The Leipheimer Debt


First, some background: I was in Santa Rosa, Calif., for the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California. I’d driven my family up so that my wife could renew her search for a job there. The day we arrived the local paper, the Press Democrat, ran a piece by staff writer Bob Padecky that took Levi Leipheimer to task for his low profile since his admission of doping as part of the USADA investigation investigation into the US Postal operation, never mind the fact that most of the cycling world wanted everyone who confessed to doping—not just Leipheimer—as silent and far from the sport as possible. Padecky is the one writer to whom Leipheimer granted an interview ahead of the announcement of USADA’s reasoned decision. In his May 18 piece, Padecky makes it clear that he’s upset with Leipheimer for not confessing his doping to him, a fact that demonstrates that Padecky must never have read the reasoned decision or even much of Travis Tygart’s many quoted statements in the media; those following the case learned the sanctioned athletes (which included former teammates David Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde and George Hincapie) were not permitted to reveal their dealings with USADA ahead of the announcement of the reasoned decision. While Padecky’s infantile reaction irked me, what got under my skin was the idea he puts forward in the essay, that somehow Levi Leipheimer had harmed the city of Santa Rosa. That the Amgen Tour of California had visited Santa Rosa in all but one of its editions had much to do with Leipheimer. The gran fondo was undertaken specifically to help the city of Santa Rosa afford the costs of bringing the Tour of California to the city—yet another fact Padecky conveniently sidestepped. I decided to write an op-ed to respond to what I thought was a misguided and parochial piece. I should mention that while I was in Santa Rosa every cyclist I talked to said they thought that the Press Democrat had less burned a bridge with Leipheimer than the cycling community. 

The piece that follows ran the following Sunday, May 25, but only in the print edition of the paper. As I’d told a few Santa Rosa-based colleagues and friends that a piece would be coming, I began receiving emails from them and others who couldn’t find the piece for a simple fact: people don’t buy print newspapers the way they used to. Despite being told by an editor at the Press Democrat that the piece ran online and I would receive a link to it, none has come and my recent attempts to contact the editor have gone unanswered. Several Santa Rosa residents familiar with the paper have suggested that the editors at the Press Democrat didn’t want to embarrass Padecky by the attention my piece would bring if it ran online, despite the fact that the editor who accepted the piece called it “reasoned and thoughtful” and wrote, “I think this is a viewpoint that deserves to be seen.” Just how much so seems to be in question now. It is with this prelude in mind that I now run this essay.—Padraig


The Leipheimer Debt

In his column Saturday, Bob Padecky poses a series of seemingly troubling questions about Santa Rosa favorite son, Levi Leipheimer. Was he embarrassed by his doping and inevitable downfall; was he invited to the final stage of the Tour of California; has he been harassed on the street?

As if any of those questions matter.

Padecky suggests that a John F. Kennedy quote is applicable to Leipheimer: “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” The suggestion here is that Leipheimer owes the city of Santa Rosa something, that by doping, he deprived the city of something, that the city has suffered in some way because of his dishonesty.

Padecky arrives at a seemingly inevitable question—whether or not the gran fondo would have been as big had he not doped or if people knew he had doped. The cycling community got its answer ages ago. No, Leipheimer wouldn’t have been as successful had he not doped, so the gran fondo wouldn’t be as big. But he did. However, when Padecky asks, “Could it be Honey Boo Boo’s GranFondo and still sell out?” he insults not Leipheimer, but the city of Santa Rosa.

There are reasons why 7,500 people show up to ride Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo. It’s one of the best-run rides in the United States. I’m in a position to say that with some authority. I work in the bike industry and have written about cycling for more than 20 years. While I haven’t ridden every ride claiming to be a gran fondo, I’ve ridden a bunch of them. None are as beautiful. None are as well organized. And none finish in a place as cool as Santa Rosa. Had the ride only been about Leipheimer, it would have died out after the second year.

On that next-to-last point, I’m putting my money where my mouth is: My wife and I will move our family here as soon as she lands a job with a local business. We’ve fallen in love with Santa Rosa for the simple fact that three annual trips here for the gran fondo from Southern California made that happen.

