Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Levi Leipheimer: A Profile

Leipheimer in Denver
America’s most famous professional cyclist racing today, Levi Leipheimer won the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge on Sunday and added to his string of victories this season. At the Denver award ceremony, the huge crowd chanted “Levi! Levi!” and even the race announcers admitted they had been rooting for the mild-mannered RadioShack rider. “I’ve got to tell you, it took some of the best form of my life to win this race against Christian (Vande Velde), Tejay (Van Garderen), and Garmin-Cervelo,” said Leipheimer. While the 37-year-old is among the oldest cyclists in the peloton, his form continues to match and beat the competition.

Leipheimer’s victory in Colorado came on the heels of his win at the Tour of Utah earlier in August. He had also taken first place at the Tour de Suisse in June, where he pipped the win from Damiano Cunego with a masterful time trial in the race’s final stage.

Tour of California
Yet the 2011 season brought disappointment as well. In May, the three-time winner of the Tour of California hoped to regain the title taken last year by Michael Rogers. However Leipheimer could not match teammate Chris Horner in the mountains, so he switched to a supportive role and finished in second place behind Horner. The Tour de France was a disaster for Team RadioShack due to injuries and illness, and Leipheimer’s hope of a podium finish was revised. He was pleased just to finish the race. His best result was the third place finish in 2007, an achievement most professional cyclists only dream of.

Formerly a competitive skier, Leipheimer turned pro in 1997. He joined Lance Armstrong’s team, U.S. Postal, for the 2000 and 2001 seasons, then became his rival during stints on the Rabobank and Gerolsteiner squads. Levi rejoined the American contingent of international cycling when he signed with the Discovery Channel team for the 2007 season. That year, Leipheimer rode the Tour de France in support of teammate Alberto Contador who won the race while Levi finished third, just 31 seconds behind.

2009 Giro: Mt. Vesuvius
Since the Discovery team folded, Leipheimer and Contador followed team manager Johan Bruyneel to the Astana squad from Kazakhstan in 2008. That same year, Levi finished second at the Vuelta a Espana and grabbed the bronze medal at the road cycling race at the Beijing Olympics. In 2009, he finished the Giro d’Italia in sixth place riding alongside Lance Armstrong who had returned from retirement. The 2010 racing season saw Leipheimer, Armstrong, Bruyneel, and a slew of other key players jump to the new RadioShack squad. All signs indicate that Leipheimer is happy with the team and will continue to race indefinitely.

Leipheimer’s strengths as a bike rider are multi-faceted. He is an expert time trialer, disciplined in perfecting aerodynamic form. He is also a great climber, generating a lot of power from his 5’6”, 137 lb. frame. Strategic thinking is another strength, as evidenced by his burst to the finish line at Stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge where Leipheimer recognized he had the opportunity to best all of his colleagues.

Leipheimer describes himself as “a very even-keeled person.” The huge smiles and fist pumps he displayed following his win at Stage 3 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge was a rare display of emotion. “I try not to get too upset or too ecstatic when I win,” said Levi at the Vail podium ceremony where he was awarded the stage victory. “But I let it go today when I found out that I won.”

Tour of CA time trial
Born in Montana, Leipheimer lives in the northern California town of Santa Rosa with his wife, a former professional cyclist from Canada. Since 2009, he hosts Levi’s Gran Fondo, a sell-out cycling event in the fall enabling fans to ride with the champion on his hometown roads. A documentary on Leipheimer is scheduled to be released in 2012.

Like many cyclists, Levi has embraced Twitter, where he frequently recognizes fans and teammates for their support. Following the finale at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, he tweeted, “What a great day! I am absolutely blown away by the crowds out there. I'll never forget it. Thank you all for the amazing support.”

In America and around the world, cycling fans are eager for Levi Leipheimer to continue to shoot for results at the world’s toughest races. Those hopes will likely come true in the 2012 season as new crowds will be chanting, “Levi! Levi!”

Learn more about Levi:
Levi’s web site: http://www.levination.com/
Levi’s Gran Fondo: http://www.levisgranfondo.com/

Photos from the USA Pro Cycling Challenge:
Vail: Warming up for the time trial
Vail: on course
Vail: overall race leader
Vail: also leader of green sprint jersey
Vail: stage winner, awarded free lifetime ski pass

Avon: pre-race interview
Avon: heading to the start line
Avon: start line
Avon: national anthem

Breckenridge: on course
Denver: finish line
Denver: on the way to the podium

Denver: final interview
Denver: Leipheimer (center) with Van Garderen (l) & Vande Velde (r)
Congratulations on another great win, Levi!

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