By Bruce Ewert
Levi Leipheimer officially announced his retirement from professional cycling to his hometown newspaper on May 19th. In an interview with the Press-Democrat following the final stage of the 2013 Tour of California, Leipheimer told them he had “unceremoniously” retired. Race announcer Dave Towle had called Leipheimer to the stage, calling him the “King of the Tour of California”, a race he won three times. Leipheimer acknowledged that after being fired from the Omega Pharma-Quickstep team following the publishing of USADA’s “Reasoned Decision”, he has been unable to find another team to ride for.
Leipheimer attended Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City, graduating in 1991. While in Utah he raced for Mi Duole followed by Team Einsteins before moving to Belgium to race as an amateur. He turned professional in 1997, racing first for the Colorado Cyclist team and then for the Team Saturn. He joined Lance Armstrong’s US Postal team in 2000, and had a breakthrough year in 2001 when he finished 3rd in the Tour of Spain. In 2002 he left US Postal for Rabobank, where he would ride as a team leader. He finished eighth in his first Tour de France in 2002.
After leading the Gerolsteiner team in 2005 and 2006, finishing sixth in the Tour de France and winning the Dauphine Libere, Leipheimer rejoined Tailwind Sports on Team Discovery. He placed third in the 2007 Tour behind winning teammate Alberto Contador, while winning the Stage 19 Individual Time Trial. While with Discovery he won the 2007 USPRO Road Championship ahead of teammate George Hincapie.
Following team director Johan Bruyneel, Leipheimer rode for Team Astana in 2008 and 2009, and then Team Radio Shack in 2010 and 2011. During this period he won the Tour of California for the third consecutive time, took the bronze medal in the Beijing Olympics in the Time Trial, the Tour of Switzerland, and the first USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. He also won the Tour of Utah in both 2010 and 2011.
In 2012 Leipheimer moved to the Omega Pharma-Quickstep as a leader for stage races. After being hit from behind by a car and breaking his fibula, Leipheimer had a fairly quiet year. He finished third in the Tour of Switzerland and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, and won the last stage of the Tour of Utah, dropping everyone on the fearsome Empire Pass climb.
Leipheimer has been dogged by accusations of PED usage over the years, starting with losing his 1996 US Criterium Championship due to a positive test for ephedrine (his family stated it was from taking Claritin D for hay fever) to accusation by his Gerolsteiner team manager Hans-Michael Holczer in his 2010 book “Guaranteed Positive”. According to an article on August 5th, 2010 in Velonews(1), Holczer claimed that his rest day blood test indicated a “high probability of manipulation.” Leipheimer had a “stimulation index” of 132.8, far in excess of the normal range of 85 to 100. Leipheimer remained in the race, eventually finishing sixth overall.
On October 10th, 2012, USADA sent its “Reasoned Decision”(2) and supporting documentation regarding doping practices on US Postal team to the Union Cycliste International (UCI), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). In the documentation were statements from eleven former team members including Leipheimer (3). He discussed his EPO and other PED usage starting on Team Saturn in 199 and continuing through 2007. He also stated he was introduced to noted doping facilitator Dr. Michele Ferrari by Lance Armstrong at a training camp in March of 2005, becoming a client of Ferrari throughout the 2005 season.
After publication of the “Reasoned Decision” Leipheimer was immediately fired by the Omega Pharma-Quickstep team. He served a six month suspension, as did all the cooperating US Postal ex-teammates, and unsuccessfully attempted to find another team to ride for. In a Wall Street Journal article “Why I Doped” (4), Leipheimer claims to have raced clean for the last five years of his career. He announced his retirement at the last stage of the Tour of California in his home town of Santa Rosa. He continues to be involved with cycling through his Gran Fondo (5), which will be held in and around Santa Rosa on October 5th, 2013.