I’ve been following you for years, through your time at VeloNews, through your illness last year and now at Red Kite Prayer and LiveUpdateGuy.com.
Usually, I get what your saying, but I was a little confused by a Tweet you recently made urging the sporting world follow “the U.S. model” in doping control and enforcement. One of the responses seemed to imply that you want all sport to follow the example of the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball.
I know the 140 characters of the “Twittersphere” isn’t exactly your cup of tea. Just look at that 2000-word-+ monster you wrote last week. (You must be a lawyer, Mr. Pelkey. It’s the only profession where someone writes a 100-page treatise and still has the nerve to call it a “brief.”) So, I’ll ask it here: Is that true? Are you a fan of American professional sports’ doping “controls?” If so why?
Man, are you ever right about my being wordy last week, Amanda. One of my friends compared the column to an old guy sitting on a porch ranting about anything and everything.
“And another thing dammit ….”
Of course, in my own defense, I was actually writing about a 200-page “reasoned decision” and more than 1000 pages of supporting documents. It just begged for wordy.
Anyway, the short answer to your main question is “no.” The longer answer to your main question is “Hell no!”
Now for the really long answer: Anti-Doping programs in big American professional sports – the NFL, the NHL, MLB and NBA – are a joke. Even after “reform efforts,” like the 2007 release of the “Mitchell Report” on baseball, the core problem for all of those sports is that they have left control and regulation of anti-doping efforts to the sports themselves.
It’s a classic example of “self-policing.” The banking industry should serve as an example of how that doesn’t work.
I know, I know, one should never use Wikipedia as a primary source, but I can’t help but quote one small passage I ran across recently. Under the sub-head of “Self-Policing” on the Conflicts of Interest entry someone wrote an elegant and concise description of the problem:
“Self-policing of any group is also a conflict of interest. If any organization, such as a corporation or government bureaucracy, is asked to eliminate unethical behavior within their own group, it may be in their interest in the short run to eliminate the appearance of unethical behavior, rather than the behavior itself, by keeping any ethical breaches hidden, instead of exposing and correcting them. An exception occurs when the ethical breach is already known by the public. In that case, it could be in the group’s interest to end the ethical problem to which the public has knowledge, but keep remaining breaches hidden.”
Since this wasn’t footnoted, I am left to applaud just you, anonymous Wiki contributor, for a terrific summary of the UCI’s treatment of drugs in general and Lance Armstrong in particular.
While the LieStrong scandal isn’t really a new story, it would never have been put under the glaring light of an official inquiry had it not been for the “American model” of which I spoke – errrr, tweeted. The structure now followed by the U.S. Olympic Committee, its affiliate national governing bodies and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is really one the entire sports world should consider. Namely, handing off the responsibility for enforcement of doping rules to someone who really doesn’t give a shit about what nailing a guilty party will do to the vested interests in the sport.
Try, for a moment, to imagine what would have become of the Lance Armstrong case had American cycling been operating under the anti-doping rules that had been in effect prior to 2000.
At that time, the responsibility for doping controls and enforcement fell to the USOC and to individual governing bodies, whose own interests may have naturally run counter to strict enforcement, particularly when it came to high-profile riders.
It was in October of 2000 when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency began operations. As part of its mission, USADA established a set of multi-year contracts with the USOC and individual national governing bodies to assume full responsibility for the management of anti-doping programs, including testing, results management and enforcement.
In essence, the current U.S. model is what most hoped would be the structure adopted at the 1999 World Conference on Doping in Sport, namely taking the IOC and its affiliate governing bodies out of direct participation in anti-doping efforts.
After two days of speechifying and debate, the conference attendees – mostly IOC members, headed up by its aging president Juan Antonio Samaranch – voted to lay the foundations of what would become the World Anti-Doping Agency. The mission of what was then referred to as the International Anti-Doping Agency was “to coordinate the various programmes necessary to realize the objectives that shall be defined jointly by all the parties concerned.”
The so-called “Lausanne Declaration on Doping in Sport” went on to outline duties and responsibilities for the IOC, its national affiliates and the governing bodies of affiliate sports.
