ST. LOUIS — Levi Leipheimer is back in the saddle and set to compete in the Tour of Missouri, less than two months after breaking his right wrist in the Tour de France.
No way he wanted to be done racing this early.
"It's not 100 percent, but it's good enough to be here," Leipheimer said Sunday, a day before the start of the weeklong stage race with a 75-mile circuit in downtown St. Louis. "My main goal is to sort of get back in shape so I didn't have to finish my season in the middle of July, so next year I wasn't coming from such an out-of-shape state."
The 35-year-old Leipheimer blames himself for the accident not far from the finish of the 13th stage of the Tour de France, saying he paid for the "stupid mistake" of not keeping his eyes on the road at all times.
"I had my head down for a second, looked up, and there the corner was," Leipheimer said. "I wasn't set up properly and was coming into it way too fast, way too much on the inside.
"I just ran out of room, basically, and crashed."
While on the mend, Leipheimer prepared to jump ship from the world's top-ranked Astana team along with Lance Armstrong, signing a two-year deal last week with Team RadioShack starting Jan. 1. He plans on using this week's race as a barometer for whether he'll compete in the time trial at the world championships in Switzerland later this month.
Leipheimer, who finished fourth in the 2007 Tour de France, doesn't want to make the trip if he's not ready for the podium.
"I've been fourth there a couple times and I don't want to go there and get fourth again," Leipheimer said. "So I want to be sure I feel strong enough and have a chance of at least getting a medal."
He'll be tested in the third Tour of Missouri, which winds its way across the state with the finish in Kansas City next Sunday. Two dozen racers from this year's Tour de France and seven of the world's top pro teams, up from one in the first year and three in 2008, have entered.
Sprint specialist Mark Cavendish of Great Britain and Team Columbia won six stages in this year's Tour de France. The team also features George Hincapie, a 14-year Tour de France veteran and the 2007 Tour of Missouri winner, and three-time time trial world champion Michael Rogers of Australia.
Team Garmin-Slipstream is led by defending champion Christian Vande Velde, who finished fourth in the Tour de France last year.
Like Leipheimer, Jens Voigt of Germany is a Tour de France crash survivor after a spectacular faceplant on a downhill during the 16th stage that knocked him unconscious.
"It looked more impressive than it really was," Voigt said. "I've only been back in training for a short amount of time, so we'll see how it goes.
"Maybe I'll be in the breakaway, or maybe I'll be in front of the broom wagon."
Last year's race attracted 434,000 spectators and the state estimated a return of just under $30 million in economic impact for its $1.5 million investment in 2008. The race is considered one of the world's top five cycling events outside Europe.
"The Tour of Missouri has exceeded our fondest hopes," said Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who played a lead role in bringing the event to the state. "It has been a magnet for state tourism. Missourians get this event."
A magnet for riders, too. Cavendish won three stages last year and pushed his team to make a return engagement.
"I really liked the race last year; I really like coming to America," Cavendish said. "Obviously, when you're winning it makes it a little bit more special."