What Leipheimer did was to rally troops. By working with Carlos Perez, Greg Fisher and the rest of the Bike Monkey crew, they organized a ride far better than he might have achieved on his own. He needed Bike Monkey, and Bike Monkey and Santa Rosa needed him.

Just to be clear: I hate doping; and while Leipheimer and I share some friends, he and I are only barely acquainted. I’m not writing this to defend him. I’ve no need.

Leipheimer owes Santa Rosa nothing. He helped place a spotlight on a place that deserved it. That attention on Santa Rosa will endure no matter how history judges Leipheimer. Forgetting for a moment the $900k that the gran fondo has fed to charities, the lasting legacy of Leipheimer will be one of tourism. People will visit Santa Rosa for its cycling for decades to come.

Yeah, Leipheimer doped. He paid for it with his career, so its fair to say he’s paid his price. Maybe people will forget his name, maybe not. What Santa Rosa will hopefully never forget is the way his namesake ride boosted tourism for this town. So if you see him on the street, rather than harass him, why not shake his hand?



Patrick Brady is the publisher of the cycling web site Red Kite Prayer.


  1. Jim C

    Great article, Padraig! You have a gift for eloquently but clearly stating your views. Having said that, why not espouse the good done by L.A.? Now that we know he didn’t “mastermind” doping in the pro peloton, he and Levi (and George, etc.) share the same crime. Undeniably, Lance had more of a positive impact on more people through cycling than perhaps any other American.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Jim C: While I think Armstrong has the potential to play a helpful role in cycling by confessing the sport’s sins in full, my feeling is that he’s still on a personal journey and he doesn’t yet understand what role he wants to play or what he can hope to realistically get out of that process. So there’s that, but even beyond that, I don’t think the most of the cycling world is ready to hear about LA’s good deeds, past or present. I mean, people are still angry about George Hincapie and he rates a tenth of the ire that LA has generated. Once the crowd extinguishes the torches and unties the noose, then I’ll be willing to revisit his do-gooding.

      LD: I think if we look at the entire population of riders from that era who won while doped, what emerges—in my opinion, anyway—is how that generation owes us, big time. Leipheimer as an individual rider doesn’t move my meter.

      SusanJane: I’ve noticed the rather uneven miss-mash of content that is the Press Democrat. I don’t really hold them responsible for that. You combine the market and what that means in terms of ad revenue with the challenge of attracting talent (to report and to sell ads) and you have a fairly typical smaller-market paper. It’s tough. Part of my objection to the Padecky piece is the fact that he has real credentials and should know better than to combine a parochial view with an immature emotional reaction. Ego much?

  2. tim

    Nicely stated.
    I did my first fondo in 2012, traveling at great expense from Canada, based on the experience a friend had in 2011. the day registration opened for 2013 i was in + accommodation + bike rental + planned expenditures while i am in the area.
    I am looking forward to the trip and the wine and the beer and the riding and buying things we can’t get in canada (mountain khakis will not sell north or the border?!)
    Similar to you what brings me back is not Levi (or the local newspaper) but the incredible fondo route, the excellent organization, the great food at the rest stops.

  3. LD

    if the gran fondo’s proceeds go to charities (unlike Armstrong in many cases) as you say then i’m all for it. Leipheimer may not owe Santa Rosa anything but he owes cycling big time. this a start but he has a long way to go. They all do.

  4. SusanJane

    I live in Santa Rosa and eagerly looked forward to the printed version of this article. I was told Saturday and it didn’t appear until Sunday. I also had to hunt for the piece figuring it would be in some logical place which it wasn’t. The Press Democrat is a small newspaper that covers local events as well as a large number of NY Times (and other) reprints. This mishmash of writing and editorial styles means the paper represents a lot of different views. Doping is complicated enough, add that to an under-informed public, and stuff spews. I wish I could believe that the commentary made a difference but the Democrat is 10% feel good and 70% bad news.* The people who subscribe to the paper read it because it is about the bad news. Levi = bad is more interesting then Levi = good. Sad but true.

    That said the Democrat has tried to cover the Tour. It has not been recommended reading but the effort might peak the interest of sports fans that don’t get their fix on t.v. or internet. Of course the better pieces were not written my local writers. Sad but true.

    * The remaining 20% has some resemblance to an unidentifiable sticky substance.

