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The Cry: Let Levi Ride

Posted: February 24, 2008 2:44 a.m.
Updated: April 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Levi Leipheimer, winner of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California Cycle race, visited fans in Santa Clarita just before the start of Stage 7.

 

In the last two years, the Santa Clarita Valley has become more familiar with the sport of cycling due to the Amgen Tour of California's stops here.

And with most sports and the necessity for name recognition in order to achieve popularity, American cyclist Levi Leipheimer has stepped to the forefront as the star of the Tour of California.

Because of Lance Armstrong's seven wins in the Tour de France and Floyd Landis' controversy after a tainted and since stripped victory in 2006, the non-cycling aficionado in America has an increased interest in the event.

So with Leipheimer's track record and a third place finish in last year's Tour de France, new and old American cycling fans alike have somebody to root for this year.

Not so fast.

The current overall leader of the Amgen Tour of California, by 49 seconds heading into today's final stage that starts in Santa Clarita and ends in Pasadena, is not slated to race in cycling's grandest event this year.

After representing Team Discovery Channel, Leipheimer signed on with a new squad this year - Team Astana.

Due to ties with doping scandals in the 2007 Tour de France, Astana will not be represented in 2008.

Not by Leipheimer, not by anybody.

"I see no reason why we can't compete," Leipheimer said Saturday after finishing 20th in the race's sixth stage. "I think the fans are being robbed of the best riders in the world."

Which means, American cycling fans are being robbed.

And there are many of those for Leipheimer, duly noted by the cheers when he was given the yellow jersey Saturday in Valencia.

There was even a sports utility vehicle in the Valencia Town Center parking lot with "LetLeviRide.com" written on its back window.

Leipheimer acknowledged the Web site Saturday in the post-race press conference.

"It's our fans' and sponsors' plea to the ASO to make a consistent fair decision to participate in the tour," Leipheimer said, wearing a black cap with LetLeviRide.com stitched into its side.

The ASO - Amaury Sport Organisation - is the organizer of the Tour de France.

The decision was handed down Feb. 13, just four days prior to the Tour of California.

Because of the ban, defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador - also a member of Team Astana - will not be able to defend his title.

On Feb. 16, the day prior to the Prologue of the Tour of California, Leipheimer unveiled LetLeviRide.com.

A petition can be signed, by giving your e-mail address, to convince the ASO to let Levi ride.

It's Leipheimer's and many others' contention that he shouldn't be punished for something he wasn't associated with.

Should he not be able to ride in the Tour de France, the Tour of California might be his solace.

Likely not as satisfying to him.

But with his back-to-back strong performances in this event, his face is becoming more recognizable.

"No one person is as big as the race," he said.

But later, he added: "I feel very privileged and proud to be the guy to lead."

It may be his last chance to make an impression for America for a while.

The Tour de France starts July 5.

Leipheimer's next scheduled race starts Aug. 8 - in Germany.

By the time the Tour of California reaches Santa Clarita again, if it does, will American cycling take a step forward or be parked in place?

Cary Osborne is The Signal's sports editor. He can be reached at cosborne@the-signal.com. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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