Leipheimer motivated for Tour of Utah title defense

Levi Leipheimer appeared undaunted Monday by the relatively small team he brought to the US to help him defend his two consecutive Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah titles. While most of the teams in the race have eight riders, including Garmin-Sharp, Radioshack-Nissan and Argos-Shimano, Leipheimer's Omega-Pharma Quickstep squad has just six.

"When the race asked who we were bringing, and we said the Velits brothers, they told us we could only bring six because they're each worth two riders," Leipheimer joked at the team presentation Monday evening in Ogden.

Joining Leipheimer in Utah will be Martin and Peter Velits, Matt Brammeier, Jeroen Hoorne and Francesco Chicchi. In a race that features a team time trial and a host of seven- and eight-rider squads that are equally motivated to bring home good results, the difference between six and eight can be huge, but Leipheimer said he worried more about the road races than the time trial.

"Actually, I think in the team time trial it will be less of a disadvantage than the other stages," he said. "It's a short team time trial, and I think six guys can go as fast as eight. But when it comes to covering the breaks, or hopefully defending the lead – I'm just throwing out scenarios there – that's where it's going to be tough. But the bottom line is we're here, we're happy to be here and we're motivated."

Leipheimer, who attended the University of Utah for several years, didn't win any stages at the race in 2011 but took the lead during the stage 4 individual time trial and then held it through to the end. This year he's coming off a difficult Tour de France, where he finished in 32nd place, more than an hour off Bradley Wiggins's winning time. Now Leipheimer says he'll find out how his form is for Utah once the racing begins.

"I was absolutely wrecked," Leipheimer said about his form after the Tour. "I went home and could barely get off the couch. But when I got back here to the thin air of Utah it sort of woke me up. I got some training in, and I felt better and better every day."

But whether Leipheimer, who was hit by a car while training for the Tour earlier this season, is feeling well enough to add a third win in Utah to match his three-year streak at the Tour of California, remains to be seen. And he added that keeping such a streak alive gets harder and harder with every win.

"Each win is more difficult than the last," he said. "And the next generation is not just knocking at the door, but I think they've kind of kicked the door down. You saw the Tour de France this year with Tejay [van Garderen], for example, and Joe [Dombrowski] at California, so it's kind of hard to keep that door shut these days."

The Tour of Utah begins Tuesday with the 212km test that starts in Ogden and finishes there as well after five major climbs and 2,724 meters of climbing.

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.