Thirty-one seconds... thirty-one of the hardest, most grueling seconds of racing in the sport is all that came between American Levi Leipheimer and the top podium spot on the Champs-Élysées in Paris last July. The closeness of that result has, however, renewed his motivation for the next Tour de France. Cyclingnews' North American Editor Mark Zalewski visited Leipheimer at his home in Santa Rosa, California as he enjoyed a brief respite between racing seasons.
Finishing third at the Tour de France is a remarkable feat for any cyclist – but to do so while helping your team-mate finish first is even more impressive. Such was the 2007 Tour for Levi Leipheimer – the top American in the race and a contender for the top spot in his own right. After the closing of Discovery Channel at the end of the season, many people wondered where Leipheimer (and the rest of the Discovery team) would end up. Surely he had offers from a few teams – but in the climate cycling is in right now, transfers are a delicate issue.
So when former Discovery boss Johan Bruyneel signed on to right the Astana ship, it was little surprise that many former Discovery riders joined him. While some may have been surprised that a Tour contender like Leipheimer would sign for a team that included the defending champion, Leipheimer said that staying with Bruyneel is a safe option. And though Astana is in need of a major PR overhaul after last year's Tour debacle, having the resources that Bruyneel and Co. bring outweighs that.
"The state of cycling now is such that there are a lot of teams [in trouble,]" said Leipheimer. "T-Mobile, with all the problems, is now High Road. CSC and T-Mobile were the ones in crisis in the 2006 Tour, and they had to do something to make a change. Obviously, I would like to go to a team that didn't have a history, but it is really just the sponsor [that is the same]; they didn't have anything to do with what happened.
"Everyone on the new Astana has a job to do in creating a new team. Mostly new riders, all new staff and management, and hopefully our actions will speak for themselves. One thing we need to be clear about is how thankful we are that Astana and the other sponsors have stuck around the sport and are continuing."
Leipheimer also noted that the new team is following in the footsteps of other top teams, like High Road and CSC, in developing internal testing. "We have doctor Damsgaard from the CSC program doing controls internally. I think basically racing our bicycles and adhering to fair and clean sport should speak for itself. If someone wants to ask a question about it, we are here to answer it and be transparent. Beyond that I don't know what we can do – what has happened in the past, is in the past."