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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Levi Leipheimer (Team Radioshack).
American targets Tour de France podium in 2012
Omega Pharma-Quick Step was recently bolstered by the addition of Specialized as its bike and helmet sponsor for the 2012 season. The California-based equipment manufacturer helped seal a contractual agreement between the team and Levi Leipheimer, who intends to secure a podium place at the Tour de France next summer.
"Specialized had a lot do with my changing teams," Leipheimer told Cyclingnews. "Quick Step had shown interest already and then Mike Sinyard (founder and chairman of Specialized) called me up a while ago, as the Tour de France was ending, and he told me that Specialized had decided to go back to Quick Step. I've always had a good relationship with Specialized since I raced with Gerolsteiner and we kept in touch and saw each other at various events."
Leipheimer, who is currently under contract with RadioShack, admitted that he envisioned a future with the California-based HTC-Highroad team, owned and operated by Bob Stapleton. However, then it announced that it would disband at the end of 2011 due to a lack of financial support. Leipheimer's decision to move from RadioShack to Omega Pharma-Quick Step was made easier when it expressed an interest in bringing on HTC-Highroad's equipment sponsor Specialized along with many of its staff and riders.
"I had the idea that I would go to HTC someday because I thought it was a good fit for me," Leipheimer said. "When Mike called me, and I also spoke with Patrick Lefevere, they explained that the team was going to grow and they were going to invest more in the stage racing side, with Tony Martin, Bert Grabsch and Brian Holm, and others who are coming over from HTC.
"I was very interested and it seemed like an easy decision after that. Quick Step is one of the best Classics teams in the world and they want to expand and adopt the approach of some other younger and newer teams like Sky and Garmin, get more involved with time trialing and stage racing."
As far as bikes go, Omega Pharma-Quick Step will be riding a series of three Specialized models including the Tarmac SL4, Roubaix and Venge. Leipheimer is no stranger to the Tarmac having raced on the first edition with Gerolsteiner in 2005, when he won the Tour of Germany. As a resident of Santa Rosa, he lives in close proximity to the company's headquarters in Morgan Hill and expects to have a role in equipment development.
"That is the great thing about Specialized is that they created an arsenal of bikes to choose from so that we can use the Tarmac in the mountains, the Venge on the flats and the Roubaix in the Classics," Leipheimer said. "Specialized and I have the NorCal connection and I can zip down and see them whenever I need them or they need me.
"I have a lot of experience when it comes to equipment," he said. "I have always been a bike geek and I like to get into all the technology and advancements that bikes have made over the years. That is something that I want to continue to do once I stop racing. I love bikes and I love the evolution of the bicycle. I think back to six years ago when I rode the Tarmac SL, that bike was it back then, but the progress that bikes have made up until now is crazy."
Leipheimer will target the three biggest stage races in the US next season: UCI 2.HC Tour of California, UCI 2.1 Tour of Utah and recently upgraded UCI 2.HC USA Pro Cycling Challenge. He is a natural candidate to lead the team at these events having won the Tour of California on three occasions and placing second to his RadioShack teammate Chris Horner this year. In addition, he won the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge this year.
He will also target the Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse, which are also stage races he has won. His main priority, however, is to secure a place on the podium at the Tour de France. "I still believe that I can race a good Tour de France," Leipheimer said. "I have had bad luck in the last two years. In 2010, I was in fifth place until I got sick in the mountains and had a bad day and this year we were famous for crashing everywhere. I believe that with some good luck I can be up there in the Tour de France, with a lot of luck and really good legs, I can be on the podium."