Levi Leipheimer may look back on the the ASO's decision to exclude Astana from the Tour de France with gratitude.
Facing a critical time trial today at the Tour of California, Phil Liggett said Levi was an angry man, riding with something to prove. It sure seemed that way - he hammered the individual TT, taking the stage and keeping the yellow jersey. Sure, he's in better shape at this time of year than most pros. But it was a really dominant performance. I started thinking about what Liggett was saying, and I remembered, yes, I've run, played, and done other stuff angry. Not often, but when I've done it, I've crushed.
It's unusual for me to ride angry - sure I curse and spit when I race, but that's mere irritation. Angry is different, anger is a performance enhancing drug for me.
I'll give you an example. I used to run a lot in the Army. I wasn't a great runner, but could knock out the PT test run, a 2 mile for time, in around 10:30. That's not a great time but it was pretty solid. More than a couple times I knocked out sub-35 10k times, and high 32's were possible, depending on how regularly I'd been running. Pretty fair, given my average size back then and weightlifting proclivities (around 210-220).
I used to run a lot with a buddy, Alex. He was always trim and was a bit of a natural runner. He *always* had it over me - no matter what, he was faster. Yes, I had a sprint, but after about 2-3 miles on the trot, the sprint wasn't enough to get me ahead of him at the end of a run. He was just better.
Alex didn't usually lord it over me, but it was pretty clear he could crush me pretty much whenever he wanted. We did a midweek run this one time, probably on a Wednesday, going for about 8 or 10 miles. Somewhere in the middle of it, I got this leg numbness that I used to get on runs longer than 5-6 miles. I had to stop, stretch, let the pins and needles stop, and then go again. IT band problem? Sciatic nerve? Some triumph of leg muscle oxygen-eating over lung oxygen intake? Haven't a clue. What I know is this one time, Alex gave me a ration of crap about it, mid-run, and I wasn't happy.
A couple days later, on the Friday, I think, he called me at work to see if we were on for a post-work run, then some boozing and skirt chasing. (He is a great guy and was a superb wingman, if you're wondering why I'd put up with the dick behavior). Anyways, I was at the end of a really bad week, a particularly bad day, and this guy who had dogged me out for this friggin' condition I had no control over wanted to have another go.
Naturally I said yes, but I'd like to limit it to this four mile loop we sometimes did - legs were sore and all that. He figured I was pussing out and kind of laughed and agreed.
We met up after work and stretched a little, then we took off on our loop. For some reason, my legs felt pretty good that day. I was a bit pissed too... lot of stress building up. I worked a little on stretching my stride out, and kept the pace up pretty decently. About a mile into the run, Alex was wheezing a bit. I noticed this and asked if he felt okay, at which point he started bitching at me about the pace.
This totally set me off, and I put the hammer down. Was it the role reversal that bugged me? The fact that a guy who was giving me crap about being pathetic a couple days before was now at my mercy? The nasty week I'd just had?
It didn't matter. What mattered is I was effing pissed, and I was going to make that SOB pay for all the injustice in the world. So I focused on my breathing and stride, kept my rhythm, and just kept going. When I got to the far point of the run, I asked Alex if he wanted me to slow down - the guy was dying. No, he said, don't worry, keep going. Down past the cemetary and the park, I just trucked through the third mile. It felt pretty effortless for me. Meanwhile, Alex was wheezing and gasping.
We turned the corner into the home stretch, and I really focused on striding it out. I wasn't racing, I was just running really smoothly, and really fast. Lost in a rhythm I kept going, past the big modeling agency and fashion design company, past this Greek restaurant, and eventually up to the pedestrian crossing that marked the end of the 4 miles. Alex was a solid 300 yards behind me at that point. I waited for him at the crossing, and stretched for a minute. He caught up, and we jogged back across and went to stretch a bit more and make plans for that evening's systematic debauchery of ourselves and anybody unlucky enough to get caught in our path. As we were cooling down, he asked about the time. "22 even." Keep in mind, this is with two pedestrian crossings where we had to stop for a considerable time and wait for the red light, and for traffic to clear - so the actual running time was closer to 20 even. "I don't know what got into you today," he said. I told him I didn't know either, but the fact was I did know, it was a severe case of the ass and I ran a lot harder than usual as a result. I'm reasonably certain that was the fastest I ever ran four miles.
Since then I've kind of known about my anger super power, but most of the time I don't use it. It's not the kind of thing you can just tap into. It has to be there on its own, for the most part. But if it's available, it's pretty helpful. I kind of know how to sort of build it up and tap into it, but it's hard to do out of the blue. For the most part, it helps to have something to be pissed off about, and since I've quit playing rugby, it's a little bit harder for me to find something to be pissed about. C'mon, somebody socks you in the mouth, it's easier to get worked up, than if they just slip by you on their Fuji. But if you can find it... angry is good.
I'm thinking Levi got into a little bit of that today in Solvang. He rode a little above himself, hammered it in, and told Bob Roll afterward that it was the best TT he had ever done.
This sort of confirms for me that Levi has it in him to maybe with the TdF, but he needs to get his mind right. I don't know how to motivate him like that, to bring out his killer instinct, since (pretty obviously) if ASO lets him into the tour, the source of his anger will be gone.
It also makes me wonder if I need to start racing with a little more emotional intensity, and maybe see if I can make that my normal sort of mental state for racing and training. You know, use it to function better, not just to be an angry jerk on a bike. (H/T to Hoovis for that link).