Levi Leipheimer is in a bad mood today.
The organizers of the Amgen Tour of California announced the sixteen teams for this year’s edition and Leipheimer, a three-time winner, is still without a ride.
You can imagine a range of emotions when he saw that his former squad Omega-Pharma Quickstep will be racing in Cali. Shortly after Leipheimer’s doping admission in the USADA Reasoned Decision was made public, his boss Patrick Lefevere terminated his top stage racer. Yes on Peter Velits, no on Levi.
World Tour big boys RadioShack Leopard, Cannondale, BMC, Garmin-Sharp, Orica-GreenEdge, and Saxo-Tinkoff will be at the show and Vacansoleil-DCM will compete in California for the first time.
Missing out on riding the Tour of California will be a painful loss for Leipheimer. This year the final stage rolls through San Franciso and over the Golden Gate Bridge to a finish in Levi’s hometown of Santa Rosa.
There’s no ride in sight for a 39 year old with major doping baggage. The fallout from the Armstrong/US Postal doping testimony and the continual bad doping news like this week’s Michael Boogerd admission means Leipheimer is essentially toxic, persona non-rida.
Time is running out for Leipheimer who now has little over two months to find himself an invitation. With WorldTour teams desperate to appear clean and even squads like Astana and Katusha joining the Movement for Credible Cycling, it would appear his options are close to zero.
While there is some hope that Leipheimer could score a ride closer to home with a domestic team, even that seems problematic. UnitedHealthcare could use a top stage racer for California but it’s a tight knit crew that doesn’t need the bad press. A healthcare sponsor doesn’t need the negative PR on EPO and blood doping even if Levi stopped in 2006. Sure, a previous incarnation of UnitedHealthcare once signed Floyd Landis but it’s a different time and a different set of playing rules.
Champion Systems and NetApp-Endura are Pro Continental squads who are also riding California but those scenarios are difficult to imagine. NetApp is trying to establish itself as a modern set-up with a clean ethos and Champion Systems may bring their Chinese riders but has no clear need to compromise things with old man Leipheimer.
Leipheimer has a Postal connection with 5-Hour Energy/Kenda DS Frankie Andreu. However Frankie has enough work explaining why he doesn’t have a problem working with team captain Francisco Mancebo and the Spaniard’s own doping past. Andreu doesn’t need the extra aggravation of signing up Leipheimer just for a one-year, one shot at California.
Hanging on to sponsors and attracting new ones is a struggle for every team manager. Now is simply not the time to take a risk on Leipheimer when the entire sport is in chaos and new admissions and revelation seem to come out on a weekly basis. The Operacion Puerto trial drags into its sixth week. Another old Rabobank riders spills the dirty beans on a regular basis. The Lance Armstrong saga casts a pall over the domestic US racing scene.
Given all those conditions and constraints will California-bound teams like Bissell, Optum/Kelly Benefit Strategies or Jamis-Hagens Berman take a chance on Leipheimer? It’s hard to come up with a yes answer and that’s without knowing if their limited budgets can fund Leipheimer even on a drastic pay-cut.
Twisted Spoke thinks Leipheimer will continue to train on the roads around his Santa Rosa, California home. But don’t expect to see him in the Tour of California.