Hometown Papers Claim Local Hero Cyclist Levi Leipheimer Never Doped. Oh Really?

Categories: Crime, Media, Sports
Levi on bike.jpg
Hometown papers are ardently defending Levi Leiphimer from accusations of drug use. But those accusations may not be so far-fetched.
When disgraced 2006 Tour de France champion Floyd Landis last week confessed to doping and fingered other cyclists, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat was quick to jump to the defense of accused local hero Levi Leipheimer, the three-time Tour of California winner who now rides for Lance Armstrong's Radio Shack team.

According to the May 20 Press Democrat article "Local cyclists skeptical of doping allegations:"

Leipheimer, who makes his home in Santa Rosa and has been a winner of the Tour of California and a top finisher in the Tour de France, has never tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug or method.

Yet that assertion is highly dubious. Leipheimer is on the record books for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. This wasn't just any doping positive, either. In 1996, Leipheimer had a national championship yanked away from him. This occurred after he apparently violated USA Cycling rules prohibiting performance-enhancing drugs.


rsz_levi_mug.jpg
Levi Leiphimer
The PD's Leipheimer defense lasted a couple of days. In a May 21 column titled "Leipheimer on Landis accusations: 'I did it the right way,'" PD writer Bob Padecky quoted Leipheimer defending himself:

"There is no truth to what he is saying. No truth at all. When a story like this comes out, all you can do is stand up for yourself."
Padecky then added:

It's not that difficult for Leipheimer to do, given his stature in Santa Rosa. It is made that much easier when his image is placed alongside Landis'.
The PD wasn't the only newspaper dedicating columns to the supposed good name of Leipheimer.

The cyclist used to live in Salt Lake City, and his coach Maximo Testa currently resides in Utah. That was enough of a local angle for the Salt Lake Tribune to use Testa as the main source for the May 20 story "Landis doping admission rattles cycling." The story quoted Testa as saying:

"I have worked with Levi for four years and he is one of the last persons I'd think of would do something like that."
However, on December 4, 1996, the online version of the cycling publication Winning: Bicycle Racing Illustrated ran the following item, drawn from a press release issued by USA Cycling, the sport's governing body:

 A USA Cycling disciplinary panel recommended that Levi Leipheimer receive a three-month suspension as a result of a violation of Bylaw N., Section 2, Part 4, Prohibited Practices, stemming from competition at the USCF Amateur Men's Criterium Championship, Aug. 18 in Grandview Heights, Ohio. That recommendation has been upheld by Lisa Voight, USA Cycling executive director. The 23-year-old Leipheimer will be required to return his national championship jersey, medal and prize money. He will also be suspended from the U.S. National Team for the same period. The decision is subject to appeal.

According to the 1996 USA Cycling Rulebook, this is the text of the rule Leipheimer broke:

"Prohibited  Practices. No rider may use the substances listed in Table 1 or Table 2."

The tables then listed dozens of banned medicines with hard-to-pronounce names such as ephedrine, picrotoxine, and etafedrine.

In contemporary press accounts, Leipheimer was indeed crowned 1996 National Criterium Champion.

But USA Cycling spokeswoman Keri Kahn was kind enough to send me a list of national champions who actually made it into the official record book -- that's to say the ones whose titles weren't retroactively rescinded.

The official 1996 national criterium champion was Matt Johnson, who actually finished second to Leipheimer on the date of the event.

Kahn said doping suspension records from that year weren't easily obtainable. A request to interview Leipheimer, placed through his team's press spokesman, had not been responded to by press time.

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