The Angry Singlespeeder: Does Levi Leipheimer belong in mountain biking?

Feelings towards former road star mixed


Levi Leipheimer Downieville 2014

Levi Leipheimer left the competition in the dust on the Downieville Classic’s brutal first climb then held on to win the cross country stage by 30 seconds. After day two’s downhill, the former road race star and confessed doper ended up fourth overall. Photo by Forrest Arakawa

Levi Leipheimer.

Upon hearing his name announced at the Downieville Classic awards ceremony, a mix of cheers and boos emanated from the crowd of gathered mountain bikers. After the race, Mtbr reported the results with the above photo of Levi crushing the climb and scathing comments soon followed. Some people questioned why the promoter would allow a confessed doper to race, and what kind of message doing so sends to kids and other “clean” racers.

Clearly there’s still some angst over whether or not a confessed cheater should still be allowed to race his bicycle.

At what point do you forgive a man for his past transgressions? Are we going to demonize Levi for the rest of his life because the guy did what so many other professional road racers did? Of course there’s no excuse for his past actions that—along with a plethora of other racers choices—took away the chances of other pro riders who vowed to never cheat.

Yet Levi is serving his much-deserved punishment, having been suspended and essentially forced into retirement. I’m not saying what Levi did even has a shred of acceptability, but who am I to judge him? In my mind it’s equally unacceptable to continually burn him at the stake, especially when he was put into a career position that a vast majority of us have never faced.

What would you do if everything you’ve trained, slaved and sacrificed for your entire life for came down to the realization that many of your peers and competitors are cheating? Would you just quit and walk away from your life’s dream? Would you push onward as a clean rider, struggling daily to remain competitive and barely make a living? Would you blow the whistle and be seen as an outcast by your peers? Or would you just keep quiet and do what everyone else was doing?

None of these options seem appetizing, and unless you’ve been in that position, continuing to hold a grudge and tongue lash someone from the other side of the fence is not right. Judge not, lest you be judged. Levi cheated and he was punished accordingly. Let’s move on.

I have no problem with a guy like Levi racing in a hallowed mountain bike tradition such as the Downieville Classic, still my all-time favorite mountain bike event. Levi doesn’t bring an attitude or arrogance when he arrives in town. He is humble, respectful and friendly to everyone, and after winning the cross country race and finishing fourth in the all-mountain overall, Levi donated his winnings to the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, the caretakers of Downieville’s trails. In my book, not only does that buy Levi a lot of good karma, but his solid performance also proves him a legitimately skilled mountain biker.

And to the parents who continue to look down on Levi as a bad example for their children who are coming up in cycling, why do you think Levi admitted his guilt? A huge part of his admission was to help move the sport forward in a better direction so that hopefully someday your own children won’t be forced to make the same kind of decisions that Levi and many of his peers had to make.

To underscore his sincerity, Levi has stood in front of a room of kids and openly answered their questions about his years of cheating. He unquestionably made bad decisions in his road racing career, but is now telling his story openly so the next generation of athletes might avoid his pitfalls.

Levi NorCal League

Behind the scenes, Leipheimer has been spending time supporting the next generation of bike racers. Photo courtesy of the NorCal League

I spent the weekend in Downieville staying with Levi and a crew of his friends who are all bona-fide, long-time NorCal mountain bikers, many of who are either graduates of the NorCal League or are involved in running it. It was my first glimpse inside the man who’s caused such a stir in the cycling community. What I saw was a normal guy like you and me who’s simply pumped on riding his mountain bike. He eats like we do, sleeps like we do and makes mistakes like we do. In short, he his human.

Levi draws an enormous amount of joy from riding and competing, and it’s awesome to see how much he’s gotten into mountain biking while simultaneously giving back and supporting our sport. He wants to be a part of our knobby tire tribe, and I’m okay with letting him in.

Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.

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  • brian says:

    I think you touched on one of the biggest take aways the parents poo-pooing his involvement from this whole ordeal should be focusing on: owning up to your mistakes, admiting when you’re wrong, and working to make yourself and the things around you better. Their kids will be better off for it, and not just in cycling.