The IOC, the (International Federations) and the (National Olympic Committees) will maintain their respective competence and responsibility to apply doping rules in accordance with their own procedures, and in cooperation with the International Anti-Doping Agency. Consequently, decisions handed down in the first instance will be under the exclusive responsibility of the IFs, the NOCs or, during the Olympic Games, the IOC. With regard to last instance appeals, the IOC, the IFs and the NOCs recognize the authority of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), after their own procedures have been exhausted.
Okay, ignoring the irony of “respective competence,” when this conference had been organized solely due to the 1998 Festina scandal, the problem there was that the IOC, IF’s and NOCs have any role to play at all.
It’s an improvement, but is it enough of an improvement?
As I said, the 1999 Lausanne conference was a direct response to the 1998 Festina scandal. The IOC and the UCI finally had to admit that their half-assed doping control, enforcement and penalties were just that, half-assed.
The creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency improved things, namely in adding a degree of consistency and uniformity to doping penalties. Recall, for example, that the second-placed rider in the 1999 Tour de France was none other than Alex Zülle, who just a year earlier had confessed to using EPO as a member of the infamous Festina team. Absent mitigating factors, he would have received a two-year suspension under the current WADA Code.
But again, harmonization of penalties is essentially meaningless if the enforcement side of things is weak. Under the Code WADA does have enforcement authority, but the international governing bodies themselves have primary authority and responsibility when it comes to enforcement. Therein lies the problem.
Once you get past the whole “Lance-was-a-doper” thing in the USADA report, start looking at some of the supporting documentation. What I found most interesting were comments by athletes who had raised the issue directly with UCI anti-doping authorities and were ignored.
Caught in the whole, ugly trap of the 2006 Operación Puerto scandal, Liberty-Seguros’ Jörg Jaksche, publicly admitted to having used EPO and growth hormone.
In a follow-up to his interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Jaksche went to the UCI to bare his soul and offer information about what he knew about doping in the peloton. According to Jaksche’s sworn affidavit released along with the 200-page Armstrong decision:
“… I spent hours talking with the UCI in 2007. I spoke to UCI lawyers, to Anne Gripper, who was then head of anti-doping for the UCI, and to UCI President Pat McQuaid. I wanted to be fully transparent regarding my doping and the anti-doping rule violations of others to fully explain the level of doping of which I was aware and that was taking place on Team Telekom, ONCE, CSC and Liberty Seguros during my time in professional cycling. However, the UCI showed zero interest in hearing the full story about doping on these teams and did not seek to follow up with me.
Moreover, despite my efforts to assist in cleaning up cycling, the UCI attempted to push for two years of ineligibility in my case, and Pat McQuaid told me he’d have liked me to have handled things differently from which I can only conclude he wished I had not been as forthcoming regarding the degree of doping that was taking place in the peloton.
To the best of my knowledge, information and belief, the UCI did not move forward on any evidence of doping that I provided to them.”
Yeah, and if Jaksche had been an isolated case, maybe there would have been some justification in ignoring the lone crazy guy standing outside of UCI headquarters screaming about doping. But Jaksche was not.
Kelme’s Jesús Manzano spoke out in 2004. Filippo Simeoni did so in 2003 and you saw where that got him. More famously, the recently converted Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton also spoke publicly about doping. They tried to work with the UCI … but were ignored.
Indeed, in Landis’ case, they turned around and sued the guy. WTF?
No, indeed, it took USADA to use the above confessionals to serve as a launching point and gather a total of 26 sworn affidavits, 11 of which came from former Armstrong teammates. Why couldn’t the UCI have done the same five years ago?
Self-policing doesn’t work
Unless there is a fundamental change, the only time an organization that polices itself will have reason not to ignore such information is when the public relations costs prove to be too high … as is the case right now. As was the case following the Festina scandal, this may be another of those fleeting opportunities to advance the cause of reform a little further in the right direction.
I applauded – and still applaud – the decision to create WADA on the heels of Festina. Now, let’s take advantage of the LieStrong scandal and give the anti-doping some teeth.
