Levi Leipheimer, a professional cycling star and the man most responsible for the sport's exploding popularity in Sonoma County, admitted publicly Wednesday to years of doping and has been suspended from competitions for six months.
The bombshell revelations place Leipheimer, 38, at the center of yet another doping scandal in the sport of international cycling and also threaten to diminish the reputation of a man known locally as much for his community involvement as for his skills on a bicycle.
Leipheimer is an Olympic medalist, a third-place finisher on the Tour de France, a three-time winner of the prestigious Tour of California pro race and the man behind one of the nation's biggest cycling event, Levi's GranFondo, a charity benefit staged each fall in Sonoma County.
His suspension is in effect during the pro cycling offseason. He would be eligible to race after March 1.
The revelations are contained in a Sept. 21 affidavit that Leipheimer submitted to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency during its investigation of doping allegations against Lance Armstrong. The affidavit and a companion admission of doping were released Wednesday along with more than 1,000 pages of evidence related to the case.
Leipheimer wrote he used the banned substances EPO and testosterone and underwent prohibited blood transfusions off-and-on between 1999 and 2007, which includes several years in which he participated in the Tour de France, the sport's pinnacle race.
Leipheimer stated he began blood transfusions in 2005 after he was introduced to Dr. Michele Ferrari on a training sojourn with Armstrong on the Island of Tenerife off the coast of Spain. Leipheimer said he and his wife, Odessa Gunn, accepted an invitation to join Armstrong and singer Sheryl Crow, who then was dating Armstrong, on the island for several days.
Leipheimer told of renting an apartment that same year in the south of France with now-disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis so that the pair could store their blood and "re-infuse" it.
Leipheimer also stated he ferried EPO from a rest stop south of Girona, Spain, where he lives and trains during the cycling season, for use by cyclists George Hincapie and Michael Barry, who along with Leipheimer were on the Discovery Channel Team.
Leipheimer did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
But in a statement he released to the Wall Street Journal, the Santa Rosa cyclist accepted responsibility for his actions while at the same time essentially stating he was only doing what everyone else was doing at the time.
"I regret that this was the state of affairs in the sport that we love and I chose as my career," he wrote. "I am sorry that I was forced to make the decisions I made. I admit that I didn't let doping deter me from my dream. I admit that I used banned substances."
Carlos Perez, founder of Bike Monkey, which organizes Leipheimer's hugely popular GranFondo cycling event in Sonoma County, said Leipheimer had no choice but to dope.
"These were the options they (riders) were faced with. You either do that to compete at this level, or you pack your bags and go home," Perez said.
But Leipheimer, who over the years steadfastly refused to broach the subject of whether he was involved with doping, surely will face blowback from those who feel betrayed by his duplicity.