Sustaining a broken leg certainly isn’t the best preparation for a Tour de France but in Levi Leipheimer’s case it could be a twist of fate that allows him to peak in July for the first time in a number of years.
The 38-year-old has regularly built his season around the Tour of California and Tour de France, aiming to attain peak form for both races. However it has rarely, if at all, worked. Despite three straight wins in the US stage race (2007-2009) he has struggled to repeat his podium place from the 2007 Tour. Bad luck and crashes have played their part in recent Tours but this year Leipheimer’s leg break –sustained in April when he was hit by a car - has meant a restructure of both his left leg and his Tour training.
The Tour of California was a comeback race rather than a overall objective, and he’s currently racing at the Tour de Suisse.
“When the Tour of California was in February it was much simpler,” he told Cyclingnews.
“There was so much time in between that you could go up and down with your form but May is always tricky because it’s just too close and yet too far to try and hang onto the form. It’s better to hit the Tour with an upward trajectory and it feels like I’m doing that now.
“I’m looking forward to the Tour, though, and I want to get another shot at it. The goal is take it day by day and make it through the first week but I think that’s more and more of a hurdle each year, especially last year which was one of the most stressful Tours. I would love to be top five or go for the podium, I know what it takes to finish high up in the classification but I just have to focus on that and hope for some good luck because it takes some of that.”
So far so good in the Tour de Suisse, Leipheimer’s final race before the Tour’s grand depart in Liege in just over a fortnight. On the race’s first testing stage the American was a notable presence in the front group as the GC contenders climbed towards the stage finish in Verbier. As the defending champion, Leipheimer is using the Suisse event to both test his form and gain results.
“I felt okay [climbing to Verbier]. I didn’t really expect to but I was just sitting there and expected their pace to be harder. I felt better and I guess I surprised myself.
“I really hope I’ll continue to get better but I think after Verbier and yesterday, I can consider myself one of the best riders and that I can go for a result here and hopefully get better. In this work you’ve got to take what you get.”
Most importantly for Leipheimer’s Tour prospects is that he’s riding pain free. The bone in his leg has successfully been repaired and although scar tissue remains it has slowly dissipated.
“The bone is completely healed but of course it’s the muscle and the soft tissue around that takes time to get back to normal. For example when I get massage there’s still some lumpiness there and some hard muscle tissue but I don’t know how much it’s slowing me down, and I’m not going to put a number on it. Obviously the muscle isn’t perfect but I’m doing okay. It’s gone down and it’s getting back to normal muscle tissue so I’m hoping that it will get better and better.”