Busted: Doping scandal snares CMU cycling coach
Colorado Mesa University cycling coach Rick Crawford on Wednesday admitted — and expressed deep regret for — providing performance-enhancing drugs to two professional cyclists under his tutelage between 1999 and 2001.
According to the university, Crawford’s position and salary will remain intact, but the university’s budding collegiate cycling team also will be overseen by former professional cyclist and Grand Valley resident Scott Mercier. According to terms set by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Crawford also will provide 500 hours of community service.
In an interview with The Daily Sentinel on Wednesday, Crawford said he provided the hormone erythropoietin—more commonly known as EPO—to professional cyclist Levi Leipheimer and former professional cyclist Kirk O’Bee. Leipheimer won Colorado’s USA Pro Challenge in 2011, and since his admission of doping while on the U.S. Postal Cycling Team, he has been banned from the sport until March 1, 2013. USADA imposed a lifetime ban on O’Bee after the cyclist tested positive for banned drugs in his system in 2009.
Crawford, who has been on CMU’s staff since late February, has coached several stellar cyclists in his career including Lance Armstrong, Leipheimer and Tom Danielson. Crawford continues to coach Danielson and other professional cyclists. Crawford also coached the Fort Lewis College’s cycling team for eight years starting in 2001, during which time the Durango college earned 10 national championships.
Crawford said Wednesday he never provided performance-enhancing drugs to any cyclists at Fort Lewis or at Colorado Mesa University. CMU has about 40 students on its cycling team.
“The sound bite is so old that everybody’s doing it,” Crawford said during an emotional conversation. “We have to take responsibility and I’m taking responsibility. I am dedicated to advocating for anti-doping. I’ve been so humiliated by this process.”
Crawford said he first approached CMU President Tim Foster when he realized the word was out. Crawford then contacted USADA and traveled to Colorado Springs for a 6-hour interview with agency officials.
Crawford’s name, although redacted, first surfaced in Leipheimer’s affidavit, which was released in early October. It was one of several affidavits by professional cyclists and witnesses that make up a more than 1,000-page report outlining a widespread doping program instituted by the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team. The report represents a body of evidence against team leader Lance Armstrong, which the USADA used to strip him of his seven Tour de France wins and permanently ban him from the sport.
Leipheimer stated in his report that Crawford offered him EPO, told him how to use it and recommended that he use a centrifuge — a device that helps cyclists who are doping to avoid detection — to manage his blood. After using the drugs in 1999 while on Saturn’s team, Leipheimer excelled, winning several races and catching the eye of the U.S. Postal Team. Leipheimer stated he used EPO provided to him by Crawford for three years, including during his introductory days on the U.S. Postal Service team. Shortly thereafter, Leipheimer stated he obtained the drugs through his new team’s program and no longer purchased the drugs from Crawford.
Crawford said while he plied the two cyclists with EPO during those three years, he considered that a “dark time” always hung over his head.
“Part of me dreaded and looked forward to this day,” he said. “It was a perfect storm that got me into this that blew me out as well.”
Crawford said he has lost a number of his coaching contracts with professional cyclists over the news that he provided cyclists with banned drugs.
Mercier, a former professional cyclist who refused to use banned substances and stopped competing on a professional level, said he believes students on CMU’s cycling team still believe and trust Crawford, especially since Crawford came clean with his cyclists.
Mercier is not receiving payment for helping to oversee CMU’s program, and no time line has been set for how long he will assist the team.
Foster said he is impressed that Crawford came forward.
“Here is a guy who knows what he did was wrong,” Foster said. “He didn’t know if the school would fire him or sanction him. The people at USADA are used to people lying to their face. They told us they think Rick was completely forthright.”