Leipheimer not counting on Olympic return

Defending Colorado and Utah titles top goals for summer after broken leg

Photo: Roberto Bettini

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Levi Leipheimer says he isn’t expecting to head back to the Olympic Games this summer.

With only one slot available for the U.S. men in the time trial race, Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) says he’s not banking on earning a ticket to London for the August 1 competition.

“I am not counting on going back to the Olympics,” Leipheimer told VeloNews on Thursday. “That’s OK. I need to focus on winning races and not doing the Olympics is a good thing for that.”

In 2008, Leipheimer won the bronze medal in the Olympic time trial race in Beijing, nipping Alberto Contador by just eight seconds on a mountainous, 47.6km course that included more than 600m of climbing.

Leipheimer called his Olympic experience one of the highlights of his professional career, but admits he needs to be realistic as USA Cycling prepares in the coming weeks for its final selection of riders to represent the United States in London later this summer.

“I think to be fair, I have an injury and I am not riding that well right now,” he said. “I am not getting my hopes up. I am just being realistic.”

In early April, a Spanish motorist struck down Leipheimer, leaving him with a fractured left fibula and knocking him off his preparation ahead of the Amgen Tour of California.

Despite the setback, Leipheimer managed to finish sixth overall at California, but says he’s still not at 100-percent full strength as he prepares for the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France.

Rather than worry about the Olympics, Leipheimer says it’s more important to return to full health for the most significant races of the European calendar and aim toward defending his overall titles in North America.

“It would be good to defend my titles at Utah and Colorado,” he said. “It’s a better thing for me and my sponsors. Going to the Olympics, which are so close after the Tour, the chances of winning and getting a medal there are less.”

With Leipheimer not expecting a phone call, it’s largely a two-horse race for the one time trial start spot, with Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda) and Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) each hoping to earn the bid to ride in London.

Zabriskie is on good form of late, winning the time trial at the Tour of California and claiming the American pro time trial title for the seventh time less than a week ago.

Phinney, racing in the Giro d’Italia, won the opening time trial to claim the pink jersey and was hoping for a shot at victory in the final-day race against the clock in Milan, but a lead motorbike missed a right-hand turn and Phinney followed the driver off-course, a mishap that derailed his chances to show off his form for U.S. selectors.

Leipheimer, meanwhile, is training this week at altitude in Utah ahead of returning to Europe in June for the Tour de Suisse, which he won last year in an exciting duel with Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD). He’s hoping to use the Swiss tour to regain top fitness ahead of the Tour de France.

When the rest of the world has its eyes on London for the 2012 Olympic Games, Leipheimer expects to be preparing for his defense of the Colorado and Utah tours.

“I am good with it,” Leipheimer said of the Olympics. “I got that medal in Beijing. That’s another result that I am super proud of.”

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