The strange case of Levi

October 18, 2012

Of all the confessors in the USADA case, Levi is perhaps the strangest. Almost everything about him is different from the other confessors. But although in my opinion he’s been lucky for years (I was really disappointed when Quickstep signed him this year), I think that being fired yesterday was actually unfair to him. But let’s start at the beginning:

  • He doped from very early-on, according to his affidavit. He started while still racing in the US. Most others claim to have raced cleanly in the US, made the move to Europe based on their talent and only started doping after (this supposedly proves that they deserved to be a pro, deserved to draw a salary and it dismisses any notion that they occupied a spot in the peloton for which there were more deserving candidates).
  • None of this should be a surprise, as his doping practices were described in Hans Holczer’s book (it also states the UCI was aware and recommended he be taken out of the 2005 Tour de France).
  • He’s the only one of the USADA confessors who has been convicted for doping before (in 1996 when, ironically, he rode for Team Einstein).
  • He’s received a 6 month ban just like the others. But they are “first-time offenders” under the rules and this is clearly his second offense.
  • According my interpretation of the WADA code, a second doping conviction automatically calls for a lifetime ban if it is for the offenses admitted to by Levi. With “substantial assistance in uncovering rule violations”, this can be reduced to 8 years. I have no idea how he can receive just a 6 month ban.
  • I’ll grant that the WADA code is a bit vague, in that some violations are less serious – in case of no (significant) fault – but it doesn’t clarify anywhere what happens when there are two violation, the first of which is no significant fault and the second is. But 6 months suspension as if the first offense wasn’t there, I can’t find that anywhere in the rules.

So up to this point he’s lucky if anything. Now for the unfair part:

  • For 2012 Omega Pharma-Quickstep hires Levi, despite everything in Holczer’s book, despite rumors everywhere (if I hear them, everybody hears them).
  • Of course cycling is a sport with rumors everywhere, and you can’t act on rumors alone, but you have to figure that if somebody puts them in a book, he takes a big risk if they are untrue. And the assertions in the book were left uncontested in court, another strong indication.
  • Now that the USADA information becomes public, Levi is fired by the team. Similarly to the Matt White case, it makes you wonder.
  • Did team manager Patrick Lefevere not read Holczer’s book, or any news articles covering it? It rings a bit hollow.
  • Was Levi fired because he doped six years ago, or because it is now revealed that he doped six years ago?
  • If Lefevere knew about Levi’s past transgressions, he can’t fire him now. Aside from the opportunistic cynicism of such a move, any lawyer would have a field day with an employer who doesn’t immediately take action when he becomes aware of illegal behavior of his employee and who instead takes action a year later. Never mind any “it’s in the contract” defense.
  • If Lefevere didn’t know about Levi’s past transgressions, well … then … right.

I hope Omega Pharma-Quickstep shed some more light into this situation, because to date their statement about firing their team leader has been shorter than a press release celebrating an 8th place finish in a Flemish kermesse.

At the same time, maybe they can address whether they are still comfortable with the employment of Dr. José Ibarguren Taus?

62 Responses to “The strange case of Levi”

  1. One point that I always bring up when people talk of Levi’s past doping offense, is that it was for pseudoephedrine. I believe it was in the allergy med Claritin D. I also believe this has been removed from the banned list except in high doses (I could be wrong). This is definitely not a defense of his doping, but may explain the discrepancy.

    • For sure there were “mild” substances that created a big mess in those days, Canadians may remember their favorite female rower being busted for an “innocent” drug, but of course she was so nice that she couldn’t have cheated, etc, etc.

    • Joe Papp Says:

      that’s what Levi’s family CLAIMED it was for. Convenient that the claritin d would metabolize similarly to the equally-banned stimulant pseudoephedrine hcl.

      I was actually there that day in 1996 when Levi tested positive, and the fact that he lapped us solo on one of the hardest criterium courses in north america, which consisted almost entirely of uphill/downhill, isn’t explained away entirely by his having a cold or some allergies.

      • That’s why I only race when I have a cold or allergies. Makes me stronger.

        • Joe Papp Says:

          hahahaha! or when you’re anemic (to justify the EPO) or suffering hypogonadism (to justify the exogenous testosterone), right?

          doping is offensive to the public by and large, I understand. but I absolutely loathe the hypocrisy evident in almost ever corner it seems! ahhhhrgh! lol..

