BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — American cyclist Levi Leipheimer said on Thursday that he would race his bike again, but where he does so, and if it’s road, mountain, or anything else, is as opaque as a winter fog.
Leipheimer granted a candid, live video interview on Thursday with fatcyclist.com blogger, Elden “Fatty” Nelson. Leipheimer is currently serving a reduced, six-month suspension for admitting to doping earlier in his career, and his confession came as part of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s U.S. Postal Service investigation. His name has popped back up in the news this week, as former coach Rick Crawford admitted to supplying Leipheimer with EPO, a banned blood booster, between 1999 and 2001.
“I will race my bike again, definitely,” Leipheimer said, when asked of his future plans. He added that those races could be the highest international competitions (Leipheimer’s ridden in 15 grand tours) or domestic mountain bike races.
“I love cycling too much. I have a lot of passion for it,” Leipheimer said. “Maybe that was my downfall… but that’s who I am.”
Leipheimer finds himself without a team, after Omega Pharma-Quick Step management sacked him following his public confession in October. That move was roundly criticized throughout the sport, notably by USADA CEO Travis Tygart, who said the decision put short-term profit margins ahead of long-term benefits for the sport.
“On the one hand, they say they congratulate him on coming forward, [but] their action terminating him for being truthful speaks a lot louder than their words,” Tygart told VeloNews shortly after Leipheimer’s firing. “It’s a powerful story that all these riders have and should be embraced and should be heard, not kicked to the curb with inaccurate press releases.”
Leipheimer believes he can still compete for two more years at the highest levels of the sport.
“If I wanted to, I could do another two years easily,” Leipheimer said. “You just have to take it year-by-year at this point. I still have the motivation to race. I’m out there training as we speak… I love riding my bike.”
Leiphiemer said he has been given “a whole new perspective.” Omega Pharma director Brian Holm has called Leipheimer’s dedication and preparation like that of a “monk.”
“I’ve got time to build up and do specific work. Believe me, I’m very fit. And I’m actually having a lot of fun,” Leipheimer said. “But there will be a time when I do have a clearer cut path ahead of me when I can start doing the intervals day after day.”
One obvious move that seemed to make sense, at least from the outside, was a move to the American outfit Garmin-Sharp, which has proven a successful environment for riders who’ve used performance enhancing drugs in the past but race clean now. Last week in a lengthy interview with VeloNews, Jonathan Vaughters tamped down that notion.
“I disagree with what Omega Pharma-Quick Step did in firing him. I think it’s ridiculous. I think that was old school, omertà-enforcing, poor decision making. My best reason for why we haven’t hired him yet is that this caught us at a bit of a bad moment,” said Vaughters. “We are more than likely folding up our Continental team, and we’re trying to take on as many of those young guys as we can. The question for me is not about hiring Levi or not, it is — am I going to boot a kid who is winning races for me in the U23 ranks so that Levi can have one last year? We are obviously already supporting people in his position, and I feel like, while I need to be loyal to our philosophy, I also need to be loyal to our young athletes.”
For his part, Leipheimer has given little indication of where he’ll land next. On Thursday, he said riding for RadioShack-Nissan wouldn’t be “weird,” and said those two companies were “probably the best title sponsors” he’d encountered in his years as a professional.
“There’s a lot of other factors involved. There’s a whole other group of people who run that team right now,” he said. “I’d love to be able to continue, not have to stop like this.”
Asked by VeloNews which results he was most proud of, now that his past PED use was on the table, Leipheimer cited his string of successes at the Amgen Tour of California (three time overall winner) and USA Pro Challenge (2011 overall winner), and his bronze medal in the individual time trial at 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
“There’s a lot of results I’m very proud of. It would be hard to nail down one. Of course they’re all in recent years that were done clean,” he said. “Those are big results that I did without any performance enhancing drugs at all, and I’m proud of that.”