Big Corporate Sponsors and Admitted Dopers: An Unholy Alliance?

November 28, 2013 by Stephen Auerbach - No Comments

This piece from Crank Punk and Company makes a great point about the incredible Gran Fondo’s going on around the country featuring admitted dopers that nonetheless have major corporate sponsorship.  The writer takes on Levi Leipenheimer’s Gran Fondo and argues that cyclists have to take a stand against this kind of corporate validation of cheats. I can see the point – where is this trend headed – Lance Armstrong sponsored by blood-test companies?


Gran fondos & dopers: Why we have to make a stand

Google ‘Levi’s Gran Fondo’  and check out the number of companies sponsoring this distinguished event. 26, i make it. 26 companies, from Specialized to Nissan to Francis Ford Coppola Winery to Smith Optics. what are they donating? cash? where is it going? charities. do i care? no. the real question is what are they getting? and, if there is such a thing as an even realer question, why are they getting no sh*t for this? hiding behind the ‘but it’s for charity’ veil has to come to an end. there are a million worthier fundraisers out there than Levi Leipheimer – whom, lest we forget, got busted last year for being a career doper. you remember that, right? he was stripped of all results from June 1, 1999 to July 30, 2006, and July 7 to July 29, 2007, the periods he admitted to being aided by illegal means. i remember that. you probably remember that.

seems though that Specialized, Smith Optics, Clif Bar, Zipp, Camelbak and Capo don’t, however. ah, the collective corporate memory, what a thing full of holes it is. seems odd to me though that Nike and Oakley dropped LA when news came out (definitive news that is, as many in those companies kinda really completely knew that he was on the juice all along) about his infractions, and yet these companies here are flocking to a man who cheated for large parts – if not all – of his own career.

and didn’t Omega Pharma-QuickStep  – who ride Specialized – drop Levi after he admitted blood doping? do Specialized America have a soft spot for California’s needle-loving bald eagle? can no one there see that this attachment, this association, might just maybe be bad for their own image?

well, guess what – no. they couldn’t care less. because it seems that cycling America couldn’t care less. now, that is a blanket statement, but look at how many people rode Levi’s Gran Fondo this year – seven thousand and five hundred.

yes, 7,500.


get it? that is a lot. if those 7,000+ folks were not turning up but were in fact staying away because heck, Levi seems friendly enough but he is after all a committed doper, think maybe that the companies might stay away too?

what do you get, in any case, for taking part in this event? what makes this so appealing? well, according to the website, you get “An unforgettable experience from a grand day on the bike with Levi Leipheimer, his pro buddies, and thousands of your new friends.”

first off, there should really be just one rider at this event, Mr. Leipheimer himself. and who are the rest of the people who pay cash to be in a ride orchestrated and overseen by Levi? and who are these ‘pro buddies’? one was Andrew Talansky, of Garmin. another was Luca Euser of UHC.

another of the attendees was Padraig of RedKitePrayer.

here’s how he prefaced his account of a good ol’ day in the sun:

“We’re at an uneasy place with our heroes. Even without the benefit of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the landscape of our understanding of professional bike racing in the last 20 years has fundamentally changed. For most followers of bike racing, doping went from this little problem in uncommon instances to a pervasive culture common to all but the rarest riders. While we beg for the truth about what occurred, as sporting fans, we’ve yet to embrace a single rider who confesses. As a group, we’ve yet to confer forgiveness to a single prodigal son.

“Some people would like to see Leipheimer and every other confessed doper shot by firing squad, or at least expunged from the collective memory of cycling. Truly, some of the vitriol is hard to fathom. But he hasn’t gone away, nor has his eponymous event. To evidence this drop in stock value, entries for Levi’s Gran Fondo sold at a slower rate this year than they did in previous years. But they did sell out.”

yes, it did sell out, and Padraig helped that happen. and this ‘uneasy place’ seems to be a way to justify feeling kinda weird about being at the event but having fun anyway. and ‘to confer forgiveness’ – doesn’t being there in effect do just that?

another who was there was Austin McInerney, “executive director for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association [who] was there with a full gaggle of high school riders from the NorCal league.”

high school riders. you mean, those impressionable kids who might just be confused with Levi’s name up there on all the banners and stuff and his doping past? confused by Talansky being in attendance? Specialized sponsoring? their own executive director smiling away on the start line?

those high school kids?

we have so little power as cyclists, whether or not you pay your UCI dues, that we have very few opportunities to make our views on doping heard. very few chances to register our disdain for people who cheat to win, who corrupt others around them and who, only when the gun is loaded and the hammer cocked, begrudgingly ‘admit’ to doping.

here though is one. it’s one thing to be out for a ride with a man who doped, to chat about how it happened, to hear his side of the story, to wish him well in his future (non-cycling) endeavors and to bid him on his way.

it’s quite another to pay money to an event hosted by an ex-doper, an event sponsored by massive companies, because that legitimizes what he did to get there, justifies the ends, and offers a rehabilitation of reputation that he does not deserve. it also confuses those with impressionable minds.

attending an event like this suggests that those clipping in have either not thought about the consequences of their actions or just do not give a f*ck any old way. both must be questioned.

and those companies? the ones with the heavy wallets? sure, sponsor cycling events and promote getting thousands out on two wheels. and continue to support an event that has become an established part of the calendar for amateur riders in the USA – but demand that Mr Leipheimer’s name be taken off it. it’s pretty simple and would be a great statement to make.

where’s Christophe Bassons’ Gran Fondo? Nicole Cooke’s? Inga Thompson’s?

the message currently being sent out is not the message that cyclists and corporations should be delivering. it is, in fact, the exact opposite.