    • Joe Papp Says:

      There’s not much difference (none, really) in what the chromatography will reveal when taking 25mg ephedrine stimulant tablets vs. a med like claritin d. It’s obvious in the control that it’s not amphetamine or methamphetamine, but the cold medicine defense is just an attempt at obfuscation and not one that Levi ever offered in any official context, but was rather what his family suggested in a letter to the editor, iirc. My point is that, although as GV points out there have been moments when certain drugs are presented as being milder vs. harder drugs, it’s still doping.

      But as for why Levi didn’t get a life ban reduced to 8 yrs, it would be b/c the 96 positive came well before the WADA Code came into force, so they can’t retroactively go back and count it against him under regulations that didn’t exist then, iiuc.

  2. hrotha Says:

    I have a really hard time believing Levi’s confession beyond 2000-2007. He didn’t mention his 1996 positive, and we’re supposed to believe he stopped doping in 2008, just before getting the best results of his career, despite riding effectively for the same team. In that regard, I have no sympathy for Levi. He should have been banned for life anyways.

    But you’re right on the money about OPQS, and it certainly looks like either a misguided attempt at PR (1% chance of that) or like omertà enforcing.

    • Slim Jim Says:

      It’s about as credible as Basso’s “intent to dope” confession.

      Yeah sure I was juiced up to the eyeballs since before I was serving as a luitenant to Lance but when I won that Grand Tour I did it fair and square.

  3. Dennis Says:

    Article 25.4 in WADC says pre-code doping offences involving specified substances (ephedrine is a specified stimulant) where they receive a ban shorter than 2 years, should be seen as a reduced sanction. From that follows that he should have a 4-6 year ban for his second offence (WADC 10.7.1), minus the the witness reduction.

    • With witness reduction being 75% max (which is what everybody got based on 2 years for the first offense), so then Levi should have gotten 12-18 months

    • Joe Papp Says:

      25.3 Application to Decisions Rendered Prior to the 2009 Code – “The 2009 Code shall have no application to any anti-doping rule violation case where a final decision finding an anti-doping rule violation has been rendered and the period of Ineligibility has expired.”

  4. Specialist Says:

    Levi also looses all results since 99-07 whereas George just from 04-06. Levi isn’t clear in his USADA statement about whether he doped in 08 onwards.

    • hrotha Says:

      It isn’t clear in his affidavit, but in his acceptance of sanction he only admits to doping from 2000 to 2007. In a recent interview he said everything after that was clean.

  5. beev Says:

    I love reading blogs with a barb at the end….

    • Then you came to the right place :-). No seriously, I try to be fair, but at the same time teams who want to be clean should think about things.

      If you only need a doctor for normal medical activities, then there are literally thousands of doctors who can do those. You don’t need a “cycling doctor” and you certainly don’t need a “questionable cycling doctor”.

      I remember a rider once saying “But we need a cycling doctor, we have very specific injuries like road rash”. To which the non-cycling doctor replied “We treat people with 3rd degree burns over 50% of their body, do you think road rash is going to pose a problem?”

      • Dear Wiggo Says:

        What about saddle sores? I had one recently – an infection at any rate, and the GP up the road treated me. Does that mean I am not properly cured until I see a cyling Dr?

        Seriously – I am trying to get fit again and saddle sores are the pits.

        Do you have Dr Leinders number?

      • beev Says:

        yes, i believe in being fair – so, i expect lefevre to get what he’s due in the fullness of time :-)

      • Bill Says:

        I agree whole-heartedly! In my case, it would have been nice to have a doc who knew a little more about road rash. I didn’t learn that you’re supposed to get in there, bite the bullet and scrub out the wound until a couple weeks after the fact because my family doc didn’t know the drill. To this day, I still have small pieces of road visible under my skin. Not the end of the world, but it would’ve been nice to know.

        • Dear Wiggo Says:

          Bill: My Mum is a nurse and she knows you scrub all that bad stuff out before dressing the wound.

          If you honestly went to a doctor who let you leave road crap in your body you need to visit better doctors, not cycling ones…

  6. Q Says:

    If you watch the Tour in the US, Phil and Paul would always make comments about how “Leipheimer is always good at time trials at the end of a grand tour”. So, his unique talent is not getting as fatigued as his competitors over 3 weeks? Hmm …

  7. sma Says:

    I read a few tweets saying that this was just an easy way to free up some budget money to hire Cav…

    • Andrew Says:

      This might be a very good explanation of how/why the team handled the firing publicly the way they did. Vroomen was correct in that some low level race writeups are larger than dumping their ‘main man.’