  5. Hoshie99

    Although I had “strong feelings” about Leipheimer and his ride post the reasoned decision, I can firmly agree that the Grand Fondo gave me a unique insight to the area that I never knew about even with many years of living in the Bay Area.

    I can say that King’s Ridge is a boon for CA cyclists that Levi’s ride showcases very well. No need to head to the Sierras to strike gold in this state.


  6. John

    I had a discussion about lasting legacies from the USPS riders involved in the USADA case with someone just the other day, and I argued some of the same points you made. We concluded that Levi’s will be the only one of those riders who’s name will still be mentioned in regular conversation in 20 years time.
    I’ve been to Sonoma and Napa a few times, but had never gone into downtown Santa Rosa until we went to the GF last fall. What a cool city and a great location. We plan on going back next year but instead of leaving town immediately after the ride to go to Calistoga for a week, as we did last fall, we will spend 3-4 days in Santa Rosa. Mostly drinking at Russian River Valley Brew Pub. I could live in Santa Rosa for that joint alone.

    1. Author

      John: My point exactly. Levi may have gotten you to visit Santa Rosa, but the town itself will keep you coming back. On a side, note, I brought two growlers of Pliny the Elder back to SoCal with me. I’ve been getting lots of invitations to parties lately. Go figure.

  7. Alan

    I have to disagree (again) with Padraig.

    Mr. Leipheimer committed the ultimate local disgrace. And it’s your neighbors who matter. Mr. Padecky is within his right to call him out. Calling it “infantile” is shameful.

    And I say this as a former fan of Mr. Leipheimer. I thought he is/was a great guy. But his choice is embarrassing to the community.

    1. Author

      Danarev: Well, I’m not quite there yet. Working on it, though.

      Alan: You can try to shame me all you want, but I’m not going to feel shame for what I wrote. That’s silly. As I’ve written elsewhere, if the lifeblood of a city is commerce, then the truth is Santa Rosa hasn’t been harmed.

  8. Alan

    I do say calling someone you don’t know and their opinion infantile is disrespectful. I expect better from you.

    While his Gran Fondo may or may not remain popular, his reputation is shot. And look at his “retirement.”

    Overstating the importance of the excellent fondo over Mr. Leipheimer’s reputation to the economy is false. Mr. Armstrong is still a local hero in Austin. I’ve been to Santa Rosa, it is great. If anyone not so famous, and not disgraced, had organized a great fond, it would still be a great fondo. Maybe not as well known.

    Finally, I am not sure why you can’t tolerate a polite critique. This is the internet. Be strong.

  9. Alan

    I also would like to make clear that I greatly appreciate your work and your contributions to cycling journalism.

    Sometimes, we just have to disagree about some things.

  10. Alan

    Let me put it a different way. (sorry to hog but there is not easy way to edit here)

    Would I attend and proudly wear a T shirt from a Lance Armstrong Fondo right now? NO.
    Would I attend and proudly wear a T shirt from a Levi Leipeheimer Fondo right now? Probably not.
    Would I attend and proudly wear a T shirt from a Tom Danielson Fondo right now? As much as it pains me, local boy screwed up. No.

    Would I attend and proudly wear a T shirt from a Tejay Van Garderen or Taylor Phinney Fondo right now? Yes, but I would have my fingers crossed.

    1. Author

      Alan: I’m all for an engaged discourse in which people respectfully disagree. However, trying to shame anyone is an emotional tactic, not a part of reasoned discussion. That said, I will also defend my statements about Padecky’s piece by pointing out that I called the work infantile, not the writer; there’s a difference. Conflation has allowed sloppy readers to accuse me of all sorts of things I’ve never written or thought; I really won’t put up with it. Finally, I’ll ask if you actually read his piece. Did you? I’d love to hear someone try to defend it as a purely rational piece of analysis and not a rant coming from an emotional place, one fueled by the disappointment at not having gotten the big story. Most of the cycling world has been just fine with Levi keeping a low profile; I’ll venture to say that most of the cycling world has preferred it. I don’t see how someone who wants Levi to go away can defend a writer who is complaining about ‘Where the hell is Levi?’ Given the angry demeanor of his piece, one can fairly surmise that had Padecky run across Leipheimer the encounter wouldn’t have been cordial.

