Most cycling fans know who Levi Leipheimer is, but I’ll give his bio for the benefit of those of you that aren’t cycling enthusiasts. Levi is an American professional road bicycle racer who currently rides for Team Astana (last year Levi rode for the now defunct Discovery Channel team). He is arguable the greatest American cyclist today with a 1st overall in the 2007 Tour of California (winning the Prologue and Stage 5 time trials), 1st overall in the 2006 Dauphiné Libéré, 1st overall in the 2005 Deutschland Tour, 3rd overall in the 2001 Vuelta a España, and three top-ten finishes in the Tour de France general classification, including 3rd overall in the 2007 race. He is also the reigning USA National Road Race champion, finishing 1:11 seconds ahead of Discovery team mate and defending U.S. champion George Hincapie. However, he is not being allowed to compete in several top races this year – including the Tour de France.
On February 13th, the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) barred Team Astana from competing in any race or event organized by the ASO in 2008. The ASO owns premiere cycling events like Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Tours, and the famed Tour de France. The ASO cited the doping scandals of last year’s Tour de France as justification. The politics of professional cycling are confusing (even for those of us that follow it closely), but this decision
Astana is a totally new team in 2008. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the name. The entire organizational structure has been rebuilt under the direction of the team’s new General Manager, Johan Bruyneel, who basically cleaned house (bringing over many former Discovery Channel riders). In addition, Astana has adopted the rigorous doping controls developed by anti-doping expert Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, and Astana now spends more money on anti-doping controls than any other team in the pro peloton.
By barring the entire team from competing in ASO events, outstanding athletes like Levi Leipheimer, who was not a member of last year’s Astana team and who has never been implicated in any doping affair, are forced to sit on the sidelines while their life’s work passes them by.
I had the opportunity to have dinner and ride with Levi last year. He is a genuinely nice guy that is totally passionate about cycling. As he talked about the Tour de France, it was clear that he loves the event and would like to have another chance to win it after coming so close. I’d rather not see politics get in the way of him having that chance, so you can support his cause by signing the petition here. I think the Tour de France this year would be a less compelling race without him.