      Leave the fan-fare for the arrival of the sacred one.

  8. Matthew Says:

    To me this move by OPQS stinks of an opportunistic firing. Perhaps they regretted the fact that they were bound to Levi for another season and used his admissions of past guilt as an opportunity to negate the remaining year(s) of his contract? I don’t think the results that OPQS got from Levi in 2012 were what they were hoping for when they signed him. So his inclusion and admissions in the USADA findings provided them with an easy out.

    • Bill Says:

      Yes! They’ve been a sprint team for a while now so last year was a pretty significant change for them. Now they can be a sprint team again! Feel bad for Levi to some degree because he did come clean while others chose to lie.

      • Mendip5000 Says:

        Because he had no choice – initial statement under threat of perjury (to Feds) had to coincide with babble to USADA.

        • Bill Says:

          True, but there were several as I understand who clammed up in front of the grand jury. Just saying, Levi could have gone that route but didn’t. Not that I condone any of his previous mis-deeds.

  9. MR Says:

    Levi peaked as a cyclist (drugs or no drugs) a number of years ago. And, at the risk of overstatement, I’ve never seen him compete psychologically with the top dogs of bike racing. So my conclusion is that OPQS fired him because he doesn’t have it anymore. The doping accusation is a convenient (if not cynical) excuse to get out of the contract and save a few bucks.

    Also, I still can’t get past the fact that Lance never tested positive. Nor did a large number of other top level riders in that last 15 to 20 years. I can think of nothing that explains satisfactorily how some get caught and most don’t, especially given the number of people tested, the frequency of the tests, and the introduction of year round random testing. How many times is a top contender in a given TdF tested over the course of 3 weeks? Don’t they test the top 3 finishers and the top GC people every day?

    If doping has been as endemic as these blogs are suggesting (and I have no reason to doubt them), then of this suggests a massive institutionalized, coordinated conspiracy. And those who are “caught” are either carefully pre-chosen victims who have lost favor with the powers that be or the terminally unlucky who are caught strictly by chance or stupid mistakes.

    Forgive my naivete and/or lack of specifics. These are just impressions from watching racing over the last 25 years.

    • Evan Says:

      Fact now in evidence Lance tested positive three times, but covered up. Corticosteroids, EPO Tour of Switzerland, TDF 1999 Prologue. The TDF 1999 is the most damming and scientifically profound and valid finding of all of them.

    • Bill Says:

      That, and maybe that the testing program isn’t as thoroughly planned out as it could be. For instance, riders are tested after stages instead of in the morning. If they’ve doped the night before, the drugs will be undetectable by the time the stage ends. The random and targeted controls should be done in the morning. Then test the podium and GC after the race as well.

      • Joe Papp Says:

        and the tests aren’t as effective as they’d like you to think. look, i passed dozens of in competition controls while doped, and yet the one time i test positive it’s for something i didn’t take, but the control failed to detect the 4-5 substances it should’ve caught.

        the EPO test isn’t a b&w thing either, and it relies on the rider having crossed a “threshold.” This is how kayle leogrande escaped sanction in 2006 after winning the us national championships. his a-sample was barely positive for the EPO he’d used, while his b-sample was barely negative.

    • Larry T. Says:

      UCI suddenly announcing the case against Barredo illustrates your point. They throw a few little fish to the sharks now and then while the big ones get away with pretty much anything it seems. That used to work fairly well, but the BigTex fiasco has blown the lid off…but the UCI boyz still don’t get it…so Barredo gets whacked.

  10. bill Says:

    and then there’s this interesting insight from another former US pro:

  11. Justin Says:

    About lawyers “hav[ing] a field day with an employer who doesn’t immediately take action when he becomes aware of illegal behavior of his employee and who instead takes action a year later,” you are correct. See the case of Michael Rasmussen v. Rabobank. Also, looking forward to the possible ramifications of Leipheimer’s doping, what, if anything, has Leipheimer said about his alleged doping collaboration with Allen Lim?