Whether or not you buy some of the more outrageous – albeit not incomprehensible – charges of bribes and intentionally suppressed test results doesn’t really matter. What matters is that there is an inherent conflict of interest when the sport is responsible for making tough decisions involving even its most high-profile stars.
No longer affiliated with the governing body, Gripper recently told Australia’s The Age that the UCI would often make exceptions for a rider of Armstrong’s caliber, citing the example of his being allowed to ride in the 2009 Tour Down Under, despite being short of a required post-retirement window in which he was supposed to be subject to doping controls prior to a return to competition.
“I have always said that Armstrong’s influence was a danger in the sport,” she said. “He was allowed to ride in the 2009 Tour Down Under. He shouldn’t have been. Once again, for Lance, special consideration was provided.”
Referring to the problem of doping and to McQuaid, Gripper said “I heard Pat say the other night, ‘We test and test and test as much as we can and send all the samples to the labs and that’s all we can do’.
“Well, it’s not, Pat, there’s lots more that can be done.
“It’s not just about testing because we know in many ways testing is the most ineffective way of eliminating doping … There are so many more things the UCI can do.”
I would suggest that the best thing the UCI can do is to get the heck out of the doping-control business and hand it off to an organization that doesn’t have a direct and vested interest in the outcome.
Who do you trust will put more effort into the pursuit of a doping athlete, particularly when he or she is high-profile and high-profit? Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid or Travis Tygart and Dick Pound?
I’m voting for Tygart and Co.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
One of the things about the bicycle that always astounds me is how prone it is to staying upright. I mean, this was the big hurdle when I was a kid on training wheels, believing that a thing balanced on two narrow wheels could stand with nothing more to balance it than forward motion and a small dose of corrective steering.
You should see my friend Mike ghost ride his bike down a hill, through the woods, on a morning trail ride. The damn thing even counter steers itself!
And so, despite the shit storm raging in the pro peloton right now, I know the bikes will roll on. The consequences will be far-ranging and there are surely still shoes to drop, a veritable downpour of shoes I would bet.
But you’ve got to have hope.
I have hope because I have seen Tejay van Garderen ride top pros off his wheel. I have hope because I have read Taylor Phinney’s public denunciations of pill-poppers and caffeine hounds. I have hope because I saw the women’s road race in the Olympics. I have hope because I know the younger generation of riders is pissed off by the mess their elders have left them, and I believe they will use that anger to fuel a new, cleaner cycling.
Pro racing won’t be the same as it has been, and that is a good thing. Many (possibly most) of us have wanted this change to come for a long time. What seemed obvious, maybe even easy in our minds, won’t be.
The change will be hard. Sponsors will be harder to come by. Teams will be harder to fill with riders not tarred by the wide brush of past doping. But there are always young racers raring to go. For once, perhaps, their paths won’t be blocked by athletes willing to cheat to get ahead. You may not know the names of quite so many of next year’s pros, but you will trust them more than you have trusted the pack in more than a decade.
Because the bike will keep rolling. It will just go and go and go, if you let it.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what do you hope to see on the roads of Belgium and France and Spain and Italy next year? Who do you believe in? And what will be the benefits of this darkest time in our sport?
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
It’s a term used to connote belonging to a particular population. It has been said that doping was endemic to grand tour riders of the 1990s and 2000s. It is also used to describe those publications that serve a particular niche, such as cycling publications. Finally, advertisers who are courted by these enthusiast magazines are also called endemics.
Accuracy notwithstanding, the term carries with it a certain connotation, one that suggests inbreeding. It is, however, a term that defines both the relationships and editorial scope of all cycling publications.
There has been a fair amount of criticism in our comments section, on Facebook and the various Internet fora about how the Lance problem was allowed to go for so long.
I finally got a bee in my bonnet when I encountered criticism of Bicycling’s former editor, Steve Madden, for the piece he wrote for the site he manages, Sports on Earth. A buddy wrote to me, “Please don’t ever, EVER forget that you cats serve the public first.”
On this point almost all of us can agree. Believe me, I can find any number of publishers and MBAs who will argue that publications are meant to serve their owners or their shareholders or even their advertisers. I call bullshit. It’s my firm belief that a publication (whether in paper or on the Internet) is meant to serve a readership, first and foremost. Without readers, the rest is academic. It’s not the chicken-or-egg question that some folks in publishing would have you think.
