A coworker asked me recently if I have ever ridden with Levi and I had to pull a Bill Clinton on them and reply with a question. What is your definition of "with"? Because the few rides that we did pedal together, I spent more time following and chasing him as he slowly disappeared up the road on these long straight aways outside Colorado Springs. I am a stickler on facts so I had to col through a few years of training journals from the Steel Wül attic to confirm the dates.
On November 7th, 1993 I worked my way down the lonely hallway of the Olympic Training Center dorm rooms in Colorado Springs for my third training camp. There must have been a dozen of us that were invited to the USCF camp that winter but only a few names were scribbled into my training journal- Levi Leipheimer, Dale Sedgwick, Scott Macdonald, and Chris Yankee (Chris bagged one of the most amazing group finishes while racing for the National Team in Poland).
Going to the OTC was always a bitter sweat for me. On one hand you were so jazzed that you were going to the "show" but you knew that you were going to have to perform in a stressful environment. They could not have made that place any more depressing as far as the buildings, grounds, paint color and staff members. I did not need a welcoming committee but it would have been cool for someone to take 2 minutes and show this lost teenager around. Part of the stress came from the fact that anyone there would have sold their soul to the Devil to be a permanent resident National Team member. The residents (Julich, Hincapie, Dede, Armstrong, and Evenshine) were in a league of their own with there own wing and all the amenities from home (TV, house plants, refrigerators). I will never forget Chad Gerlach taking on the most prominent resident (Lance) in a battle of verbal judo ("you're looking pretty puggy there Lance") which eventually turned into a headlock fest. I believe Bobby J broke up the playground scrapping.
The loneliest day of my life happened to be at the OTC in 1991 when I first step foot on the OTC grounds for the Junior Worlds Trails. It was one of those situations where you are looking for anyone to throw you a bone. It had all the necessary ingredients to make you second guess yourself - unfamiliar environment, insanely competitive atmosphere, pressure to perform, and a 1000 miles from home.
I found my room at the end of that lonely hallway that day and my roommate was already unpacked and chamoised up. He introduced himself to me as the Pocket Rocket. He was all of five feet nothing and one hundred and nothing pounds. In the corner of the room leaning against the heater was the smallest LeMond carbon bike I have ever seen. It was obviously a womens frame. He said that he was from Salt Lake City Utah and he could not have been a nicer guy. He was not carrying the same stress that I was. I got the impression that he was not afraid of anything or anybody. He did not seem to be focused on the National Team politics like the rest of us and his potential was visible even to the untrained eye.
Chris Carmichael organized our first few rides and the Pocket Rocket (Levi) would slowly ride away from the group and disappear up the road. After 30 mins or so he would surprise us all by riding up from behind us. He would do this all day long and I imagine it was out of pure boredom. He rode effortlessly day in and day out.
I got sick after a couple of weeks and found myself curled up in my eastern block hand-me-down government issued metal bed completely dehydrated with a 103 temp. I was kind of lonely when I arrived, so at this point I think I would have traded places with anyone anywhere doing anything. The Pocket Rocket brought me back from the dead with a couple of asprin and Gatorade (thank you for that).
The Rocket rallied a few of us one night and organized a night on the town. We ended up at Meadow Muffins Bar and Grille (the best wings west of I-25 according to the locals). For a little guy he can pack in a number of beers. The Rocket shared some great stories of racing in Belgium. Later that night Scott Macdonald told me that no one in the US knows that little guy Levi but he is a known entity in Belgium because he was crushing the kermesses without any teammates in the early 90's.
It has been fun to watch the Pocket Rocket launch his career and capture some huge wins along the way. Knowing what it takes to perform at that level, I hope he is a multi millionaire by now.
For the record:
10+ years ago Dougie Fresh and I went on a ride with Levi's now wife Odessa Liepheimer and she introduced herself to us as a former model turned bike racer and Dougie said, "so were you like a hand model or something?" And that is why we love our Dougie so much.
Levi and Odessa