BADALING, China (VN) — Omega Pharma-Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere says Levi Leipheimer’s future with the Belgian team is anything but certain.
Leipheimer’s doping confession and testimony in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s case against Lance Armstrong could cost him the final year of his two-year deal with the Belgian outfit in 2013.
The veteran Belgian director said no decisions on Leipheimer’s future with the team will be taken immediately, but voiced his frustration with the 38-year-old who joined Omega Pharma this season.
“We can fire him. Right on the first page of his contract it says that if he has anything to do with a doping scandal or with former doping practices, the contract can be cancelled,” Lefevere told VeloNews on Thursday. “I do not like to make decisions when things are hot. We will discuss this with our board and make the right decision after conferring with everyone.”
Leipheimer publicly admitted Wednesday that he doped from 2000-2007 and said he volunteered information to USADA investigators because he believed it was an authentic effort that could have lasting, positive change to the sport.
Leipheimer was among 11 former Armstrong teammates who collaborated with USADA to give evidence and testimony in the U.S. Postal Service case. Only Leipheimer and three Garmin-Sharp riders — David Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson — remain active.
While Garmin has staunchly stood beside its riders, Lefevere expressed frustration with Leipheimer because he didn’t tell team management about his involvement in the USADA investigation until a phone call Wednesday morning to tip Lefevere off that he was going to be named in the USADA dossier as a collaborative witness.
“He called me one hour before the statement was released,” Lefevere said. “He never told us anything before we signed him and nothing at all this year. It’s a big mess. The easiest thing would be to say, ‘end of story.’ Many will defend him. We will have to see what our board and sponsors say. I don’t think it’s a big mess for us. It’s clear it’s all about the past.”
Lefevere was also in the dark about suspensions that the American riders accepted last month.
USADA said the riders would each serve a six-month ban that is back-dated from September 1 to March 1. Officials from USA Cycling, which has the authority to hand down bans for U.S. license-holders, told VeloNews on Wednesday that all involved riders still have valid licenses and are allowed to race.
Lefevere says he’s going to wait to see how the UCI reacts before making any decisions.
“Levi says he only found out yesterday that he was going to be banned. It’s a back-dated ban and, in theory, he could race March 1. He wants to race Paris-Nice. We will see what happens,” Lefevere said. “What’s obvious is that this has nothing to do with us. This all happened five or 10 years ago. He never told us anything about this before he signed his contract with us.”
Lefevere said he is not opposed to riders confessing about past indiscretions. Allegations have been leveled against Lefevere in the Belgian media about his role in 1990s doping scandals surrounding riders on teams he formerly managed, including classics superstar Johan Museeuw, who admitted that he used EPO during his career.
Lefevere said when he was president of the AIGCP, the team owners’ association, he had proposed an amnesty-type program, allowing riders to openly admit any past doping activity and serve a reduced ban before being allowed to start anew.
He said he was unable to build consensus among the teams about his idea to “draw a line in the sand,” something that has been discussed of late as well. The UCI scuttled plans for any formal amnesty program during management meetings at the road world championships last month.
“No one could agree and now here we are today, still dealing with the past,” Lefevere said. “Cycling has changed. Of course, there will always be people who try to cut corners. The controls are in place. Anyone who tries to cheat today is crazy.”
Lefevere also said he was never close to Armstrong, saying that he only spoke with him once.
“The only time I spoke with Armstrong was in 1998, when he came up to me and said, ‘Squinzi will be sorry because I am going to win the Tour de France,'” Lefevere said, referring to ex-Mapei owner Giorgio Squinzi, where Lefevere was team manager in the 1990s.
“I always admired Armstrong for the fact that he was a cancer survivor and what he did for the disease,” he continued. “I, too, had a tumor that only five percent survive. I was one of the lucky ones.”
Lefevere said he hopes the Armstrong case blows over quickly, saying that it’s hard to imagine how much harm the scandal will have on cycling’s already-tarnished image.
“The damage has already been done, with the Festina Affair and with Operación Puerto,” he said. “People have to realize that a new generation of riders have come into the sport. Of the 11 riders who testified, only four are still active. This happened a long time ago. Cycling has changed and people should believe that.”