    • Joe Papp Says:

      Although Floyd assures me that it’s not over yet, Allen Lim really impresses for how he’s been able to skate on all this, thus far…

      • Justin Says:

        If it is “not over yet,” then USADA needs to get going before the 8 year statute expires on acts from 2005.
        Leipheimer’s USADA Affidavit corroborates Floyd’s account of their cooperation in blood doping during the 2005 Tour, but unlike Floyd, does not state who, if anyone, assisted with the transfusions. Leipheimer Aff. para. 70: “Prior to the 2005 Tour de France Floyd and I rented an apartment in France in which we stored our blood. During the Tour we used the apartment to re-infuse the blood.”
        Dr. del Moral asisted Leipheimer with transfusions, but apparently only in Spain, not in France. (Leipheimer Affidavit paragraphs 65-66)

  12. Evan Says:

    Legally speaking as a Former Forensic Evaluator, there are two issues, innocence and guilt, and exacerbating and extenuating circumstances. Levi is guilty of serial doping over many years, not one incident. He took part in a systematic conspiracy to defraud, cover up, and take part in many contests which resulted in many innocent people being destroyed by the law suits and intimidation. He was complicit with all these events. He profited by salaries and prizes from this gravy train. These are serious and germane exacerbating factors. The life time ban surely would come into consideration here regardless of a reduced prior event.

  13. mo Says:

    Lefevre fire him to make place for Cavendish in terms i think it wass just a convenient time makes it easier to balance the books.

  14. Rogier Says:

    I don’t think OPQS has fired Levi without financial compensation. As Gerard stated they could have known about his past and he must have know that they knew. So they had the opportunity to make arrangements about how to resolve things when Levi signed with OPQS in case they got in trouble later on.
    Remember that Lefevre has some experience with handling doping cases and rumours surrounding his team. He has fired riders before, Bartoli, Lotz. If he dit not treat his riders well in terms of compensation when he had to let them go because of doping offences than no one would still be willing to sign with him.

  15. Robin Says:

    Perhaps OPQS is using this to free up the resources to higher Cavendish. The timing is most interesting.

  16. David Halliwell Says:

    Team about to sign new, very expensive star. Over the hill, non-performing team leader makes confession permitting termination of contract. Hey presto: team budget balances again. Too good a chance to miss. Or is that too cynical too?

  17. Roomservicetaco Says:

    Isn’t it possible Levi was fired for lying, more so than for using ped’s or testifying? Maybe oPS brought him in before signing him, asked him about the rumors and received a denial by Levi. In that case, he was hired under false pretenses and OPS would have a right to be upset.

  18. moskowe Says:

    Lefevre is dirty, like just about every DS nowadays. He needed space for Cav, and he had the opportunity to silence someone who broke the omerta. It’s really a win/win.

    I hope they all go down. Let Bruyneel confess, let Ferrari sing, hopefully Lance will feel scorned enough to tell everything.
    Then give the riders themselves reasonable sentences so as not to deplete the pro ranks too much, and please, please, ban for life every DS, doctor, team staff involved in the scandals.
    Joe Papp was talking about hypocrisy in the sport (which, coming from him, is of the utmost irony); well the ultimate hypocrisy is all those riders from the 90s and their staff, who now find themselves in high-ranking position in almost every team, keeping their mouths shut, while turning a blind or complacent eye to the doping that goes on with the younger generation. They even seem to have enlisted quite a few riders to the “don’t know, don’t care, it’s not like that anymore” defense.

  19. Chris Says:

    Between Quick Step firing Levi and now Rabobank pulling it’s name from the sponsorship of the pro teams, it seems as though a lot of folks are trying very hard to claim they were caught unaware.

    That being said, I can’t wait to see Boonen & Tony Martin leading Cav out at the Tour next year. Or the show Boonen & Cav could put on at Qatar if Cav were to ride it…

    • Evan Says:

      This is both dissembling on their part, Rabbobank, as if they bear no responsibility, AND a first, a major sponsor saying the UCI is corrupt.

    • At the same time, fans can also not claim to be caught unaware anymore. Reading about the suspicious doctors, managers, etc, you now can make an informed decision who to cheer for. It might still backfire, but at least now you can make an effort. Same goes for sponsors.

      And of course, riders can also make a decision which team to ride for (at least the stars who have choice, at the bottom of the ladder you have to ride for whoever gives you a spot).

  20. Evan Says:



  21. Evan Says:


  22. Spotter Says:

    Rereading the Leipheimer articles I note that his results for the 2007 Tour De France are to be erased because Levi admitted to doping. One of the riders’s who was ahead of Levi for this tour was on the SAME team as Levi. What I find strange is how a team mate who was not doping was able to beat a team leader (Levi was No: 41) who was doping.

    This is where the UCI should be investigating!

    • Why would that be strange? Do you think a doped donkey beats a clean race horse? Not calling Levi a donkey, but you have to keep in mind he was doping from very early on, even in races where it would appear most others didn’t. So a doping Levi has always blended in with clean others.

