Levi Leipheimer finally offered some words to Sonoma County and, in particular, to supporters of his GranFondo charity bike ride about doping. And they included these: "I truly regret letting you down."
Leipheimer, whose full letter appears on the opposite page today, was responding to news that he confessed to taking banned substances and, as a result, has been suspended from his sport for six months.
Leipheimer's admission last week came with a Sept. 21 affidavit that he gave the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as part of an investigation into Lance Armstrong on allegations of doping. In it, he goes into great detail about what happened.
No, this was not a one-time thing. Nor was it just for one season. Leipheimer joined other top cyclists in admitting that they had used banned substances as part of a sophisticated doping system overseen by Armstrong and others. Leipheimer said he used EPO and testosterone and underwent prohibited blood transfusions on a number of occasions for eight years, ending in 2007. This includes several years in which he took part in the Tour de France.
Although there's no secret about doping in cycling, all of this comes as a blow to Leipheimer fans in Sonoma County.
The Santa Rosa-based cyclist deserves some credit for coming clean about what happened, in sharp contrast to some in baseball and other sports who have denied taking performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals in the face of incontrovertible evidence. But his explanation, as noted in the Wall Street Journal, that he was "forced to make the decisions I made" is vexing.
As the affidavits demonstrate, Leipheimer was engaged in a sport in which doping was pervasive and that, by all appearances, participation mandated compliance. But Leipheimer always had a choice of whether to engage or walk away. And it's clear what he chose.
Leipheimer is known for many things, including finishing third in the Tour de France as well winning the Tour of California three times. But he is perhaps best known for raising the prestige of cycling in Sonoma County and for founding what has become the nation's largest cycling event, Levi's GranFondo, an annual fall bike ride through scenic Sonoma County to raise money for nonprofits.
But what will he be known for now? And what is become of the Fondo?
As many have argued, the ride has become something larger than Leipheimer, this year involving some 7,000 riders raising thousands for charities. Given that, there's certainly a good argument to be made for why it should continue regardless of what has happened with Leipheimer and his reputation. Supporters are likely to voice their opinion about the future of the event when it comes to signup time next year.
But one is left to wonder whether this event would ever have started, let alone achieved its current level of success, were it not for Leipheimer's stardom, a status achieved through illegitimate means.
It's the first of many questions the county is left to confront as this story unfolds.