For all the criticism that has been heaped on Travis Tygart for being tough, the guy has a tremendous soft side. Levi Leipheimer, of all people, brought it out in him.
Leipheimer, who seems to have doped his entire career, got away from the Armstrong Affair with a six-month suspension and getting fired by his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team. Considering he was looking at a lifetime ban for his second doping offense, an offense that he claims lasted almost eight years, this turn of events seems pretty good. For those who are unaware, Levi tested positive for ephedrine after winning the 1996 amateur criterium nationals. That went away pretty easily, and then he decided to try his hand on the big stage in Europe. According to his own testimony, he made a conscious decision to dope before he joined the US Postal team in 2000. He didn’t need to get nudged into it, doping was merely part of his own preparation; his coach was his supplier.
But it gets better. Tygart, CEO of USADA, and accused of having a “win at all costs” Ahab-like fixation with Armstrong, has gone to bat for Leipheimer. When Omega Pharma sacked Levi, Tygart told VeloNews.com “The classic omerta move right? Actions speak louder than words. On the one hand, they say the congratulate him on coming forward, [but] their action terminating him for being truthful speaks a lot louder than their words.” The team used an anti-doping clause in his contract to fire him. Tygart claims that the team knew of Levi’s testimony to USADA months in advance but sacked him anyway.
I believe Tygart’s claim on Levi notifying his team. It makes sense. It also makes sense that Levi knew getting fired was coming: he hasn’t contested the contract claim and he knew what he had done when he signed it. Levi testified to a grand jury in 2011, a move he must have seen as career-saving (second offense and you’re out for good), even if it meant getting harassed and threatened by Armstrong and Bruyneel and guaranteed his exit from RadioShack. Likewise, as his presence on Omega Pharma was no doubt due to his ties to Specialized, the team’s bike sponsor. He probably told them of his testimony, something that could have been reported on early in 2012. Specialized probably wanted Levi on the team, as it meant an American to lead the squad at Tours of California, Utah, and USA Pro Cycling Challenge. An American winning those races on a Specialized would have been great for the S-Works. Any success in Europe, where Leipheimer couldn’t justify having a whole team at his service, would be gravy.
But Levi won none of those races in 2012. His big result was winning the Tour de San Luis in Argentina. He managed sixth in California, sixth in Utah, and third in Colorado. He was third at Tour de Suisse, a race he won in 2011. With few victories, and at an age where many end their careers anyways, there was little reason for Omega Pharma to hang onto him. Omerta is real, but dumping Levi isn’t it. Levi had a nice final season, where he got to shoot for some big wins and pocketing another wad of cash. Specialized got great exposure as Levi was all over the media in the run ups to those races. Omega Pharma got decent exposure in the cycling press for the same. Everybody, save the clean riders, wins.
I bring Levi’s fate up now because Velonews.com’s Matthew Beaudin used it as an entrée to discussing Tygart’s views on providing amnesty to dopers. Tygart thinks it would help the sport.
I don’t think amnesty will work. Even if there are no costs to dopers in terms of jobs, they’ll still pay a price for the admission. They don’t know how their coworkers, fans, friends, or loved ones will take it and they probably don’t want to find out. No matter how enticing amnesty might seem to a non-doper, having a reputation for racing clean is still more valuable. And admitting to having lied for years leaves a question about your character that won’t go away. Reading through the stories dopers have told, very few admit to having found the truth refreshing in any way. Only those who seem to have fallen the farthest, like Floyd and Tyler, maybe Jorg Jaksche, seem to have found telling the truth any kind of balm.
Equally important, doping cases like Armstrong’s are gifts that can keep on giving. While investigators never seemed to have gotten to the bottom of Operacion Puerto, and Joe Papp’s list seeems to have netted only a few dopers, there are names galore in Armstrong’s file. There are plenty of redacted names who are probably being investigated, and the ones publicly named have authorities going after them. There’s no reason to give out any gifts when the system is going to get them regardless.
If there’s one change that could help, it would be moving the default first-time offense penalty to four years out of the sport. At four years removed from the sport, any cycling career is effectively over. With that threat as the ADA’s stick, there would be a real incentive to talk. Let them name names—associates, accomplices, pharmacies, doctors–and depending on the quality and quantity of the information shared, reduce the penalty. Part of the reason omerta works is because the payoff for keeping your mouth shut is getting back in to the mafia when the suspension is over. If the suspended rider can’t envision a return to the sport unless he talks, it’s much easier to sing.
And with that kind of incentive, Tygart’s job would be much, much easier.