Is it career over for Levi Leipheimer?
No news is not good news for the 38 year old stage racer who was axed by his Omega-Pharma Quickstep team as a direct result of his admission of doping.
While Leipheimer says he wants to keep racing, what WorldTour team wants the baggage and expense of an aging guy with one or two seasons left in the tank? Just wouldn’t make sense from a financial or PR standpoint.
We’ve been trying to think where little Levi could go but Twisted Spoke has come up empty. First, you can forget any of the top domestic squads — there’s no welcome at Garmin, BMC or RadioShack-Implosion-Trek. Post USADA, he’s persona non grata.
Saxo-Bank Tinkoff could use a good climber to support Alberto Contador but Bjarne Riis is in no position to add to his list of problems. He’s already under fire based on the claims of Tyler Hamilton that Riis introduced him to the evil Dr. Fuentes of Operacion Puerto fame. Not only that, Riis’ former CSC star says the Dane encouraged his doping program. Multiply that with the bad press on sponsor Oleg Tinkoff and Riis is working working just to save his own skin. No room for Levi.
You can immediately rule out all the French squads. Bringing in Leipheimer would be “insupportable” as the French would say. Sub-zero interest in Levi. They’d subject themselves to a firestorm of criticism for even floating the rumor. Pas de place pour Levi.
What about the Dutch and Belgians? Another hopeless situation for Leipheimer. Lotto-Belisol just made big PR noise about joining the Movement for Credible Cycling. No Lotto ticket for Levi.
Rabobank is not even a remote option. The sponsor is furious about the corruption in cycling and pulling their name off the jerseys. The team is lucky Rabo still plans to honor rider contracts for the 2013 season. Rabo a no-go for Levi.
Then there’s the Sunny Vacationers, Vacansoleil. They been a mixed bag over the years, signing people like Riccardo Ricco and Ezekiel Mosquera but they’ve seemed to have cleaned up their act to a large degree. Maybe Levi has a shot but again, who wants to invest in a 38 year old with a doping past when sponsors are so hard to come by?
Circling back to the USA for a moment, it’s interesting to consider the possibility of the Cannondale squad, the former Liquigas lime green. American Ted King is there and they’ve got All-Universe Peter Sagan. But this isn’t a big budget operation and does an American bike company want Levi on their rig after his testimony? No dice on Cannondale for Levi.
Could Levi go Down Under? Not in a million years. Orica-GreenEdge just terminated boss Matt White for his doping past at US Postal. No green light for Levi at GreenEdge. Not good on ya, mate.
Team Sky? Need we even say the words Zero Tolerance? Argos-Shimano? Nope, strong anti-doping stance. Ask their outspoken sprinter Marcel Kittle if he’d be excited to have Levi on board. Uhh, no.
A thorough review of the job market for Levi brings us to Lampre-Merida. Man, they have their own doping issues with Michele Scarpone trying to dig his way out of his documented association with dope doctor to the stars, the banned for eternity, Dr. Michele Ferrari. There’s no freakin’ way Levi is headed to Italia.
That bring us to the countries and teams with, shall we say, a softer stance on doping: Spain, Russia and Kazakhstan.
Ahh, Spain, where riders still support Armstrong’s version of events. Can we imagine Leipheimer riding alongside unrepentant doper Alejandro Valverde? Levi has shown in the past he’s not afraid to go wherever he’s wanted — from Germany to Belgium. However, this seems like a stretch and the Spanish economy is in the dumps. Wouldn’t Movistar like to unload the underperforming Juan Jose Cobo and slot in Levi? No gonna happen. Nada room for Levi.
How amusing would it be for Leipheimer to join the Basque Lite version of Euskatel-Euskadi? Could he pick up the crazy Basque language? Would he be willing to spell his name Tleipheimerukka? How crazy would that be? Just flat out insane. Leipheimer won’t find a home in Basque country.
Now, we’re getting to real possibility: Katusha and Astana. Convicted doper and race-purchaser Alexander Vinokourov is running the show at Astana. Let’s just say he’s open-minded when it comes to past doping transgressions. Levi has already ridden for Astana once. Is a return visit in the cards?
Then there’s Katusha, the Global Russian Cycling Shindig. A few years ago they welcomed Danny Di Luca back from his EPO suspension. Leipheimer still has the talent to win those week-long stage races. Money has proven no object for Katusha — they certainly have the big bucks to shell out for a late roster addition.
It would seem that Astana and Katusha are Leipheimer’s only shots at a new contract. But given the chaos and recrimination in pro cycling after the USADA nuclear explosion, not even teams with a looser ethical standard can afford to hire a suspended 38 year old — no matter what his power meter says he still has in the legs. Besides, he can’t earn any UCI points for a while.
We have only two words of career advice for Levi Leipheimer and it might be of no value anyway. Pro Conti. Call us deranged but think about this one: Leipheimer signs with Christina-Watches.