Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is in no doubt that Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans line up as pre-race Tour de France favourites but the veteran is aware that pressure can be a major factor in any Grand Tour.
The former Tour podium finisher heads into this race with an outside chance of a podium place after having sustained a broken leg earlier in the season. A speedy recovery followed, along with a surprisingly strong Tour de Suisse showing last month, leaving Leipheimer to put three stars next to his name in the list of GC riders.
"In Suisse I didn’t expect to be as good as I was and in fact I felt pretty good on the climbs. I’m hoping for the best, that I can be on the podium again but I’m taking it day by day and sometimes you have to take it kilometer by kilometer because it’s going to be a long three weeks and a lot will happen," he said.
"They [Wiggins and Evans] both earned the title of the big five star favourites but of course that comes with a little price of attention and pressure. For sure they would say there was no pressure and that they’re relaxed but there is pressure. For someone like myself, who is maybe a dark horse, it’s best to wait and play off the others. Their teams will have a lot more responsibility."
Leipheimer moved to Omega’s during the off-season after ending his second spell under the tutelage of Johan Bruyneel. Like a host of US riders from his generation he has ridden for a clutch of European teams, including Rabobank and Gerolsteiner, and although his move to Patrick Lefevere’s team appeared left of center, Leipheimer has relished his new surroundings.
"They’re maybe the greatest Classics team of all time and they really know what they’re doing in the Classics and for me I wondered where I would fit in but you see it’s something I’ve fitted into and developed. The Classics team in still there but it’s more diverse and bigger than before. It’s been fun to be a part of it. The team has supported me very much."
Omega’s Classics credentials will serve Leipheimer’s aspirations well. The first week of racing is littered with several testing stages where positioning and concentration will be crucial and while the American is cautious on playing an aggressive hand, he is confident that the Belgian team will be suited to protecting him.
"That’s a huge asset for this team, they know how to get me into the correct position on stages one and three. Those are critical stages where you can lose vital seconds. If the opportunity arrives you can defiantly jump on it but in the Tour everyone is so strong and things get scattered."
One episode that Levi may draw inspiration from occurred on the road to La Grande-Motte in 2009 when HTC and Astana – Leipheimer’s then team – caught a number of GC rides napping.
"That was a rare day but HTC were aware and it paid off for them and that’s when people weren’t expecting it. When it comes to stage one and stage three everyone is going to be expecting it in those finals. I don’t think one team can really make a difference and everyone is riding defensively to keep their guys in those lead positions. Maybe there’s s a surprise though."