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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.