By Shane Stokes
Levi Leipheimer confirmed this week that he will return to racing with the USA's biggest team, Discovery Channel, having competed in the past with its previous incarnation, US Postal. While in its colours, Leipheimer took third in the 2001 Tour of Spain and then went on to place fourth in the world time trial championships. He is hoping that his return to the fold will help him move to a new level and reach greater successes in the Tour de France and other events.
"I am very excited," he told Cyclingnews on Wednesday. "That is where I started my career, in Europe at least, and I think that is where I made the biggest progress, during that time. I am looking forward to going back. I have learned a lot over the past five years, but I'm looking forward to having the expertise and experience of Johan [Bruyneel] and the team behind me."
Leipheimer said that he has maintained contact with the team since he left at the end of 2001 and moving to Rabobank. The Discovery Channel management knew his current contract was due for renewal this season and made an offer which he, and they, were happy to agree upon. It should be mutually beneficial; he wants to go back, while they are looking to re-jig things after a somewhat disappointing Tour de France.
When asked to talk about the move, Leipheimer said the decision was taken as he believes it is the best way for him to achieve success. "It doesn't have anything to do with Gerolsteiner," he said, thus ruling out any speculation about dissatisfaction with his current team. "It is more that this is a great opportunity for me and I need it to progress further, definitely.
"I haven't really had a chance to discuss how things will be just yet. Obviously, we did this [made the agreement] during the Tour, so I haven't had a chance to talk about too many things with Johan. But we'll sit down soon and go through everything."
In recent days there has been speculation that Jan Ullrich might be signing for the team, something which would obviously change the dynamic within the team and affect Leipheimer's own Tour de France ambitions. He says that he doesn't feel threatened by the talk. "I think it is just rumours," he said. "I think it is going to be a few months before we are going to know if he is even going to be able to ride. I don't see it [the move to Discovery] happening."
The 32 year-old won the Dauphiné Libéré this year but the Tour de France didn't work out as well as he hoped. He rode strongly on some stages but wasn't firing on all cylinders in others. He's proved he can win big races, so the goal next year will be to reach and maintain top form for those crucial three weeks. But what are his main goals for the rest of this year?
"The Tour of Germany is a target," he stated, confirming that he will return to the race he won last year. "It's coming pretty soon after the Tour but I am hoping to recover in time and to be able to defend my title there. After that, I'll look at perhaps doing the US Pro championships."
A full Levi Leipheimer feature will appear soon on Cyclingnews.