So while everyone can agree that a publication is meant to serve readers, we may differ on just what constitutes service. In my mind, the way you serve your readership is borne out in the publication you deliver. TIME is journalism at its best: diverse, analytical, probing. Sports Illustrated is consistently the best photography and writing being done in sports. Similarly, Outside is a sports magazine that runs incredible writing and photography, but it is different from SI in that its reader is the doer, not the watcher.
In other words, not all publications have the same orientation, the same duty. Yes, we all serve the reader, but we serve the reader in different ways. Bicycling has never been about investigative journalism. I liken it to People, but for the bike industry. And I mean that as no put-down; editor Peter Flax has a terribly difficult job—sure, it’s not brain surgery, but pulling together the disparate threads of that magazine is harder than most folks think. It’s not a job I want. To put a finer point on the distinction, my sense is that (and I write this with the admission that I haven’t sold them a piece since 1993) like People they surf trends, trying to drop in at the perfect moment, then riding them until they die out at the beach. Expecting solid investigative journalism into doping from Bicycling is rather like expecting them to cover your local industrial park crit. It’s just now what they do.
You may ask why they don’t do investigative journalism, and the answer is simple: They are endemic. You can look at any bike magazine around the world, apply the same test and get the same answer.
So how does advertising play on this? For an endemic magazine, there really is only one pool of advertisers: bike companies. Sure, every now and then Gatorade will throw you a bone, but the really big advertisers like Coca-Cola and GM (the non-endemics) don’t advertise in magazines with less than a half million readers, which is to say they don’t advertise in any bike magazines. Rodale, Bicycling’s publisher, is able to put together network deals where a company like Ford will appear in several (if not most) of Rodale’s titles because in aggregate they present a large and broad readership.
The upshot is that bike magazines have a far cozier relationship with their advertisers than is helpful. Write something truly negative about a bike company, and they’ll pull their ads. Without the Cokes, the Chevys, the Oreos bolstering your advertising to weather the storm, many publishers simply choose not to write anything critical. At all. So cowed are most endemic publishers (and this is true for magazines outside the bike industry as well), they won’t even mention obvious flaws in a product they are reviewing, which is truly a reader disservice, but it helps illustrate the confusion some publishers experience as to just whom they serve.
L’Equipe led the charge on exposing Armstrong, and if you recall, there was quite a bit of resistance to what they had to say, stateside. Sometimes, investigative journalism is a thankless task. Woodward and Bernstein came under heavy fire as they reported Watergate. Nearly lost their jobs at one point. It takes more than integrity to report true investigative journalism. It takes cojones cut from billet titanium and an army of lawyers on retainer.
Which brings us to the other, maybe greater, truth to why none of the endemic bike mags in the U.S. led the charge against Armstrong—lawsuits. Forget for a moment that bailing advertisers could cripple a magazine for a while.The real issue is the opposition any magazine would have faced had they tried to indict Armstrong and co.
Let’s suppose for a second that Madden had commissioned a Bicycling contributor with the impartiality of Solomon and the dogged determination of Sisyphus to chase Armstrong, and he uncovered everything contained in USADA’s report. The first lawsuit would have come from Armstrong himself. The second would have come from Bruyneel. The third would have come from Tailwind Sports. The fourth would have come from the UCI. The fifth would likely have come from USADA itself and for good measure, USA Cycling might have contributed a sixth lawsuit.
There’s not a bike magazine on the planet with the kind of reserves to make that defense worthwhile. There’s not a story a bike magazine can run that’s worth as much as the value of the publication itself. Forget the fallout over publishing that piece for a moment and let’s go to the internal fight that would have taken place to try to put that piece in the magazine. I believe the publisher during most of Madden’s tenure was Chris Lambiase. I can’t promise that Lambiase would have vetoed the story, but I can assure you I’ve worked for plenty of publishers who would have.
