It’s now official: former RadioShack teammates Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer don’t like each other. It’s the diet lite version of Armstrong and Landis without the doping claims. More like rodent allegations.
From the opening pre-race press conference, Horner has been openly suspicious of Leipheimer and the extent of his rival’s recovery from a broken leg and near-death experience. Horner simply can’t believe the little guy from Santa Rosa is down to one leg.
Now, in an article by Neal Rogers of Velonews, Horner is quoted as saying “We all know Levi’s been playing a bit of possum. You don’t show up looking that lean and fit by laying around on the couch.”
Leipheimer, who on Friday at the press conference looked almost clinically depressed about his situation, respond to the possum claim after stage one with a bit of bafflement: “What is there to say?” said Leipheimer. “I mean… what are you going to say?”
What we’re hearing is a pot finally boiling over from that day a year ago on Sierra Road when Horner took the race in his own hands and rode away from captain Leipheimer, setting up his overall win in the 2011 Tour of California. According to Rogers, Leipheimer was “visibly irritated” at the top of Sierra. In other words, he was even more angry than when an owl abducted his pet chihuahua.
In fact, when I interviewed Horner for Cycle Sport magazine in December he said that his attack hadn’t been the team plan for the day but that his form was so good he decided to have the team go full gas from the gun. RadioShack DS Alain Gallopin (a friend of Horner’s) drove up and asked what the Hell he was doing. Uhh, he decided to win the race.
At the time of our conversation Horner didn’t say much about Leipheimer, good or bad, other than a pointed remark that he had little contact with team physiologist Allen Lim because Leipheimer monopolized all Lim’s time. You didn’t have to read between too many lines to see that at bare minimum they weren’t pals.
Things came to a head on stage one when the breakaway went out to eight minutes and Leipheimer’s Omega Pharma Quickstep team refused to contribute to the chase. Horner was irritated with what he perceived as gamesmanship: “You look at Levi, his leg might be good, it might be no good, but they’re gonna do something. All the big teams have to do some work.”
If Leipheimer had any hopes of riding into better form in the opening stage and pulling out a medical miracle in the time trial, then a little sand-bagging would be in order. Even BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen isn’t immune to the potential Leipheimer bum leg scam. “I know he’s had some troubles but he could use these first four stages to ride himself into form before the time trial,” said Van Garderen. “You can never count the guy out.”
Leipheimer has counted himself out of contention but nevertheless not everyone is willing or able to believe him. “Oh yeah, for sure. RadioShack is paranoid that I’m playing some masterful game, but I told them, ‘We’re not pulling.’ That should be your answer right there.”
Twisted Spoke thinks Horner is having a little fun tweaking Leipheimer. Let’s just hope he doesn’t take his eye off the Nibali.