      On a separate note, I’ve heard privately from a great many Santa Rosa residents that the cycling community there has long been at odds with the Press Democrat, that there has been an ongoing frustration with the paper that it has held an antagonistic relationship with cyclists. This may be common to small-market newspapers, but Padecky had represented for some a hope that the newspaper’s attitude might be shifting. Everyone I’ve heard from has written the paper off as intentionally hostile to cyclists.

      Wsquared: Ooh, well done. References to the French Revolution and A Tale of Two Cities in just two sentences. Yes, I agree, we need to find another approach to dealing with doping’s sordid history, and as Dickens’ character showed, an inability to let go of the past can be your own undoing.

  11. Wsquared

    Many folks are sick and tired with being harangued at by the Madame LaFarges of the doping era, who IMO are almost as irritating as the dopers. Thermidor is thankfully upon us. Reasonable voices are speaking out.

  12. Peter lin

    I love cycling and would love to ride in Santa Rosa. What a cycling pro does has zero affect on my love of cycling. Before the world found out Levi doped I liked him. After finding out, I still like him. The thing, I never worshiped Levi and didn’t think he was super human or worthy of emulating. Frankly, no professional athlete is a role model. That’s too high of a bar for any human to meet. Humans make mistakes every single day. Some mistakes are worse than others.

    In my bias opinion, self-righteousness doesn’t lead to progress. It sucks that pro cyclist from the 90’s doped. It also sucks that MLB hitters juiced. At the end of the day, it’s just a sport. Getting all worked up over doping/juicing is a waste of time, there’s far better things to do with my time. It’s not like cheaters did it to piss fans off. They cheated to win at all costs. Talking about them just feeds their ego, which is exactly what egomaniacs love. It’s better to move on.

  13. Full Monte

    I think a point which needs to be made is Levi’s GranFondo isn’t about Levi. It’s about VeloStreet’s Cycling Initiative, Forget Me Not Farm, Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing, and other charities.

    Ask an abused child getting help at Forget Me Not if he cares if Levi doped. Or the thousands of local and visiting riders using trails opened thanks to VeloStreet Cycling Initiative. Or a cancer patient receiving free services at the Dempsey Center.

    Levi didn’t need to lend his name, time, commitment to this event before the Reasoned Decision. And he certainly doesn’t need to continue it, especially now as he’s one of cycling’s untouchables. Why open himself up to more criticism from the likes of Pedecky? Hell, he could chuck it all, go into complete hiding.

    But he doesn’t. He takes his licks without even a personal response and the event goes on, providing thousands of people a great time while benefiting people in his community that need the most help.

    Okay, he cheated. But perhaps, through his GranFondo, he displays the character of someone who wants to tip the scales to the good in the end. I wish him well. I offer him forgiveness and acceptance, even if as a cycling fan, these aren’t mine to give him.

    1. Author

      Peter: I think it’s helpful to us if we can recognize that different people can do the same thing for vastly different reasons. One may speed on the highway because he’s evading police. Another may do it just because he likes the feel of speed. Yet another may do it because he’s running late to get home to see his family. So I don’t think everyone doped to win at all costs, nor do I think they are all egomaniacs. I think many simply caved to peer pressure; that doesn’t make it right, but in that I see a different culpability, a different sin than those who led the way within their teams.

      Full Monte: You raise an important point. It may be that I haven’t done enough to show the charitable impact of the gran fond by talking about all the different causes that benefit, aside from the funds that the city of Santa Rosa reaped. I’ve avoided it because it seems so many people have their fingers in their ears while screaming “la, la, la” where the subject of any do-gooding by former dopers is concerned. Maybe I should be doing that anyway.

  14. Rocket

    You wrote “Yeah, Leipheimer doped. He paid for it with his career, so its fair to say he’s paid his price” I would have to disagree. Reading the USADA report Levi comes off as someone more than willing to dope. He didn’t pay for his career with the consequences from the doping revelations, the doping made his career.

    I cannot feel sorry for him, only the other competitors who were competing without his chemical advantage.

    1. Author

      Rocket: I don’t think I’ve asked anyone to feel sorry for him. Least of all, you.