  • Guido Capparelli says:

    Well… doping in pro cycling is not a mistake. It’s the only way to go. Wanna be clean? Stay out. Well, at leat it was such at Levi’s time. Apparently, things have changed, even if, being malignant by nature. I still have plenty of doubts. For sure, Levi cheated, but, with his victories, robbed no one. When Armstrong was disqualified, Basso and Rumsas got second. Both riders received in the past heavy disqulifications for doping. Who was a virgin at the time? Ok, Everybody was doing it cannot be an excuse for anyone, but pointing at a guy as a criminal and as a potential danger for growing kids is so anti-dogmatic to sound hypocritical.

  • Steven Clubb says:

    While the promotional and sponsorship work are great and should be applauded, I still don’t think he should be allowed to compete EVER. He cheated and it’s as simple as that. Drug cheats should be banned for life. What would the reaction have been if Armstrong had competed along side him?

  • tyrebyter says:

    Forgiveness is fine. It suites my pseudo-Christian sensibilities, but cycle racing? That would be like letting Bernie Madoff run a bank if he’d just come clean or a repentant child molester teach first grade. Forgiveness is not the same as forgetfulness. Levi can do his penance outside the sport.

  • the-one1 says:

    Once a cheater, always a cheater

  • Bryan says:

    Remember, this guy can kick your ass because he can afford to ride all day from the riches he made cheating. I’d really rather he stayed home.

    • Max Power says:

      No, he can kick your ass because he’s genetically more gifted than you. Even before doping, these athletes have to show they are talented and of a physical make-up that allows them to perform at the highest level, right from Juniors through to Pro. None of us ‘normal’ people could juice up and make it to Pro level.

  • Jen says:

    There are a bunch of points well made here in the article and the comments. As a former road pro who scraped by on prize money and didn’t dope while watching others take short suspensions and then get good contracts, I’m slightly bitter. But to me these are the factors:
    1. He is strong now because he had years and years to spend riding and being paid lots of money to ride. And he was doping for much of that time. Remember, he was suspended in the US for a small infraction before ever getting to Europe.
    2. Now he lives better than most of us from those earnings (see 1) and can totally afford to ride all day and give his money away.
    3. You never totally lose the effects of doping; because he was able to train harder and recover better before, he is still reaping the benefits now.
    4. When he wins a race, even when he gives away the money, he is taking away a result from someone who is probably being supported marginally who needs results to move up and needs that first prize cash to pay rent or get to the next race.
    5. He doesn’t have to race to be charitable. He could help set up the courses, ride as support in the back as a course sweeper, or otherwise volunteer. So he is riding somewhat for himself since there are plenty of other jobs.

    I agree that forgiving him and the others is the right and classy thing to do. But I think the right and classy thing for the riders to do is give back without taking anything else; stop racing and let someone clean win.

  • Roger says:

    Some of you guys are truly amazing.
    So what he doped big deal.
    Once a cheater always a cheater?
    There are clean riders but I will bet you most of them dope and that is never going to change whether it is cycling or some other pro sport it happens every where.
    Cycling just happens to be in the spot light for the last few years.

  • Gmoney says:

    He is welcome in my pit box any day at any race!

  • EJ Inigo says:

    Are you kidding??? What is up with the continual Levi positive propaganda??? Jeez, I don’t think he had this many fanboys when he was racing. The point is this. He is a CHEAT. He didnt have to give ANYTHING BACK for getting caught. “Forced to retirement”??? He was getting old anyway. It’s not like he came clean. He got put in the pinch, and he couldn’t even be a MAN, and take his medicine alone. Instead, he rolled on Lance (who is NO better) in order to minimize his consequence. He donated the money??? How about that 26-28 yr old, who still thinks there’s a chance to make in this sport, living in a Dodge van and WISHING he could donate his winnings….instead of living off them to the next race. Levi STILL gets to go to his gigantic house, with his charity function wife, all paid for with money STOLEN with his doping, and you media guys don’t think they KNOW it?!?! Just like the Madoffs and the Lances, and Bushes, I really think they have a special room in the house that they go to just to laugh at the gullibility of public. So, in the end, it’s not even about his doping, it’s the fact that he’s not even a MAN, and THAT is what is so sad for this sport, and what this whole world had become. Almost makes me miss the Mob.

