Can Leipheimer win Tour of California on jelly beans?
The Amgen Tour of California announced their 2013 race route and the contenders are excited about the new South-to-North orientation.
Well, that’s every contender who has an actual team behind them. Meanwhile, three-time Cali winner (riding clean, baby!) Levi Leipheimer is still without a contract after his Omega Pharma Quickstep team axed him over his doping revelations. Ohh, and they needed to free up major euros to sign Mark Cavendish.
(Little doping sidebar: Amgen drugs, Omega Pharma drugs, Leipheimer, drugs. You can’t escape the damn stuff when even the sponsors support a serious drug culture.)
Ahh, but we digress and pedal backwards — Levi, he wants to ride the Tour of California, he’d like to win for a fourth only he ain’t got no team to get himself into the race. Big problemo.
He’s hanging out in his beautiful Santa Rosa home with his pets and his wife Odessa and her cartoon high-pitched voice. He’s cooking from his Allen Lim Feedzone cookbook and doing training rides and making phone calls and working the prayer beads pretty hard.
It’s gonna take plenty of prayer to score himself a ride and an invite to the Tour of California. First, no WorldTour team is going to sign a 39 year old rider with a significant doping history. Not BMC, not RadioShack, never Garmin. If USADA’s Travis Tygart ran a top cycling squad, he’s sign Levi out of guilt but forget that scenario.
Put yourself in Levi’s little cleats: nothing brings more sporting vindication than to jump back on the race bike and win the Tour of California and step onto the final podium in his hometown of Santa Rosa wearing the last yellow jersey. That’s the way he’d like to end a long career.
He doesn’t need much help at all to win the race. Let’s not forget that this year, Leipheimer almost won the US Pro Cycling Challenge with just four OPQS teammates for support. All he needs is a ticket to the show and a few guys to shag water bottles and gels.
So what we’re now talking about is Leipheimer somehow cutting a one year deal with a domestic Pro Continental or Continental team for a final anaerobic showdown in Cali.
First choice, UnitedHealthcare. This team would kill for a podium in California after giving it everything for three years with their top GC rider Rory Sutherland — who is now at Saxo-Tinkoff. However, manager Mike Tamayo is all about team chemistry and our guess is Leipheimer would be an unwanted distraction.
The intriguing possibility is Team Type 1-Sanofi. What’s interesting here is that team owner Phil Southerland doesn’t mind a bit of controversy and media attention. A few years back he lobbied hard with then-Giro boss Angelo Zomegnan for a Giro invite. He sells his autobiography at the races in Colorado and California and he has a big, bold, inspiring story to tell about diabetes.
This is also a team that has banged on the door in California without too much success despite aggressive attempts. By accounts they’ve pulled back on their roster for 2013 but if Leipheimer could guarantee a serious shot at the podium, Southerland might pull the trigger. The power of his diabetes mission is bigger news than Levi’s past discretions. The Team-Type 1 deal could work and it might work brilliantly. A win-win all around. And by the way — Sanofi — a French parma company. You cannot escape drugs in this sport!
After that, it’s a grab bag of US Continental options, some possible, some ironic, some downright funny. Who wouldn’t love to see the bald 39 year old Leipheimer in a Jelly Belly jersey? That team has been snubbed in California and Colorado of late and Levi could get them back in the show and hand out jelly beans to the kids as rehabilitation.
How about this for irony — Leipheimer signs with the Kendra-5 Hour Energy squad and re-unites with old US Postal teammate Frankie Andreu who is now the director sportif. This is another young team left off the dance list in California and Colorado. Again, it might be difficult for race organizers to say no to a team with a three-time winner in California and the winner of the inaugural Colorado stage race. And you can’t ignore the Santa Rosa race finish for long time resident Leipheimer.
The boys over at Bissell can’t be discounted either. Although the vacuum cleaner sponsor leaves themselves open to the inevitable and embarrassing refrain “dopers suck.” For that reason alone, we rank Bissell low on the possibility list.
Santa Rosa is part of the Sonoma wine country and so the Jamis/Sutter Home squad is another decent connection. The Sutter Home winery is just up the road in St. Helena. Levi would toast a quick deal with that domestic team and he’d line up for the start in California, raring to go win his fourth and final title.
Remember that the great sports stories always start with impossible odds. A guy almost dies of cancer, survives the tumors and chemo, crawls off his deathbed to win seven Tour de France titles. Okay, that story turned out to be fake.
Nevertheless, how do you like this dramatic narrative: fading old pro rider damaged by doping admissions and fired from his top WorldTour squad then signs with small, underfunded Jelly Belly squad and with almost no help from young teammates wins the Tour of California in his home town. Sweet as candy.
Start the campaign now, folks — make the dream come true. Bring on the jelly beans.