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.