      To everyone out there who disagrees with the above quoted line about the price Leipheimer paid: He’s been sanctioned by USADA and he was fired by a former doper who has escaped sanction for his own doping and for the doping of the team he has run for, what, 20+ years? If you see justice in that, I’d like to hear how. I see it as a vote for omertà, which I can’t imagine people want more of.

      The bigger question I want to put to you readers is if you’re unsatisfied with the price Leipheimer has paid (and let’s just keep this to Levi for now, not the host of others out there), what would you do? Pitchfork? Hitman? What is it you want? Rough justice would be worse than the crime itself. And if you want them never to ride a bike again, it’s fair to question your sense of proportion. It’s fair to ask how anyone dissatisfied with the justice administered to Leipheimer feels about the crooks in Wall Street who are doing actual damage to millions of people and why people aren’t more in arms about that.

  15. Rocket

    I know you did not ask me to feel sorry for Levi, but frankly I think he paid a very small price. He made millions of dollars doping, and as punishment had to retire one or two years early. It’s good to be Levi.

    Regarding your other comments, I don’t understand the logic in your arguments. The criminals involved in the Wall Street fiasco should be in prison, but that has nothing to do with Levi. Bruyneel, Riis, and the other dopers should be banned from cycling. But the fact that they have not been punished does not change Levi’s guilt. Or that there should be consequences for the actions he chose to do. Perhaps you think that Bruyneel being fired from RSNT is punishment enough?

    Reading the USADA report it is obvious that Lance, Levi, and George were much less concerned about the moral dilemma of doping, and far more concerned about obtaining results. Comparing the actions of those three with Dave Zabriskie, one can see significant differences, and I think the punishments should be different.

    I don’t know what the solution to the past 25 years in cycling is. Dissolve the UCI, remove cycling from the Olympics? I wish I knew that answer. But from reading your columns I think we both love the feeling when we are on the road with two wheels alone with out thoughts. Cycling is a beautiful sport, and one that I think deserves better than what Levi gave to it.

  16. MCH

    I continue to be disappointed with the black and white view of doping espoused by many. In no particular order, the corrupt environment, peer pressure, personal motivation, coercion by authority figures, teenagers and young adults, often with moderate education, being unprepared to make complex decisions, etc., etc., etc. all may have played into a person’s decision to dope. To simply paint all dopers as evil, cheating, liars seems to miss the forest for the trees. As such, I believe that simplistic views that admitted dopers should be shunned by society because they’re incapable of doing anything of value, to be wildly off the mark.
    I think it’s also worth noting that on a bigger stage, the flaws we all possess as humans are more apt to be exposed and amplified. How many of us could survive the scrutiny we impose on public figures? How many could resist the temptation of all that was offered? How many of us are truly that good?
    So, hat’s off to Levi. As an outsider looking in, he always seemed to me to be a gentleman, treating others with grace and respect. He seems to demonstrate that in his support of the Gran Fondo. I hope he continues his involvement and receives the thanks he deserves.

  17. Hoshie99

    I agree w/ Rocket. Doping made his career and the money.

    I did the GF and thought it was fun, yet expensive at $140+ and a little, um, much w/the hype meter. Even if it went to charity, it felt like my and sponsor dollars were glorifying the Levi brand (something I mentioned to my friend at the time) which post reasoned decision was even more annoying.

    So, if he gets some heat especially in the local rag amongst the homers who perhaps really admired him, it’s more than understandable.

    I never was much for hero worship whether it was pro sports or when I was in Silicon Valley. That being said, tons of gray so I see both sides of the argument.

    Santa Rosa – it benefited. Levi – he gets some “deserved” heat as well. Both can be true simultaneously.

  18. Peter lin

    @Padraig – I agree everyone has their own motive and not every that doped is an egomaniac. Often times it’s happened so subtly the person didn’t realize they crossed the line. In my own life, there have been occasions where lack of moral strength and fear prevented me from doing what is right. Although one could argue, minor failings aren’t comparable to doping, they rise from the same human flaw. Not everyone is brave enough to admit they made a mistake and own up. Sometimes it takes years or decades. I do find the discussion interesting and reminds just how different everyone is.

    At the end of the day though, what someone does in the sport of cycling has no effect on my riding. The pure joy of spinning up a steep CAT1 climb like Mount Greylock is the reward and joy. Everything else is just there to distract us.