How about yet another scenario? Let’s pretend that Bicycling did run that story. It’s possible to run extraordinary allegations, allegations that go against everything the public believes about someone, allegations so at odds with what the public wants to see they just choose not to believe it. Just ask David Walsh and Pierre Ballester, the authors of “L.A. Confidentiel.” As RKP contributor Charles Pelkey noted in his most recent Explainer column, Walsh and Ballester wrote a book that covers most of the allegations against Armstrong contained in USADA’s report. Only they did it in 2004.
This points to another fundamental truth: For a long time there was a tide against the truth where Armstrong was concerned. Most people really didn’t want to know the truth. They wanted to believe in Santa Claus.
Any number of magazines reported on the broad strokes of “L.A. Confidential” and the public didn’t just turn deaf ears to the song, they covered their ears and changed the station. Heck, USADA could have begun an investigation then, but didn’t. It’s fair to ask why. If you want to be upset about inaction, press USADA for why they didn’t charge before Armstrong won his seventh.
What I’m driving at is the reality that real investigative journalism is the domain of non-endemic publications. It takes newspapers like The Times and l’Equipe to have both the staff necessary to allow someone to chase a story of this magnitude and the resources necessary to defend against the blowback when they publish a truly negative story. The corollary to this is the UCI’s lawsuit against Paul Kimmage and the fact they didn’t name any of the publications that ran Kimmage’s work (though NYVelocity would have been an easy target).
Which brings us to cycling’s incredible Catch-22. Cycling is a small sport here in the U.S. It receives the attention of big media as often as the fat kid gets the cute girl on a date—almost never. Unless the sport grows, drawing more eyeballs, it will never command the attention of non-endemic publishers here in the U.S. And unless cycling can get clear of doping scandals, it won’t ever grow again like it did during Armstrong’s reign.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
When I was a boy, I had a thing for Porsche. I thought their cars were sexy in ways almost nothing other than lingerie models can achieve. I loved their engineering, their racing success, their emphasis on driver experience. At some point in high school I was confronted with a documentary that went into genetic detail on how companies like Porsche, BMW and Mercedes enriched themselves through their contracts with the Third Reich.
I found myself struggling with how I could admire a company that had prospered as a supplier to an empire that killed more than 10 million people. It had been my dream to one day buy a Porsche of some variety—a desire that has never left me—but that desire was upended with the moral dilemma that they had (perhaps unwittingly) aided and abetted the Third Reich as they did their best to exterminate all the Jews in Europe. How could I support that?
Fortunately, I’ve never had the cash at hand to force the question. I’ve told myself that more than 50 years have passed, that whatever punishment was theirs has been meted. Still, I’ve contemplated buying a used BMW wagon and the question bumped elbows with my conscience. It wasn’t comfortable.
I offer that as a prelude to the nuclear winter we are now entering following the release of USADA’s “reasoned decision.” The initial casualties were all the riders whose doping activity was detailed in the voluminous files released by USADA. They are tantamount to the initial deaths caused by a nuclear blast. Now, the fallout.
Already I’m seeing people bringing up the issue of boycotts of brands. Nike, because of their ongoing support of Lance Armstrong in the face of the allegations was coming off worst. Then, the news this morning that Nike has dumped Armstrong, at least publicly. Still, there’s the allegation reported by the NY Daily News that Kathy LeMond was told by ex-Postal mechanic Julien Devries that he heard that Nike paid $500,000 to hush up Armstrong’s 1999 positive for corticosteroids, that the money was wired not to the UCI, but to Hein Verbruggen himself.
It is the most damning allegation against Verbruggen ever, a charge that weighs like murder on the long rap sheet of an otherwise petty criminal. However, even though Mrs. LeMond testified to this under oath, she was not an eyewitness to the allegation, the way Tyler Hamilton was an eyewitness to Armstrong receiving transfusions. Put another way, her testimony qualifies as hearsay, something that is routinely stricken from testimony in court rooms. It’s not an allegation that appears to have been investigated by Novitzky or Tygart, at least, not based on the released documents.
