In a general sense, racing has been good for Leipheimer, with many marquee wins and high placings on his palmares. The Tour, however, did not start so well for him and has been a love-hate relationship for him – with strong overall finishes in 2002 and 2004, but crashing out in 2003. "I am pretty satisfied with what I have done so far," he said. "The one thing is, when I first went to the Tour in 2002 with Rabobank I had no idea what to expect – and here I was leading this Dutch team. It was all a little bit overwhelming! I did my best, I am very proud that I got eighth in my first Tour. But it was hard because a lot of people were very critical, especially the Dutch people and Dutch media. I just had to stay focused and do my thing."
"Looking back on it I am proud of myself for that, but I always wondered – after doing the race a few times – if I could ever win the race. It's hard! Lance and Ullrich, those guys were just so much better, and it was hard for me to really visualize that. I just tried to do my best and eek out a place every year. Until this year, when I was thirty-one seconds from winning. That is when I got to the point where I said, 'I can win the Tour!' That is obviously the one thing I want to do before I retire – win the Tour."
Speaking of a love-hate relationship, the UCI is not exactly on his Christmas card list after what happened the day before the Tour last year. Levi's much-researched and refined time trial position, which he debuted at this year's Tour of California was deemed unsafe and against the UCI rules since his aerobars were not perpendicular to the ground. This news coincidentally came on July 4, the day before the Tour start.
"It wasn't what I wanted!" Leipheimer laughed. "In the end though, like the last time trial with the position we were in with me fighting for the podium, it's not like I am thinking about it during the time trial. 'Oh, if only my bars were higher!' I was just going as hard as I could. The frustrating thing is they don't give you a good reason why you have to have your bars flat."
"With the restrictions they seem to make up as they go along it's not worth it. The day before the Tour [of Missouri] when we went to get it checked out before the start the commissaries said we were fine. It was so stupid, it was the same position I had in the Tour. The rule is what it is, but certain commissaries feel like it is a bad thing to have your hands up. Personally I think they don't like the way it looks. It's the only thing I can think of!"
Stepping back a little farther, as for how he got to where he is professionally, Leipheimer said he has no regrets and would do it the same, including with the teams for whom he has ridden. "Going to Rabobank and Gerolsteiner, I wouldn't trade that. At the time, that was my opportunity and I learned a lot. It made me stronger and smarter in the end. Later in my career, when I look back at the teams I've raced for and the countries I've raced in, it's priceless. I don't have any regrets about teams I went to or races that I chose to focus on."