American Levi Leipheimer is hoping he can negotiate the pitfalls on this year’s Tour de France and use his strong time trialling skills to secure a second podium spot. Leipheimer, who finished third in 2007 behind Alberto Contador of Spain and Australian runner-up Cadel Evans, is spearheading Omega-Pharma’s bid for a top finish in the general classification. And while he acknowledges Britain’s Bradley Wiggins and reigning champion Evans begin as the rightful favourites, he believes he has what it takes to cause a surprise. Admitting the course suits him, Leipheimer added: “But there’s a lot of traps and pitfalls, you have to be careful to pass all those tests.
“There’s over 100 km of TT (time trials), we haven’t had that in a few years, this is something that is good for me, and I’m looking foward to that.”
With two long time trials on stages nine (41.5 km) and 19 (53.5 km), BMC leader Evans (BMC) and Sky leader Wiggins are expected to dominate the race. It has left many contenders, such as Frank Schleck, Vincenzo Nibali and Belgian Jurgen Van den Broucke hoping to make big advantages in the mountain stages if they are to have any hope of a top finish.
“In the mountains is where we can make a difference and everybody knows how I ride, I’m an aggressive rider,” said Liquigas team leader Nibali.
Leipheimer, who recently finished third overall in the Tour of Switzerland a race he won last year thanks to a final day time trial performance is not known for his attacking skills. And while he is unsure of his real chances, he appeared optimistic of finishing among the race’s top three.
“I didn’t expect to be as good as I was in Switzerland. I was there on the climbs. I’m hoping for the best, I’m hoping to be on the podium,” said the American. “Day be day, and sometimes kilometer by kilometer. I try to keep relaxed as much as possible during all the drama.”
Leipheimer admitted, however, it will be hard to beat Wiggins and Evans. The Briton, who was fourth overall in 2009, finished third overall in the 2011 Tour of Spain and has since won a handful of major week-long stage races. Despite Evans having a less stellar season than his English rival, the Australian’s victory last year and his experience in the race will go a long way.
“Brad and Cadel have earned their five-star status,” added Leipheimer. “Anyone beyond that has to have a bit of humility, that’s normal. What we say and think is based on the history.”
He added, however, that the world’s premier cycling event – on which Evans has crashed several times and Wiggins quit early last year due to a crash on stage seven – gives out faours to no one.
“Anything can happen, the race is much bigger than any one contender,” said Leipheimer. “We are not battling each other, but all the elements, everything that’s involved in racing over France in three weeks. The race will put them under pressure. It’s mano a mano when it comes down to the mountains, but for the most part the race puts equal pressure on everyone.”