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Santa Rosa celebrity cyclist Levi Leipheimer has reached out to people who took part in or worked on the GranFondo charity ride he created, apologizing in a letter for having doped to improve his race performance.

"I truly regret letting you down," he wrote in a letter sent by email to the biking community and published today in The Press Democrat as a letter to the editor.

"The admission was terrifying to confront, not because I was afraid of the truth — truth meant a better sport, after all — but because I was afraid of how those I cared about would react," he said in the letter to "Dear current and past GranFondo participants and supporters."

The annual event draws upwards of 7,000 riders.

Sonoma County cyclists who are involved with the four-year-old event welcomed the letter.

"I think it was essential that Levi said something to the local people," said Jonathan Lee, who coordinates the Fondo's on-bike course marshals and is president of Red Peloton, a nonprofit charity organization and cycling team.

"For a day and a half there was silence on the local front," said Lee. "People are insecure as to, &‘Is Levi going to be the hero we believe him to be and really come out and face this and be open about this?' If you don't you're almost hiding from it."

Others who said the letter was the right step said it should also be possible to distinguish Leipheimer the confessed doper from Leipheimer the champion of the county's increasingly high-profile cycling scene.

"I think there's one thing that's really important to keep separate, which is what a person has accomplished," said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

"In Levi's case all the things he's done for cycling in Sonoma County, and the things he's done as a professional. That's only a part of who he is," he said.

Leipheimer, 38, did not respond Saturday to calls or text messages seeking elaboration on his letter, but friends said he felt it was a necessary action.

"He didn't have to do that. He issued a statement just like all the other guys," said Greg Fisher, GranFondo marketing director.

"But it's not disingenuous," said Fisher. "He legitimately felt like he needed to reach out to those folks. He just wanted to speak directly to them."

The letter was the second Leipheimer has written about the doping scandal that broke open this week. In the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday he described a sport in which the only way to compete at an elite level was to dope. "Right or wrong, in my mind the choice was &‘do it or go home.' For me that was not a choice."

Leipheimer's admissions are a byproduct of the lengthy effort by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to establish that seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was a user of banned performance-enhancing substances.

Leipheimer and several other Americans who raced with Armstrong admitted in affidavits that they used banned substances as part of a sophisticated doping program managed and coordinated by Armstrong and team managers.

Leipheimer's said in his affidavit that he used the banned substances EPO and testosterone off-and-on between 1999 and 2007, years that included several appearances in the Tour de France, cycling's top race. His best finish was third place in 2007.

Seeking public input

Santa Rosa City Schools will hold five community meetings to gather residents’ input on proposed trustee boundaries for future elections:

— Nov. 29 at 5:30 p.m., Rincon Valley Middle School

— Dec. 6 at 5:30 p.m., Piner High School

— Dec. 13 at 6 p.m., Steele Lane Elementary School

— Jan. 9 at 5:30 p.m., Santa Rosa City Schools district office

— Jan. 17 at 6 p.m., Santa Rosa City Schools district office

A final public hearing and vote will be held during the Jan. 24 school board meeting, which begins at 6 p.m.

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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

He has been suspended from cycling for six months, a period that covers the pro circuit offseason.

In the letter published today, he said: "Regardless of the mistakes I've made, nothing lessens my commitment to cycling and the good it can do. I hope you understand that the GranFondo is not about me or my racing accolades, my successes or failures. It's about much more than that."

Lee agreed.

"This is the right thing not just for cyclists but for the community, because we want to believe in our heroes," he said. "It's not going to take away everyone's feeling of negativity on it, but it's going to help."

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