Little Levi is on my mind. Though he’s just about ready to retire in a season or two, we’ve been reminded the last few days that he might be the template for stage racing in the future. That may not be too thrilling.
Just today, in an interview in Peloton magazine with Andrew Talansky, the fast rising talent named Leipheimer as his reference point. “For the moment I always think I’m going to be more of a guy like Levi or Wiggins, who needs to climb a little bit steady. I’m never going to be an Alberto Contador, a pure climber, someone who can attack like that.”
Talking the other day with Scratch Labs’ Ian MacGregor about US National Road Champion Timmy Duggan, the name Leipheimer came up again as a model for improvement. MacGregor grew up racing and skiing with Duggan and they’re close friends.
“People attack a guy like Levi Leipheimer who is a calculating bike racer. Timmy is very much in the same vein,” said MacGregor. “That’s the chance, the path — the path of Levi. The similarity is that Levi just gets better. Timmy gets better every year.”
The Leipheimer-ization says something, ironically, about how clean cycling has become. Bradley Wiggins showed the same thing in this year’s Tour de France. Guys are steady, consistent, conservative and extra calculating about going into the red zone because you can only make so many efforts like that when you’re not on the secret sauce. There just aren’t any Riccardo Riccos or Marco Pantanis on the mountain any more.
Clean cycling means that everybody, with the exception of Alberto Contador, has to be extra analytical about their race tactics. Everything has become, the use the popular Sky term, a game of marginal gains. Ryder Hesjedal’s victory in the Giro d’Italia and Wiggins’ Tour de France win were calculated down to the watt.
We wonder if that will make the grand tour racing rather dull for a while. Already there were complaints about Wiggins’ style in Le Tour. He responded to those critics with the right answer — that nobody makes those wild attacks anymore because most everybody is riding a lot cleaner. You have to gage every effort.
That also brings us to the never-ending conversation about race radio. It seems to us that if the stage racing becomes more careful and measured, then one reason to vote for the radio ban is that it provides more opportunity to attack. These days everybody has their training dialed, everybody is super fit and few have the obvious doping edge. If the physical is more evenly matched, then why not open up the mental side?
The race race ban opens up the race to the smart riders. It rewards risk taking and experience, knowing how to read a race situation on the fly. It introduces more variables, opens new strategic possibilities. Chaos, split-second decision-making, hyper focus and awareness all come into play.
There is only one Alberto Contador. Do we need twenty Levi Leipheimers? Maybe so but perhaps not. Jonathan Vaughter’s Garmin boys blew up the entire US Pro Cycling Challenge by attacking from the gun in Durango and never stopping until they hit Denver seven days later.
His riders spoke of causing “mayhem” and “chaos” and “cutting this race open.” The result: two stage wins for Tyler Farrar, one for Tom Danielson and overall victory for Christian Vande Velde. Drawing a conclusion on their tactics, Vaughters said it was proof you could “sucker-punch” somebody pretty good.
Levi Leipheimer is a talented stage racer and a nice guy and he races the way he needs to race to perform well. But do we want everybody to race that way?