The trouble for Nike is that the allegation comes sliding down a pile of so many other proven charges that many are willing to believe almost any bad deed claimed to have been perpetrated by Armstrong or his backers. Led by ex-pro and one-time Armstrong teammate Paul Willerton, people are mobilizing for a boycott of Nike; it remains to be seen if it will still go forward now that they’ve severed ties with the former seven-time Tour victor. Whether or not they’ve tossed Armstrong overboard, this could turn out to be the biggest PR black eye they have suffered in decades.
Also announced this morning, Armstrong has stepped down from Livestrong as its chairman. This is an obvious and understandable effort to save the charity; who knows if it will work?
As it turns out, Armstrong himself is proving to be radioactive. For better or worse, he’s poisoning everything he touched.
But the fallout doesn’t end with Livestrong. It extends to Trek. Riders are contemplating a boycott of Trek as a result of their unwavering support for Armstrong. I doubt that a boycott would be particularly visible, but I can see the possibility that some people simply won’t buy a Trek when they go to buy a bike. It might be enough to allow Specialized to finally retake that spot as the #1-selling bike brand.
The fallout also extends to George Hincapie and his company Hincapie Sportswear. People are wondering how they feel about doing business with his company, a company that wouldn’t be as big or popular without his success riding alongside Armstrong.
Then there’s Allen Lim, who Floyd Landis outed as having aided his and Levi Leipheimer’s doping efforts. Back when Landis was believed to be a lunatic running through the streets complaining that he was being chased by a purple unicorn, he was easy to dismiss, at least for those who wanted to dismiss him. Some of us didn’t dismiss him.
Lim denied Landis’ charges at the time and at that time, the weight of innocence was on his side. But USADA’s report has demonstrated that essentially everything contained in Landis’ confession was true; we have learned there were purple unicorns aplenty. It may not have proven every statement he has made was true, but I’m unaware that any of his assertions has been proven demonstrably false. And that’s the gray netherworld in which Lim’s denial resides. Nothing in the USADA documents addresses this and the affidavits by Landis and Leipheimer make not mention of Lim, so his ongoing denials are not rebutted by sworn testimony.
Conversely, people are asking questions about Chris Carmichael’s coaching company, Carmichael Training Systems, and whether or not they should support a company that was really only a cover for Armstrong. The charge is that Carmichael didn’t actually coach him. The objection here is that CTS’ greatest testimonial is built on a lie, even if it’s a lie of a different sort.
Of course, we need to consider bicycle racing’s retailer: USA Cycling. The sport’s governing body here in the U.S. has had a long and cozy history with Thom Weisel and his Champions’ Club, not to mention Tailwind Sports, the owners of the US Postal team. Indeed, two of Weisel’s cronies continue to sit on the USA Cycling board, David Helfrich and Matt Barger, who are both Development Foundation Representatives. Should they be immune?
It is likely that no company benefitted more from Armstrong’s meteoric rise to the top of the cycling heap than Trek, not Nike, not Oakley, not Powerbar, FRS or (more recently) Honey Stinger. They have the most to lose now. In a world where people vote with their dollars, they may well see a falloff in sales that registers in the fourth quarter of 2012.
But what of companies like Hincapie Sportswear and Skratch Labs? Should they take a hit? Their growth, their popularity, their products have hinged less on endorsement by Armstrong than their founders’ association with him. Should not those companies fair the storm better than Trek?
What each of these companies has in common—other than an association with Armstrong—is a product that is good by any objective measure. From good reviews to races won while using these products, not to mention the voluminous testimonials from Carmichael’s thousands of clients, each of these companies sells something that has been borne out in the market. However, there is a fundamental difference between the culpability of companies like CTS, Hincapie Sportswear and Skratch Labs (which didn’t even exist until well after Armstrong’s comeback began) and that of Nike and Trek.
In helping to build the Armstrong brand and support the US Postal team, Nike and Trek exerted considerable might. Without them, without their support, the Postal machine would have had fewer resources and may not have attained the level of success they did. In a way, what they did was help build a nuclear weapon. The more direct a participant’s knowledge of the situation, the closer they were to the blast. Those who worked for companies that benefited from Armstrong’s success are going to be in for a rough ride. And what of the riders who walked away from US Postal rather than cheat? They simply found the minimum safe distance. There are no winners in nuclear war, only losers.
