Omega Pharma-QuickStep awaits UCI's stance on six-month ban
Levi Leipheimer's future at Omega Pharma-QuickStep remains clouded after the American accepted a six-month ban from USADA following his confession to doping between 1999 and 2007.
Speaking at the Tour of Beijing on Wednesday, manager Patrick Lefevere told Cyclingnews that he would wait for the UCI to ratify the ban before making a definitive decision on Leipheimer's position. In the meantime, Leipheimer has been placed on non-active status by the team.
Leipheimer was one of six former US Postal riders – along with Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde, George Hincapie, David Zabriskie and Michael Barry – to be handed a suspension on Wednesday after he provided testimony to USADA on doping practices within the team as part of the agency's case against Lance Armstrong.
Although Leipheimer was strongly rumoured to have testified to before a grand jury regarding his doping practices during the federal investigation into the US Postal team in 2010, Lefevere claimed that he was not aware of the rider's doping past when he signed him from RadioShack ahead of the 2012 season.
"This is a case from a long time ago, before he was with us. When he signed we didn't know it. That's already a fault of him," Lefevere said. "The first rule of our internal rules is ‘I will never be involved in doping and I was never involved in doping'.
"The first time I heard about it was the day before the Tour de France. He said some things, a long story but no real stuff. Then in the last weeks, he told us that there were 10 or 11 people [potentially facing sanctions]. He said he didn't know what USADA would do but he would keep us informed."
Leipheimer subsequently requested not to ride the Grand Prix de Montréal and GP de Québec last month, so that he could serve his six-month suspension between September 1 and March 1, 2013.
"He asked not to ride in Canada so that he was free from September 1st. That was probably something that USADA told them and we know today that their suspensions would go back to September 1 so they would be available on March 1 next year," Lefevere said. "Levi said, ‘I can ride again in Paris-Nice again next year.' And I said, ‘Yeah, but if you have six months, how can you ride again?'"
While Lefevere complained that Leipheimer should have informed him of the situation before signing for the team, he acknowledged that the former US Postal riders who testified to USADA – including current Garmin-Sharp manager Jonathan Vaughters – might have collectively agreed not to speak out until USADA issued a statement on the matter.
"Maybe he felt comfortable because Vaughters and some other riders were in the same situation. So maybe they agreed between them not to communicate until USADA did first. We will see."
Lefevere confirmed that he had spoken to Leipheimer early on Wednesday morning "about his statement and what happened" prior to the publication of USADA's announcement. While Garmin-Sharp issued a statement that tacitly supported its riders in their suspension, Lefevere and Omega Pharma-QuickStep appear to adopting a pragmatic line. He confirmed that Leipheimer has been placed on non-active status by Omega Pharma-QuickStep pending a decision from the UCI on whether or not it accepts the reduced doping bans handed down by USADA.
"Maybe you want me to make a declaration but I can't because I have to wait for the reaction of the UCI," he said. "If the UCI says six months is ok for them, then I have to go back to my board and my sponsors to see what they think about that. So we will wait."