  19. SusanJane

    I wonder how this discussion would involve if we didn’t have some emotional investment in professional cycling? I’m not talking about rant level emotion. I’m talking about the intensity we put into following the sport and the racers who make the interesting stories. I don’t know about you but I’m invested big time. I continue to feel crushed with each new positive. I continue to pin hopes on the new riders clipping in for their first tour. I cheered when Froome rode away from Contador. Am I angry at Levi and the others? Less now. But I’m also sad and embarrassed. But it stands as an interesting question… what if I was an uninterested outsider and came across Levi and everything he’s done?

    You’re right. Padecky should know better. But did he fall in love with the Levi myth and take a big hit when the doping came out? It wouldn’t be the first time a writer vented their emotions when they shouldn’t.

  20. tinytim

    Good piece. I don’t think that many people resent Levi in Santa Rosa. Most of the local cyclist don’t harbor any kind of ill will toward the man. He has always been a standup and polite guy, allowing riders to consistently participate with him on long winter death march rides. The Gran Fondo has brought much attention, money and paradigm change to Sonoma County. Not sure about this last Fondo, but the 2010 Fondo one gave some of its proceeds to a small K-8 school (Fort Ross School). As cycling has become more popular, local towns have passed ordinances to protect cyclist and pedestrians from verbal abuse and general threats from drivers (enabling civil suits to be more easily drawn against the irate drivers). It used to be (even just ten years ago), that riding a bike deep in cuts of Sonoma County would put one at risk from being pelted by bottles and curses from drivers. Now the small communities that are spread throughout west county are keen to tolerate and in some cases encourage cycling as a whole. The first couple Annadel mtn races, put on by Bike Monkey, gave most of the events proceeds to the state, for the purposes of keeping the park open during a time of park closures. There are numerous examples within Sonoma County of cycling’s growing popularity and increased awareness, and much of this can be contributed to the presence of Levi. Sure, the guy doped, but he never cheated (especially his community). BTW, Pliny goes bad quick, so drink up that growler in a few days time. Next time, try the right side of the Russian River board (the Belgian side).

  21. Patrick O'Brien

    Nice opinion piece Padraig, and I agree with all you said. As far as I am concerned, a fan who bought some of the stuff that goes with racing, the guys who turned “state’s evidence” got sanctioned, retired, and fired and that’s the end of it. They owe me nothing. As far as LA goes, I think there might still be criminal or civil liability, which may or may not be past the applicable statutes of limitation, that he is concerned with. That is just a guess on my part.

  22. RidesASteelHorse

    Padraig, I enjoy the site. Cycling itself often does it’s best to move me to tears, but reading a cycling website generally isn’t particularly emotional, but the Duece series…not what you expect, but well worth the time I invested. You make us think. Even if someone doesn’t always agree, your points make us think. I’ll not argue the points you raise in this piece – I agree and disagree. I will raise one issue: You attribute a quote to JFK, and he probably did say it, but it’s origin predates him by a few years.

    Luke 12:48 (NIV) …”From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

    Keep up the good work. I’ll be praying for Deuce. God Bless

    1. Author

      RidesASteelHorse: Thanks for the kind words, especially for the Deuce series. The dissent from readers, when it comes has helped me as a writer, and forced me to think even deeper about the issues I address.

      As to the Kennedy quote, that was something the Press Democrat’s Padecky attributed to Kennedy; and while I could hear the biblical echo, I couldn’t recall exactly which gospel. Thanks for giving credit where due.

  23. Howard

    As another Santa Rosan, I do find Mr. Padeckeys comments from the day before the ATOC finish here, to carry some insight. Here we have a local celeb who gushed about how much the city and its inhabitants mean to him, sure, we didn’t make him a celebrity, but he did ride on that train. When you hurt someone you love, you ask for forgiveness and try to to rebuild the relationship, not withdraw. Its kinda hard to accept Levi when he “isnt here”so to speak. I would be more proud to wear the event T, in public, if I felt the public had a chance to forgive him, see his remorse, get it out and lets move on as best we can.
    The Fondo was extremely slow to sell out this year, compared to other years, is this ” the Levi Effect” I have no idea, but it surecis an odd coincidence.
    Thanks again for all you do for our beloved sport. I hope to see you here soon.

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