Rick Crawford outed himself the other day. If anyone bothered to read Levi Leipheimer’s affidavit and knew who Crawford was, the admission was unnecessary. In some respects, it’s puzzling that he took so long to step forward. And a bit stranger that no one seems to have bothered to call him up and ask the day Leipheimer’s affidavit was published. Even if Crawford’s name isn’t familiar to everyone, it certainly is known to the Colorado-based cycling media.
(Rick, if you’re reading, love to talk.)
It’s amazing that Crawford confessed to having doped only two people. Levi Leipheimer and Kirk O’Bee are the lucky two, the first is banned for life, the second is currently serving a six-month ban. He coached busted doper Nathan O’Neill at the time of his offense and admitted doper Tom Danielson as well. Considering the rumors on Crawford have been flowing for years and years; only two after all that chatter is surprising. I’d love to know the moral calculus in helping some dope and not others, but that seems to have gone on, according to reports from students he coached in Colorado and at least one top cyclist.
I think Crawford has gotten off pretty easy thusfar. A quick web search indicates that many pages that refer to him have been taken down, like the one at Colorado Mesa University. Also gone are most official references to Crawford’s role with the Chipotle development team, where he allegedly was a director. Vaughters and Crawford intersect and yet no one has asked JV about the appointment nor has JV opined.
Crawford claims Slipstream didn’t know about the doping. Considering Chann McRae, the director of the development squad, was teammates with O’Bee on Mapei, Leipheimer and O’Bee were on Postal together, and Vaughters was teammates with both McRae (on the Spanish Santa Clara team) and Leipheimer (on Comptel-Colorado Cyclist), and McRae was coached by Crawford at one time, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t known.
A bigger issue to me is how his story about doping Levi and Levi’s story about doping don’t reconcile. In Leipheimer’s affidavit, it is pretty clear that EPO was on his mind for the first half of 1999 and then he started a doping program under Crawford’s direction the second half and was on it before he joined Postal. In fact, one of the problems with Levi’s program, according to Levi’s telling, is that it wasn’t sophisticated enough for the doctors at Postal.
Here’s Leipheimer on how he started doping:
“While riding with Comptel-Colorado Cyclist in 1997 one of my teammates was Jonathan Vaughters. Jonathan discussed with me his use of erythropoietin (EPO)which apparently began when he had previously competed for a Spanish team.
“By 1999 I had come to believe that in order to be successful in professional cycling it was necessary to use performance enhancing drugs.
“I was offered EPO in 1999 while on the Saturn team. The EPO was offered by Other-7 a cycling coach with whom I worked in 1999, 2000, and 2001. I debated internally about whether to use EPO for about six months before trying EPO during the second half of the 1999 season.
“I got EPO from Other-7 for three (3) years and paid him for the EPO separately from what I paid him for coaching me.
“During this tim period I administered EPO through subcutaneous injection and followed the instructions on the package insert on how to inject it.
“Other-7 put together my training plans and instructed me when to use the EO. He also advised that I get a centrifuge to monitor my hematocrit, and I did this.”
Other-7, aka Crawford, saw his efforts with Leipheimer differently:
“‘I’d been working with Levi since before anybody had really heard of him. We had gone through all of his Saturn years and had had a lot of success just with normal training methodology, just good old working hard. And then he started getting these opportunities to race on a higher scale.’
It was then, it seemed, that the tide had turned against bread and water. Leipheimer didn’t seem to be getting the same performance enhancing drug treatment as his contemporaries on the U.S. Postal Service team, Crawford said.
“‘There was just this attitude. There was a circle at Postal that Levi was never part of. There were things going on in that circle, and I was getting reports from Levi about what was going on at that point. During this whole sequence, we’re just trying to figure out how to be competitive at that world level,’ Crawford said. ‘At some point that decision was made that we would move forward with these substances. That’s the methodology in terms of the thought process. That was kind of our thinking. We were just trying to compete in a world where it seemed there was no other way.'”
So which is it? Was the doping something they did to punch Levi’s ticket to Europe or was it in response to feeling that doping was going on and Levi wasn’t included?
Taking Crawford’s claim as the truth, it raises plenty of questions about his coaching. It seems he’s telling us that despite his years and years in the sport, he was surprised that doping was going on, that he believed you had to be part of the in-crowd to dope, and that rather than find another solution, he quickly agreed doping was the answer and pursued that.
There’s also something awry about a coach advising on illegal, performance-enhancing drugs. He knew the rules and where the lines were drawn and he decided to ignore them, even when his client might have faced career-ending sanction if caught. Here’s a lay person devising a drug regimen on short notice that utilizes a dangerous substance used to treat cancer patients, a drug that has been known to have been the cause of numerous deaths in cyclists, a drug that has not been studied for long-term effects on healthy people. And to get his hands on the drug, he had be purchasing it from people who were violating either professional oaths or laws by dispensing it to him. The ethical considerations of his position were so daunting that it’s hard not to question what he’s doing as a coach and if his role was more of a pusher. In both stories it seems that Crawford is the one suggesting the doping route.
Perhaps Crawford knows this. He told Cyclingnews:
“At the time with Levi, there were all these kinds of ways of justifying it and now there’s no way to justify it and I’ve had to deal with that for many years. I’m taking responsibility for it. Yes, it was the culture, but we chose wrong…Who was coming forward then? There was no-one coming forward in 2001. First of all this was my livelihood. I have four sons I’m raising. Do I wish I’d come forward sooner? Of course I do. I’m not saying what I did was right, but I take full responsibility. I didn’t behave correctly and I should never have done this in the first place and I should have turned myself in back in 2001. There’s a window now and it won’t be open forever, and I’m not proud of what I did. I’m just trying to do the right thing now. I don’t expect everyone to understand but I’m here and I’m trying to do the right thing.”
I don’t know about bringing his family up as an excuse. Once he saw doping as the route, shouldn’t he have backed away? And having done so, taken steps to make amends then? So what if no one was coming forward in 2001, wasn’t he, as a coach, asking people to do things that they saw as hard and he was telling them that accomplishing the hard was possible? And it’s hard to see where standing up back then would have been so hard. In the second VeloNews piece, he claims that he wasn’t getting paid for his work (a claim Leipheimer disputes in his affidavit) and was let down when Levi left–getting stiffed by a famous client who benefitted from and then abandoned for greater glory arouses sympathy from just about everyone.
Maybe there’s more to Crawford’s actions than he’s letting on. Maybe he told USADA much more than he’s telling the public. After all, the guy was involved with pro cycling teams and pro cyclists for years, and with just his knowledge of drugs from doping Leipheimer and O’Bee, probably could have spotted dopers and their methods easily.
While I have issues with the admission and wish some questions had been asked of him, it’s good Rick Crawford has finally stood up. I’m hoping the other redacted names will be doing the same soon.