Contributed by Daniel Lee
He was unmistakably a college kid. But he also was a bike racer with Olympic and professional aspirations.
A 20-year-old junior majoring in sports performance, Leibovitz can pursue cycling and an education at Marian. After all, the small Catholic school treats cycling the same as basketball, football and other sports. Riders have coaches, a training facility and – for the top performers – tuition assistance. Marian has the extra advantage of being next door to Indianapolis’ Major Taylor Velodrome.
Cycling, as with education, is an ongoing process of development that takes years to yield a finished product. But Benjamin Sharp, USA Cycling’s high performance endurance director, sees Leibovitz as a burgeoning talent in track-cycling’s team pursuit event.
“It’s a long shot that we will be able to qualify a men’s team pursuit for the 2012 Olympic Games. Any planning for the men’s team pursuit has the Rio Games in 2016 as the first goal,” Sharp said. “Whether Adam sticks with us through that Olympic cycle remains to be seen, but I do see him as a potential cornerstone to the team’s long term development. He naturally possesses great pursuiting prowess. While I wish he had begun team pursuiting much earlier, I think he will be instrumental in helping the team take root and grow into a legitimate program.”
More immediately, Leibovitz will try to help Marian University repeat as Division I team champion at the USA Cycling National Collegiate Road National Championship, held May 6-8 in Madison, Wisc.
Collegiate cycling has become a great showcase for young riders: Ted King of Liquigas and Brent Bookwalter of the BMC Racing Team are among those to race in college before hitting the pro circuit. Leibovitz, as with other top collegiate riders, hope to pedal a similar path.
Here are excerpts of Pez conversation with Indianapolis-native Leibovitz over burritos:
PEZ: You ended last season by winning the elite individual pursuit national championship. What did that mean to you?
Elites were huge for me. I came into it with pretty good form from collegiate track nationals. I had been knocking considerable amount of time off my pursuit ever since I had been doing them, which was two years ago.
At qualifiers, I started out just way too hard. For the final we got a game plan down and we were going to ride the first half of it, not conservatively but stick to a strict schedule…. All you have to do is beat who you’re going against in the final…. You just have to pursue him. It doesn’t matter what your time is.
Ben (Sharp) would do this thing where he would walk the line. It’s kind of complicated to explain, but he would take steps forward or backward that would depend on if I was getting closer or farther away. (In the pursuit, two riders start on opposite ends of the track try to catch each other.) By the end, I was going so fast I almost lapped the guy. I could see him in front of me. I knew I got it then with like three laps to go, so I was pretty emotional at the time.
PEZ: You said you got emotional. What was it like?
Right at the line, I just kind of teared up a little bit for maybe a half a second…. I gave Ben a good old big hug afterward.
PEZ: How do you balance road and track? It seems like one can help the other, but they’re also very different.
I came into the college road season going really slow. I just built up form constantly over the summer and by the end I was flying. I mixed road up with track and then with (cyclocross) and track again, which was pretty interesting. I think track has really helped me. I have a pretty good endurance base, and it increases the power the strength tremendously.
Adam leads the Marian team to a collegiate national championship in the team time trial.
PEZ: Most up-and-coming riders may look to a rider who’s at the top level of the sport and say, ‘this is the type of rider I think I could aspire to be like.’ Is there someone like that for you?
I have a lot of idols. Jens Voigt, obviously, he’s just a hammer. Peter Sagan — actually, he’s just a year older than I am — he’s tearing it up. I want to be one of those guys who can just go out and just ride hard and crisp people. I see myself eventually becoming a classics rider to a flat-day kind of guy. But it’s too soon to tell.
PEZ: You go to Marian, which is known for its cycling program. How big of a difference has collegiate cycling made in your development?
Collegiate cycling has helped just a ridiculous amount. It helps me get in those racing miles early on…. I’ve met a lot of people doing it too, so it’s just been a good experience all the way around.
PEZ: How did you get into bike racing?
My dad, Jeff Leibovitz, did time trials a lot. I’d just go out there and frolic around and play in the cornfields. I rode with him ever since I was 4 because we had a tandem. We’d do these long weekend group rides…. The only way he could get me out of bed on the weekends was to tempt me with doughnuts/breakfast rides.
Learn more about Adam Leibovitz through his Twitter feed, @leibosuperfast.
Daniel Lee is author of “The Belgian Hammer: Forging Young Americans into Professional Cyclists.” The book, to be published by Breakaway Books this spring, is available for preorder on Amazon.com and other online booksellers. You can follow Lee on Twitter @dleehoss.