As one of four Americans heading ProTour teams at the Tour de Georgia, Levi Leipheimer is one of the major contenders for overall victory in the US' biggest stage race. With a new team, new motivation and new training techniques, victory in Georgia is a definite goal, as he tells Shane Stokes.
With the Tour de Georgia gets underway, most attention has been focused on Lance Armstrong, six-time Tour de France winner, who announced his impending resignation this week. Armstrong came here last year and dominated, taking the overall plus two stage victories along the way. But there are other US riders who could top the leaderboard this time round, not least Levi Leipheimer, who makes his Georgia debut with the Gerolsteiner team.
'I'm definitely going to do my best here,' a psyched Leipheimer told Cyclingnews on Monday. 'If I continue to feel like I was before I came from Spain, then I think I can be. I am not at my top condition yet, but I still think that I could be good enough to play a major part in the race.'
Leipheimer first showed the extent of his talent with a stomping end to the 2001 season. Riding in US Postal Service colours at the time, he became the first American to finish on the podium in the Tour of Spain, and then placed fourth in the world time trial championships. He transferred to the Rabobank squad and competed with them for the next three seasons, winning the 2002 Route du Sud and finishing eighth in the Tour de France that same season.
Last year he bounced back from the broken pelvis which took him out of the 2003 Tour when he came back and took his second career top-ten placing, finishing ninth in Paris. He also took a stage win in the Semana Catalana race. Despite those good performances, he felt it was time for a new direction and so transferred from the orange of Rabobank to the aqua blue of Gerolsteiner over the winter.
'I wanted to change, to start over, start afresh with a clean slate for new motivation, and that is exactly how it has been this year,' he explains. 'I have had more motivation than I have had in a long time. Every morning when I wake up to get on the bike, I feel that extra spark that I need.'
Leipheimer has made adjustments to his training, favouring more high intensity work than in the past. If all goes to plan, the 31 year old feels a top five finish in the Tour de France is possible. But before that, this week's race offers a real chance to measure his form against some of the other big guns he will come up against in July.
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