Levi Leipheimer, now with the Belgians at Quick Step, is already excited about the race route of the 2012 Tour of California. “It is definitely a target for me to try and win the race again,” said Leipheimer. “This is a race that I want to win every year. I’ve won it three times, it starts in my home town and it is the first target of the season for me.”
The only thing he’ll truly miss is his favorite time trial in the Danish rococo town of Solvang. “I have an affinity for Solvang, obviously, but I’m looking forward to what they do to the course in Bakersfield,” Leipheimer said. “I know that there is a lot of elevation there for a time trial. We finished there two years ago and the finishing circuit was on the bluff. My guess is that they will incorporate that into the time trial. A lot of people will come out because Bakersfield is a big city.”
Leipheimer is a highly skilled time trial riders and since that’s the subject today, Twisted Spoke is posting part of the article we wrote for Cycle Sport Magazine on the Vail time trial. Levi won that test on stage three and it essentially wrapped up the overall win. We spent that day with Radio Shack sports physiologist Allen Lim talking about how he works with Levi to win time trials. He’ll still work with Levi in the new Quick Step formation.
CYCLE SPORT STORY
Levi is zero degrees celsius, looking like a chilled astronaut on an exercise bike. A black hose runs from his cooling convection vest down to a red box with digital readouts. A hipster in a plaid porkpie hat and cut-off striped slacks monitors the gizmo. He hands Leipheimer a plastic bottle of pinkish liquid that’s unmarked except of a large handwritten X.
Maybe that’s a strange scenario but the man is Radio Shack sports physiologist Allen Lim. He figures that while Leipheimer is 34 seconds behind Tejay Van Garderen on CG, his rider is already winning the Vail time trial even though the start time isn’t for another hour.
These days a victory in a time trial isn’t just man against clock, it’s sports physiologist against sports physiologist. The battle is Allen Lim versus guys like Robbie Ketchell of Garmin and Inigo San Millan of UnitedHealthcare. As it happens, they all live in Boulder, Colorado, outdoor sports mecca and a kind of oasis for integrated sports science.
The convection vest Leipheimer wears is just one of Lim’s tricks. Ice packs are old school for stopping the engine from overheating during an intense warm-up. “What we found with just ice is that it’s too cold — it actually causes the blood vessels in the back to constrict. All of a sudden the muscles act as an insulator and the core temperates go up.”
The pink liquid in the unmarked bottle is Lim’s special elixir, a super high sodium citrate solution. “That fluid stays in his system and literally expands his blood volume. He doesn’t have to pee it out. It’s also a strong buffer of lactic acid so it has the effect of boosting power a bit.” Lim’s powder batches come in a foil packet with a plain white label and the words SecretDrinkMix. This is a war fought over seconds with macro-nutrients.
Levi’s core temp is regulated, he’s hydrated, his legs spin like mad, the trainer close to mechanical break point. All systems go but that’s not all he has going for him.
Leipheimer also has the distinct advantage of a relaxed mandible. It’s another fractional gain for Radio Shack and team Lim. “The thing that was bothering him the most was his jaw. He was so cold on the descent [of Independence Pass] that he was clenched tight. He said he could barely hold onto his bike by the time he got down.So he ended up getting a lot of chiro work just on his masseters, his jaw and neck.’
Lim has Leipheimer wearing a sports specific mouth guard that he discovered brings an incremental 10 to 20 watts in an intense five minute effort. According to a slew of athete testimonials, the mouth guard seems to upgrade balance, strength and focus. Just more time taken off a clock that decides who might win the stage and — barring a freak occurrence or crash — the entire US Pro Cycling Challenge.
All fractional gains are essential in this Vail time trail, a ten mile uphill chrono last seen in the Coors Classic stage race. Hinault beat Lemond on this exact course in ’86. The Badger was too much of a tough ass to bother with much acclimatizing and nearly died at the finish line. Much to Lemond’s disappointment, he didn’t.
The relationship between rider and sports physiologist is not unlike the connection between Formula 1 driver and mechanic. Feedback is everything and the best drivers have the sensitivity and language to describe the specifics. Ask Lim the one rider he likes working with most and the answer is the bald guy from Butte, Montana, the 37 year old pro having a terrific year, the winner of the Tour de Suisse and Utah and a second in California.
“Levi is so in tune with his body and he gives such great information. He’s so disciplined, he’s so meticulous, that it’s almost tragic, right? Because it prevents him from doing all these other things that he knows will screw up his performance, like staying up late, being a regular person,” says Lim. “But at the same time, he clearly understands what works and the implications of all his actions on his performance.”
Leipheimer is about to prove that tragedy has a definite upside. He’s going to tear the Vail time trial apart. And that’s Lim’s final input, because beside all the sports science and therapeutic gizmos, he’s a skilled motivational speaker.
As Leipheimer warmed up, Lim gave him a kind of trigger phrase designed to boost performance. “I told him you better be screaming at yourself like a mutherfucker. In the Suisse time trial he was literally yelling at himself to keep himself going. Then I made up a whole slew of things like pouring lava over himself or tearing out human hearts.”
Garmin-Cervelo’s Christian Vande Velde clocks a time of 12:47:66 and it’s the hundreds that decide how the story ends. Leipheimer screams up to Vail Pass exactly 58 hundreds of a second faster. Almost nothing, everything, the yellow jersey.
A margin of 58 hundreds — was it the secret drink mix, the convection vest, the mouth guard? Did Leipheimer essentially wrap up the US Pro Cycling Challenge thanks to a relaxed mandible?
All you know for certain is that Lim is worth more than hundreds or even thousands.