While Levi is coy on the subject, several news sources are already claiming that the RadioShack rider will transfer to the Belgian squad Omega Pharma-Quick Step in 2012. The newly merged team has already hired HTC-Highroad’s DS Brian Holm for 2012 and he wasted no time blabbing to Sporten.dk about the transfer.
“Leipheimer has had one of his best seasons with a second place finish in the Tour of California, an overall victory in the Tour de Suisse and a first place in the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. He seems like a very likeable rider.”
On the surface this seems like an odd transfer, but as pointed out online, Leipheimer’s valuable World Tour points from his very successful 2011 campaign make him very “likable” for Omega Pharma-Quick Step. The Belgian squad desperately needs those points to stay in the World Tour game. Unfortunately, if we look at Levi’s wins this season, other than the Tour de Suisse, his victories have been domestic. And let’s face it – Leipheimer isn’t a grand tour contender anymore. That said, he is a strong challenger for any of America’s grand tours (Tour of California, Utah, Colorado). So why sign for a team that hasn’t crossed the Atlantic? Here’s where I put on my tin foil hat and make some suppositions.
As we all know, Leipheimer is a California resident and made a brief cameo in the Golden State’s television tourism campaign. Specialized is a California company. When Levi was a member of Gerolsteiner back in the day, he rode a Tarmac and was quite cozy with big “S”. How crazy would it be for Specialized to return to Quick Step as a bike sponsor and as a result bring a squad to contest America’s biggest races? It’s a win-win! Pharma-Quick Step gets the World Tour points and Leipheimer is given full reign on America’s soil to crush! You add some Specialized money into the mix to help off-set both Leipheimer’s and Tony Martin’s salary and boom – you’ve got Tarmacs and Shivs sitting pretty on the podium.
As I write Eurobike is in full swing followed in a couple of weeks by Interbike. I predict at one of these industry shows the cat will be let out of the bag. Drinks on me at Cross Vegas if I’m wrong.