  • Liberty555 says:

    To the crime, do the time. He’s done the time so let’s move on. Life is too short… move on. Frankly I think he’s more of a man than many of the posters above. People in glass houses and all that.

  • DT says:

    I don’t care if pro’s dope, it really has no effect on me. I don’t think all pro’s today are clean, mtb racers, Tri, etc. Their health, their careers, their risk. The guards can’t keep drugs outa PRISON, how can anyone expect racers fighting for their careers to be clean! But, I don’t think those that were busted should be allowed to race bikes again, anywhere. Doping is against the rules and they got caught. USAC/UCI sanctioned races or not, promoters need to say no to dopers. Levi has taken money from hopefully clean racers in several races now and that ain’t cool to them. If he wants to ride his bike, great. But a cheater he is and should be banned so that guys like Jason and Craig at Dville and Jamie and Tyler at the Crusher can race for the big money. Forgive, yes nothing personal, have a great ride! Forget? No way. Levi is a cheater of the highest level.

  • Steve R. says:

    Riding bikes on dirt is fun.

  • mtb says:

    Nice work bringing this up publicly. Up at D’ville, this question comes up a lot, last year also. The question doesn’t seem to be disappearing over time.

  • Aaron K says:

    I would say that Levi made the right decision, here is how I see it:

    Levi used an illegal drug that enhanced his performance, allowed him to focus on his career and allowed him to make a good living at it while hurting no one.

    75% of mountain bikers choose an illegal drug that wipes out motivation, decreases performance, ruins many lives and supports numerous criminal activities. (although the majority of people here will disagree with me.) Is it Levi’s fault that the people he is currently racing against most likely smoke pot on a semi regular basis.

    So who is a better role model for our kids.

  • Jim says:

    Who cares, I drank beer before I was 21, I knew it was wrong but I also knew it would make me a better dancer. These are hard choices that we have to make

  • Angry Singlespeeder says:

    The world is filled with cheaters. I’ve cheated before. I’m sure many of you have too at one time or another. For me, the worst part of cheating is the hollowness felt inside. You may have felt like you gamed the system – and you may have – but you also gamed yourself. That to me is the most painful part of cheating; the hollow feeling inside and having to live with it every day. Being a human is a complicated thing. Sometimes cheating seems to be the only viable way, especially when all your peers are doing it.

    I’m not saying that cheating is acceptable, but I am saying that it’s reality. It’s understandable. For people to get outraged by what Levi and others did is naive at best. Welcome to the real world. Look at our leaders, our politicians, our business moguls, the society we live in. Do you think they’ve never once cheated in their life in order to get ahead? C’mon.

    I can forgive a person for cheating, but I won’t ever forget. There’s a difference. To me the clean racer is always the true hero, and will always hold the most respect in my eyes – even if they never win a race. But to outcast someone because they made a mistake and are trying to own up to it – even though you might think is for selfish purposes – is childish.

    There have been a couple suggestions here that guys like Levi be allowed to race, but their result does not count. That seems like a reasonable and fair solution to those who’ve strived their whole career to be clean racers.

    – ASS

    • Everything Motorcycles says:

      I can forgive. But nowhere did I see where he was tested after this race. These drugs have a high psychological addiction. We are assuming he’s clean (like the other racers).

      He should have been tested 2 weeks prior, 2 weeks after.

