Rick Crawford confesses to aiding doping riders

Famed collegiate coach admits his role in doping athletes including Levi Leipheimer, but claims he never pushed PEDs on student-athletes

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BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — Cycling coach Rick Crawford, an elite-level coach and collegiate cycling director, has admitted to doping Levi Leipheimer and Kirk O’Bee between 1999 and 2001.

Former professional cyclist Scott Mercier is set to take the helm of the Colorado Mesa University cycling program after Crawford admitted his involvement in the doping activities to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Crawford will stay on as head coach at CMU.

“Rick came to us before he approached USADA. He was placed on temporary suspension while we conducted an internal investigation,” said university president Tim Foster. “No drug-related infractions were found. In fact, Rick has been educating our student-athletes on the importance of clean, drug-free competition.”

Crawford told VeloNews on Wednesday that his role in the doping schemes of cycling’s darkest days was to source, provide and mail EPO “to Levi” and another rider he declined to name. The Grand Junction Sentinel reported later Wednesday that the second rider was Kirk O’Bee, who is serving a lifetime ban after testing positive for EPO in 2009. Crawford said he came forward because, if not now, when?

“I’m not going to lie. I’m fighting. Anticipating the humiliation and all that stuff. I’m well prepared at this point,” he said. “I’m sitting here thinking, ‘if not now, when?’ When would be the time to do this?

“It was easy for people to connect the dots. And I just didn’t want to play that game anymore… Were you Levi’s redacted name or whatever. And I’m done lying.”

The dominoes keep falling away and in myriad directions from Lance Armstrong, as riders and coaches continue to feel the sting of USADA’s investigation. Crawford’s name is the latest, but surely won’t be the last.

“USADA was recently contacted by Rick Crawford, who voluntarily acknowledged anti-doping rule violations that occurred more than a decade ago. Despite the applicable statute of limitations having expired, Mr. Crawford has expressed his deep regret for the wrong choices he made and requested that his admission be considered a first rule violation,” said USADA CEO Travis Tygart. “As a result, any future violation would result in a lifetime ban. While Mr. Crawford’s prior violations are not condoned, his acceptance of responsibility is commendable and his commitment to provide public contrition and future community service are tangible evidence of an effort to make amends for his past wrongdoing.”

Crawford said he deeply regretted the decision to help riders cheat, but also noted the arms-race pro cycling had become.

“I deeply regret my involvement with the use of PEDs and am willing to accept the consequences of my actions,” said Crawford.

But when it came to doping, it almost seemed necessary, he said.

“There was a lot of methodical planning, in terms of, ‘OK, how do we get you to this next step?’” he wondered. “Part of that at that time was this universal dark cloud of this doping thing that was always there that we were fairly unprepared to deal with. I don’t know anything about it, I’m not a doctor, I don’t have access, I don’t have a network. But it didn’t really change the fact that there was this, you know, attitude of, ‘well, we’ve come this far, but we’re an inch away from being in the big time. And, you know, you take that step. And I don’t remember actually taking that step.”

He ultimately took it, though. Crawford has said his doping activities never crossed into the collegiate ranks. CMU officials stood behind him on Wednesday and said that Crawford would serve 500 hours of community service through anti-doping education over the next five years.

Crawford would only name Leipheimer in an interview with VeloNews on Wednesday. At one time or another he has served as a coach to an honor role of American cycling: Levi Leipheimer, Lance Armstrong, Tom Danielson, Chris Wherry, Todd Wells, Willow Koerber, Shonny Vanlandingham and current U.S. cyclocross champion Jeremy Powers have all ridden under his tutelage. Crawford worked with Leipheimer during the late 1990s and early 2000s; Leipheimer has confessed to doping between 2000 and 2007, and, along with Danielson, is currently serving a six-month racing ban. Crawford has denied doping Danielson.

VeloNews understands that Crawford distributed a confession letter to his current and former athletes in October.

Multiple-time national mountain bike and cyclocross national champion Todd Wells (Specialized) told VeloNews that the admission caught him by surprise, and said that he had never used performance enhancing drugs or talked with Crawford about doping.

“When I met Crawford was 1995. I moved out to Durango to go to school and he was living in this trailer with two kids and he would pay me money to mow his lawn so I could make it out to the races. So, for me, personally, he’s always been a super nice guy and he’s the kind of guy that would do anything for you. I’m pretty bummed out about this whole thing. You know, I always thought in road cycling the teams took care of all the shady stuff, so it was news to me,” Wells told VeloNews. “I was never under any false impression that it wasn’t going on, but I assumed it was like we’ve seen with the Postal stuff, that it was a team thing.

“Yes (I’m surprised). I knew he worked with those guys (Leipheimer and Danielson) and I assumed those guys were on that program, so I assumed he knew about it, but I thought all he did was coach those guys.”

Powers, an outspoken anti-doping critic, told VeloNews in November that he had ended his relationship with Crawford almost immediately after receiving the letter. Powers denied ever having used illegal performance enhancers or talking with Crawford about doping. He addressed Crawford’s confession in a blog post on Wednesday night, in which is detailed a story his former coach told him about the paths to success:

After those omissions came to light, I was pissed. I always remember a conversation with Rick over dinner at a training camp a couple years ago when I asked him about euro ‘cross riders possibly doping. He took two knives from the table, placed them next to one another, one at a steep upward angle and another at a gradual upward angle. He told me: “think of these two knives as lines that eventually intersect. Both lines will reach the point of intersection, but the steep one gets there a lot quicker. The gradual line gets to that same point. It takes longer, but it has so many more rewards.” I always found the simplicity of that metaphor to be easy to tell over and over again.

Crawford took over the CMU cycling program in the spring of 2012. He built Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, into a dynasty, winning 10 national titles an eight-year period. He worked in 2011 as a soigneur for the Chipotle development team.

In an interview with VeloNews in September, Crawford stopped short of an all-out admission, but said he had seen and been part of the sport’s grittier side.

“I’ve been in this sport for a long time, since the mid-‘70s, I was there when, I was coaching Lance back in the mid-‘80s back when he was still a swimmer, and I saw all that happen. Now I’m not going to lie, I’ve seen and been part of that culture that’s not the pretty part of the sport, I’ve worked with these athletes before, and that’s why I went to collegiate,” he told VeloNews. “I worked with the Mercury program back before ProTour, back in the year 2000… I got a glimpse of the sport sort of at that level, and even though that team was pretty dedicated to being clean and everything, still,just that was kind of, there was a lot of crap going on in the sport back in those days, it was apparently not clean, that just sort of chased me over to the development side.”

CMU student-athletes “unequivocally” supported Crawford, Mercier said. When the university’s president was asked what he would tell concerned parents with riders on the college team, Foster said the school viewed it as an “educational opportunity.”

“You have someone who has some experience in that arena, who has just been converted if you will, and we saw it,” Foster said. “And our student-athletes were supportive of him as a coach.

“He is the first coach of any sport that [USADA’s] seen to voluntarily come forward not knowing what would happen to him… we have decided to be forgiving and we are thankful that Rick has been truthful.”

For his part, Crawford thinks he still has much to give cycling, or else he’d just walk away.

“I believe so. I believe that we can try to push these experiences under a rug somewhere and not learn from them, and I believe that’s a mistake,” Crawford said. “I think there’s a lot I can still contribute.”

VeloNews.com editor Brian Holcombe and Ari Baquet contributed to this report.

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