The Levi Effect – a review

The Levi Leipheimer documentary, “The Levi Effect” is an interesting look at who is arguably one of America’s best stage racers. I use the word “arguably” as Leipheimer has admitted to performance enhancing drug use during his professional cycling career and in people’s minds that has tainted Leipheimer forever.

For those who don’t know much of Levi’s backstory The Levi Effect returns to Butte, Montana – his hometown. From there it progresses through his sporting life: riding with his older brother, ski racing and the injury that set him on the path to bike racing.

While I had known most of this it was still interesting to see Levi’s parents and older brother comment about Levi. However, I kept waiting for the white elephant in the room to finally be acknowledged – his recent doping admission.

About halfway through the documentary Levi discloses how a federal prosecutor showed up at his front door and wanted to know about the use of performance enhancing drugs within the Postal Service team.

“Tell the truth about everything I knew and have that off my shoulders was the obvious choice,” said Leipheimer. While this is true, he made that decision only when he was facing perjury charges with the possibility of going to jail.

From there Leipheimer tells how it became clear that getting ahead during that time in professional cycling was only going to be done with doping. He doesn’t get into any salacious details about who, what or when. He does acknowledge he did it, he owns it and is trying to move on.

For the uninitiated the drug use confessional will be startling: how the whole team was involved, they helped each other out with doping, and the anti-doping tests were easy to beat. Throughout the documentary Levi is kitted out in team clothing, but during that segment of the film he is shown riding in a black Nor-Cal jersey. At the time of the filming Leipheimer hadn’t yet been fired from Omega Pharma-Quick Step team. Perhaps he knew his termination was only a matter of time.

After the doping segment the tone switches back to his racing and participating in the Amgen Tour of California. It shows select footage from the 2011 and 2012 race season with more behind the scenes filming from the team car. There’s a scene in which Leipheimer is racing the Bakersfield time trial and team director Brian Holm continually tells Levi to, “eat shit.” This is a European phrase of encouragement? Regardless – it’s funny.

I’ve always enjoyed behind the scenes types of movies (that’s why I like Jeremy Powers “Behind the Barriers” series so much) and The Levi Effect has plenty. There’s footage from Tour of California from hotel rooms and team cars. There’s footage from when he was picked up by his buddy at the airport when he returned to the States after his 2012 accident in which a car struck him while he was out riding in Spain.

His recovery from the broken leg he received in the accident is chronicled. I interviewed Leipheimer during that time and I thought it was interesting to see him have the fortitude to get back on the bike just weeks after the accident to start training – even if it is just gently turning the pedals.

Finally the movie closes on the success of Levi’s Gran Fondo. This gran fondo is one of the most popular in the States and is a good way to end the documentary.

When I tweeted that I was watching the “The Levi Effect” people asked what that effect was. The effect is the success of the gran fondo which is a huge part of Levi’s life. That effect raises money that aids local charities and as Levi says, elevates the profile of Somona County – his community.

If you are a fan of Levi you will enjoy the documentary. It fills in parts of his personal history that you may not be aware of. There are moments that pull at the heart strings like when he gives the race flowers to a friend who is recovering from cancer.

If you aren’t a fan, or have been put off from the recent drug confessions then “The Levi Effect” won’t change your opinion. There’s no gory details or tearful apology. However, I hope it gives you a bit of insight into the man and you see a complete picture rather than just this troubling portion of his life.

However you may feel about Leipheimer in light of the ongoing doping scandal “The Levi Effect” is still worth a look. You’ll get a behind the scenes look at racing as well as the not so glamorous life a of professional cyclist. Mixed in is the projects the Leipheimers are involved in like a program that helps at risk kids.

The Fat Cyclist knows Leipheimer the person better than I do and he has an interesting view on Levi’s recent admission combined with his own review of The Levi Effect. Take an unbiased look at his blog.

Go to The Levi Effect for show times in your area.


  1. BNCYCLE says:

    I saw this last night at the premiere, and I thought it was the most self-masturbatory thing I’ve ever seen. It was an hour and a half of Levi getting patted on the back for God knows what. He rides fast, sure. And he helped start an awesome group ride and plastered his name all over it. All I got from this film was that Levi thinks he’s the best thing to happen to cycling since Greg LeMond, and he wants you to think so too.

    Aside from all the self-indulgence, there were some amazing shots of roads in Sonoma County. If nothing else, it made me want to ride there.

  2. Shai says:

    The doping part of it was filmed after the movie was already done, after all hell broke loose just to make sure it doesnt seem the issue was totally ignored after Levi admitted. it was originally not part of the movie. this is why he is wearing the norcal kit and also why this section really has no footage of anything other than vertical passing by trees…

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