Leon. Was that a surprise to you?
Yeah it was. The fracture wasn’t that bad. I was able to finish the Amgen Tour of California with it. I took it pretty easy after the Tour of California and recovered. Unfortunately I missed Paris-Nice because it would have been risky to crash on it again. The silver lining was that I was on form for Castilla y Leon.

Neil: Amongst the media it was seen as Castilla y Leon was going to be a showdown between yourself, Contador and Armstrong. How was the vibe between you three?

It’s a lot different from what you read about in the media. It’s what Lance always says, the media love to write about it and it makes sense. One guy has won the Tour, another has won it before and they’re on the same team. The only way I can explain it is in the way we raced. You could see that Alberto was very professional and committed. He destroyed everyone on the climb for me.

Neil: Lance’s stage 1 crash must have been an, ‘Oh crap” moment.
Yeah. It was about 25 kilometers to go and the road had gone from super-narrow to ridiculously-narrow. The road was rough. It was nervous all day, especially at the end. I was at the very front at that moment and I heard Sean Yates say something like, ‘Lance is off’ or ‘Lance is out.’ I asked him what he meant but the radio reception was bad and I didn’t find out till after the stage that he had crashed and broke his collarbone. It was a big shock.

Neil: The time trial was a pivotal moment for you in this race. Were you expecting to be performing so well at this point?
No. It was a bit of a surprise. I felt pretty good on the first stage and thought I would get better on the second day. I was looking forward to it, but I didn’t expect to win.

Neil: Going into the Giro do you have any pressure on you?
No, definitely not. I’ll take it day by day. I think it will be a big work load for the Tour and a take it as it comes approach. It’s quite a different race and I’m not sure it’s my kind of race. It’s really technical and you could lose 20 seconds here, 20 seconds there. I’m not sure if I’m used to that type of racing. I’ve only done the Giro once before. I’ll play it by ear. I think the most important thing is to not kill myself too early because the Tour is only a month after that.

Neil: You’ve had these two wins in the early season. Are you concerned that your form is coming too quickly or do you think you are still only 80% of what you think you could be in July?
I think it is impossible to say what percentage form you are at. I’ve always read quotes from riders that say they are 70% and I’ve always wondered how they can tell. I guess you can look at your numbers (watts). In a three-week long stage race it depends more on how you come into it and how things change during the race. I got into shape to win the Amgen Tour of California, I still had the form to win Castilla y Leon and it’s not a matter of still going up from there. It’s more a matter of recovering and doing more training and staying in shape. You need to balance how hard you are pushing in races and how hard you are pushing with training along with recovery.

Neil: Is that what you are doing now in California?
Yeah, because I don’t have another race till the Giro and I wanted to come back home. I train much better here.

Neil: Let me throw a random question at you: The Hour Record? You’ve been time trialing really well.
I don’t know. I’m aero. I can stay in my position for a long time. I don’t know the details of it. I’ve ridden on a track before, but never raced on one. It’s an interesting idea. Maybe Steve Hed will help me out.

Neil: Is the USPRO in Greenville a possibility?
Yeah I would like to go. Definitely. Maybe I’ll get Lance to go.

Neil: Why not? Tell him I said he should do it. I carry a lot of influence with him.
I will tell him that. I’m not joking.

Neil Browne for ROAD magazine – Astana Cycling Team website