It's a testament to recent U.S. dominance at the Tour de France that an American could finish in the top ten for three of the past five years yet remain relatively unknown back home. But with retirements, doping scandals, and age hitting the U.S. contingent in Europe, Levi Leipheimer, 33, is the only American with legitimate Tour aspirations this year. JOHN BRADLEY spoke with the Butte, Montana, native about his return to Lance Armstrong's Discovery Channel team, the departure of star teammate Ivan Basso amid a doping investigation, and his take on the 2006 Tour.
OUTSIDE: You left Discovery in 2001, when it was still U.S. Postal, and successfully headed up other teams. Why go back?
LEIPHEIMER: I've always wanted to. I felt like I sort of had to do a lot on my own for a while. But the leadership I saw when I was on U.S. Postal was second to none. Coming back was definitely the right choice. It's just a more cohesive team.
How does Basso's departure change things for you and the team?
I've known and said all along that the Tour was one of my biggest objectives in 2007. My preparation will remain the same. The only thing that has changed is that we'll have one less card to play at the Tour.
The team is still pretty loaded, though. And with all that talent, you guys are becoming like the Yankees of the peloton, both loved and hated.
Yeah. The Tour of California was like nothing I've ever seen. It was like the whole peloton was against us. But in the end it was nice, because everybody wanted us to lose so bad, and we still won.
There's every chance that we're going to know the official winner of this year's Tour before we know the '06 winner. Do you think cycling is in a situation it can recover from?
I think so. We don't need any more scandals or bad news like we had last year, though. Personally, I hope that we learn that the whole Floyd thing was a mistake and that he proves himself innocent. But maybe we should just forget last year's Tour. Just throw it away.