Even though many consider the Dauphiné Libéré solely as the last preparation stage race for the Tour de France - and indeed, race organisers chose some of the same summit finishes as in this year's Grande Boucle - 2006 winner Levi Leipheimer is proud of his achievement for the race itself.
"This is a dream of a race for me," Leipheimer cheered. "The parcours, the landscape, the organisation... Ever since I decided to dedicate my life to cycling - and that was a long time ago - I wanted to win the Dauphiné. When I saw LeMond win it in 1983 as a kid, it became a dream for me to win it one day. Six years ago, I rode it for the first time, when Tyler Hamilton put the race on his palmarès. I was his teammate then; he won, and my desire to step on that highest podium step myself one day only grew. Well, now, here I am. The dream came true."
But another dream of his, the Tour de France, is only a few weeks away. After his impressing victory of the Dauphiné, achieved by consistency, Leipheimer now turns to his season-long goal, the Tour de France. The American's objective is a final Top Three placing, but he knows that the competition will be much harder in the Grand Tour: "Several riders, who were riding in the top of the classification here, will disappear in the Tour de France," he said on Sunday evening. "I will do everything to avoid that, also because I didn't win a stage here - I was simply the most consistent rider. I hope that I'll be able to stand my ground in those hard three weeks in July."
Some of the other Top Ten Tour de France contenders did not reveal their form this last week, and indeed that doesn't necessarily have to be an indicator for July. Iban Mayo, who won the race in 2004, was virtually unexisting at the Tour afterwards. But winning one of those last stage races before the Tour (Tour de Suisse being the other one), boosts self confidence.
For his part, Leipheimer chose not to rest right away after the week-long race, but to continue training in the French Alps: On Monday, June 12, the Gerolsteiner rider had Alpe d'Huez on his schedule. His last weeks before the Tour will then be spent in his home in Spain.