    • Shawn says:

      Just saying ‘everyone has cheated’ is a cop-out. One it’s not true, it’s just rationalization for anyone who has cheated to get ahead. But whether it’s cheating or doing anything that one feels bad about that was truly a mistake, a good respectable person will learn realize the mistake when it happens and make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s not like Levi doped once or twice or even for just a single season, won some races, felt dirty about it, and stopped and confessed in the prime of his carreer. Someone that does that, I would think may be deserving of a second change. But what Levi did was systematic cheating over an entire career for personal gain and glory, and then he confessed because he had to. That’s not a mistake, it’s a characeter flaw. I’m not saying he should go to jail or become a social pariah, but when you systematically commit fraud and undermine the sport you supposedly love for years, then your done in that sport. Period. Riding is a right, but racing is a privelege to those that compete fairly. Speaking to kids, raise awareness, etc, etc for someone like this is positive and great… if you still do this even when your not allowed to race and will never be allowed to race. That truly shows that you know what you did was wrong and you want to make ammends. HE should be the one to know he doesn’t deserve and should not race anymore. What he’s doing now proves and shows nothing; of course he’s going to talk to kids and be all nice; otherwise no one would be defending his racing, he’d just be that prick doper. He lied for years to get what he wanted; is it unreasonable or hating to think that the same person would just put on a show to be able to keep racing? Maybe he is a great guy, I don’t know him, but I have no idea why anyone would give him the benefit of the doubt for competing in cycling events just because he’s doing what quite frankly the least of what should be expected. Guys like him and Lance were willing participants in a culture that destroyed professional road cycling, and you just want to welcome them into MTB racing because ‘he’s paid his dues, now he’s clean now’? That’s not being forgiving, it’s being gullible.

  • trailsnail says:

    I believe he has paid his penance and in time the MTB community will forgive. Keep coming to the events and fans will always follow a good person who does good things. I honestly think he has something to offer the off road community.

  • Kevin Woodward says:

    Why can’t we all just shut up and ride.

  • GoGo says:

    1st a Doper now a Cheater.
    He should have volunteered or something else besides race.
    Like sponsored the race or paid for people who couldn’t get in the race.
    That would be giving back and not stealing from tho the real pro bros who do this race as part of the circuit.
    Not a Giver.
    Carry on cubicle clones.

  • Kris Tilford says:

    Levi literally steals millions of dollars of salary from clean riders by doping, then comes to this Podunk MTB race for dorks, yuppies, and hipsters who have 200 bucks to drop on entry fee, and donates his minuscule prizes to buy some “good karma” and it works! (for angry people). Angry people have almost no critical thinking skills. I’m not angry with Levi. I can forgive him someday, but balancing the scales of justice in his case is extremely difficult. He needs to grovel and pray. He’s got about 20 years more good karma deeds to do, and none involve racing bicycles ever again. Every time he races, he adds to his mountain of bad karma. Truth.

  • rich says:

    as stated above….

    he doped, which allowed him to train harder and longer….

    his body is used to that now,

    he took prize money away from somebody who deserved it…

    go away levi, and take your stupid grand fondo with u

  • mtb says:

    Two observations:

    1) So far in this article about Levi Leipheimer the word “cheat” shows up 26 times. Searching my name across the entire internet, the word “cheat” comes up 0 times. As such, I would take my present standing over his.

    2) Several comments take the approach that “It is acceptable for some pros to cheat because others did it too”. However these people seem to not be competitive cyclists and were not affected by it personally. Bike racing has been around for a long time, and cheating has always been a choice. Some chose to cheat, and at minimum they should be separated into a separate class. Frankly I have no interest racing against Levi and don’t care if he beats me. If he can climb quickly, great, compare his scores to other dopers but not those who chose to have chosen to hold their integrity.

    In my industry if I was found to be a cheat I would be out of a job and not welcomed back. Why is he racing competitively against MTB’ers?

  • Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Kris – you can hate on Levi all you want, but calling Downieville a race for “dorks, yuppies and hipsters” automatically negates any kind of credibility in anything you say whatsoever. Get an f-ing clue.

    – ASS

  • Rick says:

    Well…aren’t you all perfect! This guy made a mistake, just like all of you have somewhere in your lives. You probably felt that you deserved a second chance. Did he hurt anyone, besides himself? We’re all human people.

