Levi Leipheimer is aiming to defend his overall title at the 24th annual SRAM Tour of the Gila when it begins next Wednesday, April 28 in Silver City, New Mexico. The American said the high elevation, desert mountains and lengthy time trial featured in the five-stage event are the key components that drew him back for a second consecutive year.
“Gila is a great race with challenging courses,” Levi Leipheimer told Cyclingnews. “I like the Southwest desert and the climbs that Gila has to offer. It offers some racing just prior to the Tour of California and is only one time zone away. Gila has a few things to offer, some altitude, good climbs and a tough time trial. It's a nice break from training and it is close by.”
Leipheimer and his two Team RadioShack teammates for the race, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and Jason McCartney, will compete under the banner of Mellow Johnny’s, Armstrong’s Austin-based bike shop.
“I'm building up towards the Tour of California,” Leipheimer said. “Last year I was pretty fresh at Gila going into the Giro d’Italia. I'm sure Lance is better this time around considering he isn't coming back from a broken collarbone. Jason has recently been racing and supporting the team as always, he's solid.”
Leipheimer won the overall title last year ahead of Armstrong and Chris Horner placed fifth overall. This year, Horner has opted to compete in the Belgium Classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege and McCartney will take his place at the SRAM Tour of the Gila. “Like Lance and I, he [Jason McCartney] is at home in the US before the Tour of California,” Leipheimer said.
The SRAM Tour of the Gila will field three additional ProTour riders from the Garmin-Transitions team with Dave Zabriskie, Danny Pate and Tom Danielson, who will be representing Zabriskie’s company DZ Nuts.
Asked who he feels will be his major rivals for the overall classification, Leipheimer said, “The DZ Nuts team and Mr. Gila himself, Burke Swindlehurst!”
The Santa Rosa resident will use his SRAM Tour of the Gila defense as a means of fine-tuning for the start of the Amgen Tour of California (May 16-23). Asked if he is on target for a fourth consecutive win at the race, Leipheimer said, “I wonder that myself everyday. I'm working as hard as I can to get there.”