Leipheimer says he came forward to USADA to join critical mass in changing cycling’s culture
In an op-ed posted on the website of The Wall Street Journal Wednesday, Levi Leipheimer accepted responsibility for doping during his career and described an environment he faced early in his career in which “doping was organized and everywhere in the peloton. Doping wasn’t the exception, it was the norm.”
Leipheimer was among the 11 former U.S. Postal Service riders named by U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart as witnesses in the agency’s investigation of a wide-ranging doping conspiracy at the team. Leipheimer rode for the Johan Bruyneel-managed squad in 2000-2001 and joined the Belgian — who requested arbitration against USADA over similar charges — again at Discovery Channel, Astana and RadioShack from 2007-2011.
VeloNews has obtained Leipheimer’s signed Acceptance of Sanction, in which he admits to having doped between 2000 and 2007. Leipheimer has accepted a six-month ban, effective September 1, which was reduced as a result of his assistance to the investigation, per WADA code.
“Today, I accept responsibility and USADA’s sanctions for participating in the dirty past of cycling. I’ve been racing clean for more than 5 years in a changed and much cleaner sport. I hope that my admission will help to make these changes permanent,” wrote Leipheimer. “Until recently—or maybe even until today—when people thought about doping, they thought about a guy, by himself, using banned substances to get ahead. What people didn’t realize—what I didn’t realize until after I was already committed to this career—was that doping was organized and everywhere in the peloton. Doping wasn’t the exception, it was the norm.”
Leipheimer detailed the decision he made to dope in order to make a living in a European peloton rife with performance enhancing drugs. The three-time Amgen Tour of California winner said the decision he made was clear at the time.
“Right or wrong, in my mind the choice was “do it or go home,” wrote Leipheimer. “For me that was not a choice.”
Leipheimer also wrote that he decided to come forward for USADA when he understood that the investigation was wide-ranging and would create the change in the sport that a single rider confession — that those of Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton and Frank Andreu — did not.
“When USADA came to me and described a solution — where my admission could be part of a bigger plan that would make the positive changes we’ve seen in recent years permanent — I said ‘I need to be involved,’ wrote Leipheimer. “I don’t want today’s 13 year olds to be discouraged by their parents from dreaming about one day riding the Tour de France.”
Later Wednesday, Leipheimer’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step team announced that it had placed the American on non-active status, pending an internal investigation.
“The team takes the decision of USADA and the consequent statement of Mr. Leipheimer very seriously. The team wants to review and consider all the information now being made available and speak personally with the rider before a final decision is made,” the team said in a press release. “The team would like to point out that the battle against doping has always been a guiding principle of the team’s activities and work ethic. The suspension imposed by the USADA refers to a period of time when the athlete was not part of Omega Pharma-Quick Step Cycling Team.”