The Levi Effect


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Still can't wrap your head around all the doping escapades detailed in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's Reasoned Decision? Tonight's nationwide debut of The Levi Effect, a documentary about American cyclist Levi Leipheimer, should lend more insight.

Leipheimer's testimony about his own and Armstrong's use of performance-enhancing drugs, along with similar testimonies of 10 other riders, lay at the heart of USADA's October 10 report. Leipheimer was issued a reduced six-month suspension in exchange for his testimony, a sentence that could see him racing again by March 2013. However, his Omega Pharma Quickstep team subsequently sacked him, leaving Leipheimer in search of a new team if he hopes to continue racing. “I don't want to stop like this,” he said.

Armstrong continues to deny all allegations, though the UCI yesterday upheld USADA's decision to strip him of all victories since 1998 and serve him a lifetime ban.

On the same day Leipheimer was fired, published a wide-ranging interview with the Santa Rosa, California, racer that delved into his admissions. Leipheimer details his use of performance-enhancing drugs but maintains that he stopped all doping after the 2006 season. “I didn't know if we really could compete without [doping],” he said in the interview. “When I kept getting results without it, it was a huge relief. The Tour of California, the bronze medal in the Olympic Games. Second place in the Vuelta. Those are the results that I am proud of because … they came clean.”

The Levi Effect is certain to expound on that theme. “The version we're premiering nationwide is the post-USADA announcement extended cut,” says Greg Fisher, marketing director for the movie. “The film does indeed tackle the doping issue. And there's a taped Q&A after the film that acknowledges the challenges in the sport that we're seeing play out in recent days.”

Opinion on the doping admissions of Leipheimer, Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie, George Hincapie, and other Americans seems to be split. Supporters commend the confessions as a big step in healing wounds of the past and helping the sport to move forward. Critics, however, argue that the disclosures are too little too late and that these riders should face the full force of justice for their transgressions. The Levi Effect will likely continue to shape conversation and opinions.

In the movie, cycling commentator Paul Sherwen says of Leipheimer, “He raced in the wrong era because he raced in the Lance Armstrong era.” The statement, made before the USADA decision, was clearly meant to cement Leipheimer as one of the great American cycling talents of his generation. In the context of the last month, however, it's clear that being overshadowed was only the beginning of the downsides of racing in the Lance Armstrong era.

The Levi Effect is screening at theaters across the country on October 23. Tickets are still available.

—Aaron Gulley