    • mtb says:

      Don’t forget some of the people with opinions on this topic actually race, actually lost to dopers, and think that doping on some people’s part wasn’t a ‘mistake’. It was a deliberate effort to gain unfair advantage.

  • shredchic says:

    I can see all sides of the argument and I can’t make up my mind which part of this controversy to rally behind. I think the real truth is, I don’t really care. Can we get back to things that actually matter to most of us, like, what tires to run on our local trails?

  • dave says:

    There is more to life than riding bikes in the public eye. Like a disgraced politician that just wont’ go away quietly, I wonder what the hell is wrong with this person? If they love biking so much, why can’t they just go enjoy it out of the limelight. That’s what would be the best for the sport.

  • Storm Ferguson says:

    Cheated, got caught, get out. Forgive mistakes? What about school kids who break rules an are expelled? Are they forgiven? No. Send Levi to work as a trail builder not a rider.

    • jpre says:

      Storm wrote “What about school kids who break rules an are expelled?”

      Sometimes they go somewhere else with a fresh start and make something of their lives.

    • KeBEAN says:

      His reputation is ruined. He has to live with that for the rest of his life. His career and the poor choices he made during that time, now and forever will define him in the eyes of the public as a cheater. His name is in the history books as part of one of the biggest sports related doping scandals in human history. No matter how much good he does it will always be overshadowed by his past until the day he dies. He will get sneered at and booed in every race he enters ever again.

      If he still has the guts to show up on two wheels, and show up clean and ready to compete, let the man ride.

  • NSBM says:

    By “avoid his pitfalls” you mean avoid getting caught.

  • BD says:

    Personally, I wouldn’t cheat on my wife or on a bike, nor would I participate in a sport where cheating was the norm. But, that’s me, quite content to judge a millionaire cheater. But, consider that my son (Colorado high school Mtb team captain) feels road racers are all cheaters, and now (in part because of Levi being allowed to participate), laughs that “cheating has obviously moved over to Mtb.”

    He sold his 29er race bike, quit racing, and bought a big travel bike upon graduation. There was no drama, just no interest in racing with cheaters and crazy people who will do anything to win. It’s called the bad vibe of racing, and Levi sounds like a classic…nice guy off course, but a complete asshole if he wants to win…So, ironically, race promoters who would like to see more participation, would appear to be making some bad decisions in out there in California. With that said, let ’em all dope…!

    • Mtbr says:

      The race sells out in a matter of hours as it’s field size is quite limited, so the race promoter has no reason to use Levi for promotional purposes…and perhaps they have no basis to legally exclude him.

  • Dale Burton says:

    Forget turning the other cheek. This guy cheated and cheated in the biggest scam in cycling. So, now he’s allowed to compete again…! What a joke…! Ban all dope users for life. Give them something to dwell on prior to cheating….

  • mojoronnie says:

    Don’t hate the player, hate the game! That was the culture.. and he played by the rules everyone played by at the time.

  • Gshock says:

    He’s paid the price, let him move on. Plus he is good for mountain biking like Lance Armstrong was and is. Look at Leadville 100. It was a big race turned HUGE once some of the roadie stars got in it. The MTB industry could use a booster shot in popularity.

  • Shawn says:

    majoronnie – that argument is just plain dumb, and by the way how do you know ‘everyone’ was doing it? You don’t, so please stop.

