After one of his most successful seasons as a professional, Levi Leipheimer is looking towards what could be the final two years of his career. Leipheimer moved moved to Omega Pharma-Quick Step last month on a two-year deal.
The 38-year-old signed for the Belgian team after two years at RadioShack, but with his 2012 season set to revolve around a number of US-based races he is not apprehensive about Omega’s ability to support his aspirations state-side. The American will target the Tour of California - a race he has won three times - before taking on the Tour de France and then the US Pro Challenge. He has also earmarked a place in the US Olympic squad for 2012.
But with the Belgian team’s history of devotion and delivery in the Classics, is he not concerned?
“The first thing I let Patrick Lefevere know was just how important US races were to me. Especially California, which starts in my home town next year. He’s totally into that because the team wasn’t invited to California this year and they wanted to go in 2012,” Leipheimer told Cyclingnews.
“They’re looking forward to it. Mr Bakala, the team owner, spent a lot of time in California and we have sponsorship interest there,” he added.
“The whole move has been an exciting time. Yes, historically this has been a classics-orientated team, but they’re willing to open up to a new age, thinking like HTC did or Sky is now. I think that a lot of the group that came from HTC, they’re going to add a lot to the team. I think it’s cool that Patrick and the squad that was already in place are open to that. Everyone realises that cycling is changing we need to evolve with that.”
Teams have yet to be announced for the Tour of California but it would be hard to imagine Leipheimer not receiving a call from organisers Amgen. And at the age of 38, he shows no sign of slowing up, aiming to peak his form at several points in the season.
“Peaking like that is tricky. When California was in February you could space it apart a bit more but we try and be as good as we can for the Tour de France but that doesn’t always work out,” he told Cyclingnews.
“You need to take care of yourself and get a lot of rest in between. California means a lot to me so I’m going to have to figure out a way of being at my best there and then being at my best in July. It’s not impossible. You won’t see Andy Schleck doing that - but it’s different, California is more important to me and you try and figure out your situation with what you’ve got.”
Leipheimer will also target the Olympic time trial, an event he won a bronze in, in Beijing in 2008. With only one place allocated to the US, Leipheimer will have to compete with Dave Zabriskie, Christrian Vande Velde and Taylor Phinney for the coveted spot.
However, in terms of his trade team, Quick Step will be hoping he can maintain his position in the sport as one of the most successful stage racers in week-long events. This year was not just epitomised by his wins in Colorado and second overall in California, but by his overall win in the Tour de Suisse, in which the American overturned a 1:59 deficit on Damiano Cunego into a four second lead in the final stage time trial.
“I reached my best form at the Tour de Suisse, which was a career highlight. That was an amazing race,” he admitted.
“When we started the week I wasn’t really thinking about it. I was very relaxed and coming off the back of California where the team had finished first and second and I’d won a stage. And to be honest I really didn’t think I could win Suisse until the final morning when I saw the time trial course.
“It was a great way to win and I’ll never forget being there at the finish and waiting for Damiano to come over the line. It came down to the last few seconds. You definitely couldn’t plan to win the race in that way but sometimes the chips fall in your favour.”