Friday, August 1, 2008

Levi Leipheimer: Beijing Bound

By: Cathy Mehl

Levi Leipheimer has been busy this season but a primary focus has always been the Olympics in Beijing in August. We managed to catch up with Levi during his final preparation for the Olympics to see what he's been up to and how he feels about the second half of the racing season.

Cathy: Hey, Levi, we wanted to catch up with you before you head to Beijing.

Where are you right now?

Levi: I’m in Utah, training for the Olympics, getting in some work at high altitude.

Cathy: After the Dauphine, you went back to California?

Levi: Yeah, after the Dauphine I went back to California and took a break for about 10 days or so and was training there and then we had all these fires, as you know.

Yes, we had fires alright! They were up close to Santa Rosa as well, Levi?

Actually, I don’t think there were any fires in Sonoma County but it was in Mendocino and Lake County just north of us and the winds were just blowing all the smoke into Sonoma County. It was pretty bad.

So you were getting bad air quality the whole time?

Yeah, my training partner, Scott Nydam (of Team BMC) and I were driving out to the coast everyday and training there because the air was a little better right on the coast.

Next you went to Oregon to race in the Cascade Classic?

Actually I came to Utah first and then Cascade and then came back to Utah again. I’m going to go home in a couple days.

So, touch on Cascade a little bit. I read articles about how you raced that race before in the early part of your career. What was it like to go back and what was it like for just you and Chris to be there on your own?

Yeah, I did do Cascade when I first started racing in the U.S. I always remembered how beautiful it is and what a great place Bend, Oregon is so I was looking forward to going back and to make the best out of our situation and get some good racing in. I knew it was a good race. But 10 years have gone by so a lot has changed. Bend has really grown, the race is much more competitive. We had a really good time. It was very relaxing and there were a lot of people for the race so it was good.

I saw one day in the results that you guys had a support car get relegated to the back. Who was driving your car?

Well, we asked the race if they could help us work out some support for us.

Because you guys didn’t have anyone to feed you or anything right?

Yeah, right, so the race took care of that for us and provided us with someone.

Then you went back to Utah. Are you training there alone for the Olympics?

Yeah, for the most part. There are some riders here that I’ve been riding with, Jeff Louder and Darren Lill. And I’m staying with my friend Mike who I ride with as well.

How do you think your training is coming along for the Olympics?

Well, it’s been nice to get a change in scenery and train with some other people and, obviously, the high altitude is a good thing. But I’m looking forward to going home and riding the roads I know and just trying the do the final couple weeks of training before the Olympics.

When do you leave for the Olympics?

I leave on August 4th. The road race is on the 10th.

Originally, at Tour de Georgia, your personal soigneur Brenda (Phelps) told me that she was going to be working for the U.S. Cycling Team. Is she still going?

Yeah she is. She’s going to be there for a month, I think. She has to work with all the cycling sports so she’s going to be pretty busy.

Tell me how you feel about going to the Olympics. What’s your mood about it and how excited are you to be representing your country?

Well, the Olympics are a big deal, obviously. When I went to Athens it was a great experience. I didn’t ride so well there so I’m hoping this time around I’ll do a lot better. I’m focused on it and I think I have a good chance, especially in the time trial.

How long will you stay? After your 2 events will you come right back home or are you hoping to enjoy a little bit of the Olympic Games themselves?

I’m going to Europe the day after the time trial.

To get ready for the Vuelta?

Yeah, I don’t really want to hang around in China.

Because of the scheduling of the Vuelta you won’t be defending your title at US Pro.

Yeah, that’s correct.

Do you have any negative feelings about that, Levi, or are you excited about the Vuelta?

Of course I would like to go to US Pro. It would be great to win it again but the Vuelta is important to us. We’re not in the Tour. I think we have a really good chance to win the race and I think it’s also great training for next year.

Looking back at the first half of the racing season, how do think it’s gone for the team, Levi, and what are your feelings with being with this team for this first year, this rebuilding year?

Well, I think, considering the circumstances, our year has gone the best as it could have. We knew we were going to try to win a lot of the bigger races since we weren’t doing the Tour. That was California, Pais Vasco, Romandie, the Giro and then with Andreas and I on the podium at Dauphine and Switzerland we’ve shown that we can win a lot of big races. I think we’re the best team in the world and nobody can argue with that.

Have you been watching any of the Tour? (Ed.- this interview was conducted on July 19, 2008)

Yes, I’ve been watching some of it.

How do feel about what’s been going on at the Tour this year, with Ricardo Ricco and Saunier Duval pulling out of the race?

Well, I think it’s been really unfortunate. It’s just unbelievable that people make these stupid decisions and continue to create this bad situation for cycling because we were all hoping it would change and there wouldn’t be any scandals. But I think that, while it is negative, the good thing is that people are getting caught. I saw how Ricco was caught with some new product and WADA came out and said that they’d developed a test with the manufacturer before it was released. I thought that was a great thing that WADA did because now no one will ever know whether there’s a test for a new product. This should deter a lot of people from doing anything in the future. So that was a really smart move by WADA. I think for a number of years the anti-doping agencies were just a lot of talk but now you can actually see that they’re doing things and I think they’ve actually gotten ahead of the cheaters and in my opinion that’s a really good thing.

I was kind of looking forward to seeing Alberto and Ricco go head-to-head over the next few years but that’s not going to happen now.

No. He made a really stupid mistake. I hope he doesn’t end up like (Marco) Pantani. I saw that in Italy they’re really crucifying him. He should obviously pay for what he’s done but I hope they don’t drive him down the road of Pantani.

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