    Gshock – 1.) Lance was a cultural icon not just a cycling icon which Levi is/was not, and 2.) Lance did Leadville before he was busted and exposed as a fraud. Are you really saying Lance entering a MTB event would have the same effect now? It would add publicity to the event, but for all of the wrong reasons and would not be a positive for the sport of MTB. The average joe doesn’t even know any other ‘roadie stars’. And what do you mean, ‘let him move on’. The problem is that he isn’t moving on. Granted, Levi doesn’t seem to be a major DB in his personal life like Lance, but that really shouldn’t matter that he is a ‘nice guy’. If Levi respected racing, then HE would be the one to take himself out of racing; HE would understand that he should not race anymore, that it is not appropriate, that it doesn’t set a good example for younger racers. He would move on by focusing on generally promoting cycling and fitness and telling kids how he RUINED his racing career and reputation by doping and that it is not acceptable to just ‘go along’ with the culture (now THAT would be a message). It’s not like this stuff happened 10-15 years ago; it was last year. When did being embarrassed by getting caught start counting as having ‘paid the price’. It’s like if my son does something really wrong and I ground him for a week as punishment, and 5 minutes into it his friend calls asks him if he can come over to a pool party, and my son really loves pool parties. Should I let him do it because they love pool parties? No, because they won’t learn squat from that. And it’s not that I wouldn’t feel bad that he is missing out, but that’s not a reason to let him skirt on a punishment. And what example would that set for his sister? For the same reason, Levi should not be allowed to race bikes simply because he loves it. Levi may love racing, but he didn’t respect it, and he should have to live with the consquences of that for the benefit of the sport. So yeah it sucks for him and I can empathize why he would still want to race, but that doesn’t change my opinion on whether or not he should be allowed to do it.

  • G.C. says:

    Levi came down here to New Mexico to help support our local cycling initiatives, all the way from CA on his own dime. We are in an extremely poor part of the country and cycling is a small sliver of hope in an otherwise pretty bleak place. Levi raced our local XC race and took second in a close battle with a local pro. It was an awesome race and I know the local pros that raced against him thought it was great that he came to support us. None of them had any kind of remark or felt they should have won b/c of his his doping past.
    Of course there were people from around the state that were not happy with Levi being there and openly objected to it online and by boycotting the race. I just disagreed with them.
    Personally I found Levi to be a great guy. Move on, its not worth it people.

  • Jack says:

    Death sentence might be the only way to make cycling clean again, if it ever was. Then we wouldn’t have these sort of problems anymore. Just kidding (but seriously…)

  • Roo harris says:

    I whole heartedly support your essay here on the merits of moving on from Levi’s past transgressions. Having worked with Levi in the last two Nor-Cal Training camps, I have great respect for him as a man and competitor. His contribution to mountain biking is enormous. I for one would like to see the biking community move forward from this waste of time effort from a few poor sports. I think Levi has a place in mountain biking competition and those who think otherwise sound like winy victims who just need to train harder. Get over it!

  • Erik M says:

    Interesting that people hate so much, especially when it’s in their sport. Cheaters are everywhere and we rarely create a fuss when a NFL/MLB/NBA player (paid millions of dollars!!) goes to jail/suspended for XXXX and gets reinstated – game goes on, jersey is still worn. Seems to be place of normalcy. But in OUR sport, heavens!! Levi was competing against no one on this thread (I hope, I ain’t reading them all), but we bitch like he was in our class. Now that he is clean, he is STILL better than you. That’s what upsets people. Tour riders are that much stronger and the competitive level is incomprehensible to us, so it will be a place less that 0.05% of us will ever know, therefore, we can’t understand the pressure to succeed through cheating (dope) in any way possible. To see an ex-druggie (ex-con!) turn a corner in life and be a good person should be applauded, but if he is successful again, well, then the American way it seems is to tear that person down and trample his remains. Reverse the role, and you’d be pleading that it’s right to give a person a second chance at life. It’s good to see Levi competing in our sport, because outside our sport, not many people know the names, and if it brings in the story of his past, then someone besides MTBR is talking about our sport. Good job Levi, and great job to everyone else who competed.

  • Rick v says:

    ASS and Levi’s jeans set bad examples for the new kids on the block. They should make him ride a bmx bike and a clown outfit if he races anymore, once a doper might be a doper again…and who will know? Doping for fun is inderstandible but doping to win is as gay as it gets.

  • Dan O says:

    If Levi Leipheimer wants to get into mtn bike racing maybe he can volunteer at events. Help set courses, clean up trash, work the timing table, or man an aid station.

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