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2011 Tour de France Preview: Levi Leipheimer Looking To Parlay A Good Start In 2011 Into A Strong Finish

Bay Area native Levi Leipheimer will be competing in his eighth Tour de France when the 2011 edition of cycling's biggest race starts this Saturday. Though Leipheimer has had an impressive professional career, he has only seen the podium once in the Tour de France, finishing third in 2007.

Of the six times that Levi has finished the race (he crashed out in 2003 and 2009), he has never finished worse than 13th and finished in the top ten four times. While those are impressive finishes, for a guy who has had dreams of winning the biggest of the grand tours it has to be frustrating to have come so close so often.

Leipheimer started his career with a ton of promise as he became the first American to reach the podium in the Vuelta de Espana in 2001, finishing 8th in his first appearance in the Tour de France in 2003 and winning the Deutschland Tour in 2005.

With the retirement of Lance Armstrong and suspensions of Ivan Basso and Jan Ulrich for doping allegations, Levi was considered the favorite to win the Tour de France in 2006. At the time, it appeared as though Levi might become the next big star of the cycling world. Unfortunately for Levi, he had a rough Tour that year and only reached 12th place after having a huge day on the 11th stage. 

Since then, Levi has watched the emergence of young stars in Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck relegate him to a long shot in the Tour. At the age of 37, this could be one of Leipheimer's last chances to see the podium and he couldn't have started off the year any better.

Levi was the favorite to win this year's edition of the Tour of California. However, after teammate Chris Horner had an unreal performance in stage four and established himself as the race leader, Leipheimer helped Horner to the win acting as his primary domestique while grabbing a second place finish for himself.

Then, Leipheimer went on to grab one of the bigger wins in his career when he won the 2011 Tour de Suisse on June 19th. Leipheimer entered the final stage of that race, an individual time trial, sitting in fourth place, almost two minutes behind the leader Domiano Cunego. After an epic ride, Leipheimer overcame the deficit and took down the win in a race that many of the top riders race in as preparation for the Tour de France.

Despite the fact that Contador and Schleck are the clear favorites to with this year's race, much like in any sport, the hot hand always has a good shot.

We'll be here for the entire race providing news updates and stage previews and recaps, particularly as they relate to Bay Area cyclist Levi Leipheimer. For more in-depth discussion on the 2011 Tour De France, head over to Podium Cafe. For more general Tour coverage, head over to the SB Nation story stream.