LIÈGE, Belgium (AFP) —Levi Leipheimer is hoping he can negotiate the pitfalls on this year’s Tour de France and use his strong time-trialing skills to secure a second podium spot.
Leipheimer, who finished third in 2007 behind Alberto Contador and then-runner-up Cadel Evans, is spearheading Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s bid for a top finish in the general classification.
And while he acknowledges Sky’s Bradley Wiggins and reigning champion Evans (BMC Racing Team) begin as the rightful favorites, he believes he has what it takes to cause a surprise.
The course suits him, Leipheimer said, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without “a lot of traps and pitfalls. You have to be careful to pass all those tests.”
“There’s over 100km of TT. We haven’t had that in a few years,” he said. “This is something that is good for me, and I’m looking forward to that.”
With two long time trials on stages 9 (41.5km) and 19 (53.5km), Evans and Wiggins are expected to dominate the race. Other contenders, such as Fränk Schleck, Vincenzo Nibali and Belgian Jurgen Van den Broucke, must hope to take big advantages in the mountain stages if they are to have any hope of top finishes.
Leipheimer, who recently finished third overall in the Tour de Suisse — a race he won last year thanks to a strong performance in the final-day time trial — is not known for his attacking prowess.
And while he is unsure of his real chances, he appeared optimistic of finishing among the race’s top three.
“I didn’t expect to be as good as I was in Switzerland. I was there on the climbs. I’m hoping for the best, I’m hoping to be on the podium,” said the American.
“Day by day, and sometimes kilometer by kilometer. I try to keep relaxed as much as possible during all the drama.”
Leipheimer admitted, however, it will be hard to beat Wiggins and Evans.
The Briton, fourth overall in 2009, finished third overall in the 2011 Vuelta a España and has since won a handful of major weeklong stage races.
Evans has had a less stellar season than his English rival. Still, the Australian’s victory last year and his experience in the race will go a long way.
“Brad and Cadel have earned their five-star status,” said Leipheimer. “Anyone beyond that has to have a bit of humility, that’s normal. What we say and think is based on the history.”
He added, however, that the world’s premier cycling event — on which Evans has crashed several times and Wiggins quit early last year due to a crash on stage 7 —gives out favors to no one.
“Anything can happen. The race is much bigger than any one contender,” said Leipheimer. ”We are not battling each other, but all the elements, everything that’s involved in racing over France in three weeks.
“The race will put them under pressure. It’s mano a mano when it comes down to the mountains. But for the most part the race puts equal pressure on everyone.”