Leipheimer looks to avoid Mr. February curse at Giro d'Italia
"I get that a lot," Leipheimer allowed in a phone interview from the team hotel after last Wednesday's Stage 5 of the Giro d'Italia. "People tell me, 'You look so effortless, why don't you attack?' But it looks a lot easier on TV, you know?"
The wiry 35-year-old maintained that stoic mien throughout the final agonizing kilometers of Stage 5, where we saw for the first time who will contend for this grand tour, and who will spend the next fortnight logging training miles and hunting for stage wins. It's not especially surprising that
The drama that unfolded on the slopes of Alpe de Suisi underscored how unforgiving and devoid of sentiment this sport can be. With his old friend
In a now-familiar display of magnanimity -- the Texan has had little choice but to serve as Leipheimer's domestique in earlier races this season -- Armstrong assured reporters that he would happily work for Levi in the Giro. Should Leipheimer finding himself atop the podium on May 31, we might be treated to the sight of him slipping Lance an envelope containing a cut of his winnings ... or possibly a generous
For reasons explored below, the wily, wiry veteran is holding his early form long than usual in '09. Earlier in his career, he has been accused of lacking a predatory instinct. What he's missing, in fact, is a sudden closing burst, such as the Exocet missile race leader
He's won three out of the four time trials he's contested this season -- the biggest single reason he's won three stage races in '09: the Tour of California, the Vuelta Castilla y Leon -- where Armstrong broke his collarbone, stunting his comeback -- and a New Mexican gem named The Tour of the Gila.
When a question is posed about those jackrabbit starts, Leipheimer treats it as an opportunity to channel the Sonoma County Chamber of Commerce:
"Where I live, in Sonoma County, we have amazing mountain biking, which I do all fall. Sometimes I remind myself that I shouldn't ride, because it's the off-season, you're supposed to let yourself get a little out of shape. But I just want to get out there every day."
Yes, he had his usual superb early-season results. But this year he seems to clinging to that extraordinary level of fitness longer than usual. (It couldn't be that the peloton is getting cleaner, could it?) In searching for an explanation, he mentions the disguised blessing of the fractured tailbone he suffered while winning the Tour of California. To heal that hairline break, he reports, "I took a good ten days easy" during a time he would have been "training super hard." The result? "I felt more fresh than normal."
Fresh is good. After the 248-kilometer slog that was Stage 6 on Thursday, the victims riders will pedal another 244 k on Friday. When they're finished with that, they'll only have two weeks to go! And you wonder why some of these guys are tempted to send a friend on a covert mission to the
Speaking of which, Thursday's winner was
Good for Scarponi, who recently completed an 18-month suspension for his involvement in the Operacion Puerto doping scandal. He's paid his debt, and is (hopefully, ideally, theoretically) demonstrating that it's possible to win without help from such low-lifes as Puerto overlord
Despite it's length, Friday's stage was not expected to cause any great upheaval in the general classification. Leipheimer will finish in the main group, nervously side-eying the guys he'll be battling for a podium spot:
Spoken like a true stoic, sir.