      There is also the perverted logic of doping reliability as told to me by what I am very sure is a clean rider. His team manager was aware that he didn’t dope but his teammate did. When both were going well and aiming for the same race, the team manager would always choose the doping rider as the team leader because he didn’t really trust the natural body. Yes, the clean rider was going well, but how could the manager know if he would still be in top form come race day. With the doped rider, this would be much more “easy” to know.

      • Justin Says:

        gerardvroomen, your points are valid and very interesting, except for the implicit assumption that Leipheimer had a clean teammate who finished ahead of him in the 2007 Tour. And let’s not speak in code – we are talking about Alberto Contador.

        • I made no assumption whatsoever. To be honest, I didn’t remember nor look up what team Levi rode for in 2007, I assumed Gerolsteiner but you’re probably right that it was Astana. I really can’t be bothered by the guy.

          I just challenged the notion that somebody who finishes ahead of a doped rider is therefore also doped. In particular in the case of Levi, that won’t be true.

        • Justin Says:

          gerardvroomen, your logic is sound, but we are talking about an actual “case of Levi” Leipheimer, and Spotter was attempting to draw conclusions – or not draw them – based on Levi’s results in a specific race. Therefore the underlying facts of Leipheimer’s case are relevant, especially here, where we have some actual facts concerning Leipheimer’s doping in the 2007 Tour.

          Contador and Leipheimer were teammates on Discovery in 2007. Leipheimer’s USADA Affadavit goes into some detail concerning how Bruyneel organized his blood doping program for the 2007 Tour. According to Leipheimer, Bruyneel’s strong preference was that the riders organize their own program. He told Leipheimer “You are a pro, you should do it on your own.” In the end Leipheimer insisted that the team organize his doping program, and Bruyneel relented and helped Leipheimer to dope. Leipheimer’s Affidavit identifies another teammate who was on the team doping program, whose name is redacted as “Rider 16” in the published USADA decision.

          None of the foregoing proves anything about Alberto Contador’s victory in the 2007 Tour, but it does raise serious questions about it, and the answers to those questions will inform any inferences that we draw from Leipheimer’s result in that race.

        • There seems to be fairly good agreement in the blogosphere that rider #16 is Popovych, cross-referencing with all the evidence.

  23. Justin Says:

    The visual evidence is interesting – thank you. Returning to your earlier point of team leadership being given to doped riders over clean riders, it is interesting that, at least publicly, Leipheimer was the designated leader of the Discovery team going in to the 2007 Tour.
    This supports your assertion because we now understand that Leipheimer was on the “team program” for that race, so presumably Bruyneel trusted that Leipheimer would perform. This race was Contador’s emergence as a grand tour rider, and we don’t have as many facts about his preparation.

    • Spotter Says:

      Everyone all court up in the Lance factor, the main media is all about Lance, ex-riders coming out and saying that they doped when they were with Lance. Current riders are saying it cleaner now, people saying that they all doped then (this being most). But this is too nice and neat and it like saying we don’t need to investigate it anymore.

      I had a little think about it and the Levi thing just look a bit funny. Why would Levi have his results between 1 June 1999 to 30 July 2006 a seven year period erased. Then only a 22 day period in July 2007 erased. I don’t know all the stuff about US law but I would think that Levi would have had to agree the erased dates are part of the agreement with USADA.

      These are the strange little facts that need to be investigated, maybe it will come the nothing which I am fine with. I don’t know if the other riders are/were dopers but what I don’t want is in five of ten years time an ex-rider been found out to be a doper in the mid-late 2000’s. Then having UCI coming out at that time saying we didn’t know and didn’t investigate because we were all concerned about Lance.

      • Justin Says:

        About Leipheimer’s results for the 22 days in July 2007 being erased, that is interesting. It is possible that these are the only race days in 2007 for which Leipheimer admitted doping. In this respect, since his doping was apparently focused on the 2007 Tour, it is interesting to note that Leipheimer’s Tour doping program in 2007 was different than in previous years. In 2005 and 2006 Leipheimer did most of his blood transfusions in Spain, whereas in 2007 he only mentions doing it in France. It is speculation, but one reason for this change of location could be that Spain became a more difficult location for doping after Operation Puerto, or perhaps because Spain criminalized doping in late 2006. In any event, this was apparently a team-organized doping program, and someone on Leipheimer’s team made a decision to locate it outside Spain.

Comments & Questions

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: