Levi Leipheimer may deny it, but he is a threat to his rivals for the overall Giro d'Italia. The 34 year-old US rider, sitting 13th in the general classification, forms part of a dangerous Team Astana triad that aims to win the 2008 edition. Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews was in Modena Thursday night, just two days shy of the high mountain stages, to talk with the national champion.
Franco Pellizotti has been thinking all year about this race, Gilberto Simoni might end his road career if he takes a third career overall win, Riccardo Riccò hopes to turn Italy on its head, Ivan Basso dreams of returning to race here, but Team Astana – with its three foreign leaders Alberto Contador, Andreas Klöden and Leipheimer – are just happy to be participating. Moreover, since it was invited just one week before the race started, it changed the outlook of the Corsa Rosa.
At the end of 12 days of racing its three captains occupy the top-15, with Tour de France winner Contador lying in eight and close to overall contenders Riccò and Danilo Di Luca. Not bad for the Luxembourg-based, Kazakhstan-sponsored team that thought the only Grand Tour it would race this year was the Vuelta a España.
Was it really a last minute invite by RCS Sport, organiser of the Giro d'Italia, or did Johan Bruyneel's team have an idea it would race, taking the spot of the relatively unknown NGC Medical-OTC Industria Porte?
"We had hoped for it for a long time, but there was no indication at all," declared Leipheimer as we sat down in the Holiday Inn hotel, just on the outskirts of Modena, the city known for producing Ferrari automobiles, vinegar and Italian singer Vasco Rossi.
"We had actually given up hope. They [team's directeurs] said that they were going to try to get [us] in, and I was like 'are we going to do the Giro?' I wanted to do the Giro; I wanted to know so I could train properly or pick out a different race schedule. They just said 'no it does not look like it,' so I went to [the Tour de] Georgia and when I came home after Georgia, I was just taking it easy." However, the phone call came and Leipheimer, third in the 2007 Tour de France, was left to pack his bags and board a plan for Palermo, to start the three-week Italian tour. "I got a call on Friday, which was one week before the race started."
Read more about Leipheimer's first Giro.