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Levi Leipheimer leads his Astana teammate Lance Armstrong across the finish line.
American veterans target the Tour in 2010
Levi Leipheimer has found the perfect fit with Lance Armstrong's recently announced American-based team RadioShack set to make its mark in 2010. The squad's Grand Tour direction matches Leipheimer's long-time vision of winning the Tour de France, something he aspires to achieve this year.
When asked if he thinks that his 2010 goals will include winning the Tour de France, Leipheimer responded, "I definitely do."
However, there is plenty of racing to conquer before next July and for Leipheimer, it will begin with capturing a fourth consecutive title at the Tour of California. The event's new date on the UCI calendar - in May rather than February - means that he will be able to enjoy the lap of luxury with an off-season this year.
"My winter will be more relaxed, not as intense as it has been the last three years," Leipheimer said. "I've had to work hard, starting in November, but now I'll begin later, train and be serious but be less intense. I'll use races in the spring, smaller Spanish races like Castilla y Leon which are nice races, more safe and conservative; they don't have bad weather or nasty crashes."
The second focus will be a victory at the Dauphiné Libéré in June before tackling his main objective of claiming the yellow jersey in July. "Those are my three most favorite races of all and having then all in a row will be great," he said.
Leipheimer couldn't confirm whether the RadioShack team would take on ProTour status, assuring fans it would be the most appropriate step to take with the UCI. He acknowledged outfits like Cervélo TestTeam who have remained at the Professional Continental level and rely on a wild card status for invitations to ProTour level racing.
"I know that as far as UCI is concerned they would rather have us be ProTour and Lance is willing to work with the UCI on that," he continued. "Someone like Lance brings a lot of attention to the races and brings a lot of people out. Maybe it's not necessary, but it's the right thing to do."
Leipheimer was behind Armstrong's new team even before title sponsor RadioShack materialised, although he only signed his two-year deal several weeks ago. "Lance came back to cycling and he wanted to be with Johan and the rest of us were with Astana so for Lance, he would rather have his own team with Capital Sports like back in the day with US Postal. They were looking for American sponsors that fit with Livestrong. We will have more American riders and so it's all a nice fit."
The idea of RadioShack takes Leipheimer back to the Discovery Channel days, a team managed by Capital Sports and Entertainment and directed by Johan Bruyneel. "I'm very comfortable with this team and the way I view it is that it's the old Discovery Channel and Astana in the last two years," he said. "I'm comfortable there and I ride to my potential. I still want to win a lot of races and that's the team I feel I have the best chance to do that with. If I have the legs to win the Tour I want to be on this team."
Leipheimer claims confidence in both the staff and riders that are forming the new RadioShack team. "It's a big picture," he said. "Everyone is focused and will give 100 percent. My biggest fans come from within the team and I feel appreciated because everyone sees how hard you work. It's a nice little bit of synergy; you put off energy and it gives back energy."
Leipheimer follows Armstrong, Jose Luis Rubiera and Sergio Paulinho but could not confirm other signings. When asked if we could expect more surprises he responded, "We will definitely have a strong team. We will see a lot of riders from Astana come over and one or two faces from the Discovery team too.
"Not everyone [from Astana] will go to RadioShack but a lot will and we won the team time trial [at the 2009 Tour de France]; it shows the strength of the team and if you have aspirations and dreams of winning the Tour then you need to be on a team that strong." In terms of his own riding, Leipheimer believes that, "I'm not handicapped by being on the same team as Lance. It makes me ride stronger and better because it pushes me."
Neither Armstrong, 38, nor Leipheimer, 36, are letting their age stop them from further success in their sport. Leipheimer plans to continue his progress toward a Grand Tour victory - at least for the next two years.
"I started late and I think more and more I appreciate what I do." Leipheimer said. "It's what I want to do, what I'm meant to do, it makes me happy and I've worked hard to get to the top of my game. I'm on the best team in the world, winning races, helping teammates win races and I don't want to give that up too early.
"I'm still having a great time and have the motivation to get out there and race. There's no reason to put an end date on it."