The sun was shining through shimmering, golden aspens on Sunday morning. The thermometer outside my shaded window had yet to reach 50, so I put on tights and a long-sleeved jacket before rolling my dark-green Seven from the bike shed. I needed the exercise. I haven’t been able to run for a while because of plantar fasciitis in my right foot, and though there’s no pain when I’m on the bike, I hadn’t had a chance to ride for a couple of weeks.
It felt good to tighten the chinstrap on my helmet, clip in the cleats and begin to clear the brain of reading yet more pages of last week’s “reasoned decision” from USADA. I headed east, away from the mountains (they’ll have to wait a few more days), first taking the bike path along by the local Elks Lodge. We’d been there Saturday night for Intercambio’s huge annual Fiesta, a.k.a. the World Party, where some non-cycling friends wanted to discuss the Lance situation. They all had a slightly different take, but none were as shocked as most seemed to be in the cycling community.
As I cruised down the bike path and began to feel my muscles warming up, my thoughts turned to the sights and sounds of a new day. A small boy on a BMX bike stopped his furious spinning to let me pass, and to wait for his dad piloting one of those non-tandem tandems that the child stokers don’t need to pedal. Soon, I was passing the Pleasant View soccer fields, which in fact should be named Most Beautiful View because the fields offer the juiciest vista of Boulder’s iconic crags, the Flatirons.
It was great to see hordes of young people playing soccer on this glorious fall morning, hearing their parents’ shouts of encouragement and the shrill whistles of the referees. It brought back memories of my own schooldays, kicking a sodden leather football in the cold, wet mud of an English winter. Like cycling, soccer is steadily making inroads into the American psyche—and wouldn’t it be great to see the world’s two most popular sports someday displace NFL or MLB as the ultimate in this country’s sports hierarchy?
That’s what I was wondering as my wheels took me past the small local airport, where a vintage Piper purred onto the runway and an open-cockpit tow plane buzzed into life at Mile High Gliding. I spent many happy dawns here after my wife bought me a flight-instruction certificate for a special birthday gift a few years ago. As I cruised by the planes, I was thinking there’s nothing quite like flying solo in an old Cessna a couple-thousand feet above the land—except perhaps for that face-against-the-wind thrill of guiding a bike down a snaking canyon out of the Rockies.
I continued to watch the gliders make their swooping paths through the blue Colorado sky as I looped past a white-fenced horse property, a rust-red barn and silver grain silo, and an abandoned stone schoolhouse built more than a century ago. Just ahead stood Valmont Butte, a sacred site for the Plains Indians, who made winter encampments here for some 10,000 years before the first white settlers arrived in the 19th century. There’s nothing quite like slow-moving history to put our high-paced lives into perspective….
The road up to the butte was resurfaced recently, so it was just a-few-second dance on the pedals to reach the ridge top. I can see why the Native Americans pitched their teepees on this rocky outcropping, where I’ve seen eagles circling and from where the views to the west are unrestricted over the Front Range to the glaciers and 14,000-foot snow peaks of the Continental Divide.
The downhill led to the baseball fields on a road where locals race the Stazio Criteriums in springtime. My ride led me back toward the city on bike paths, first dipping under a railway bridge, then past fall-colored cottonwoods and along the perimeter of a pond where ducks were quietly preening and Canada geese making a rumpus. I passed a sign saying “Coyotes active in this area” where the creek gurgled to my left. But all I saw were prairie dogs making their warning yelps and hidden bullfrogs slurping.
I sped past lean-looking runners out training, everyday cyclists in serious concentration, and walkers deep in conversation. Further on, after glimpsing tennis players on a creekside court, I passed below Folsom Field, where we once saw Paul McCartney perform to a sell-out crowd, and where today CU pumps millions of dollars into a flailing football program. Might be wiser to give a bigger share of the university budget to the cyclists, runners, climbers and skiers that truly define this town.
A couple of minutes later I headed past Boulder High, the alma mater of local sports icon Davis Phinney, and some of our sport’s burgeoning young guns, including Timmy Duggan, Taylor Phinney and Peter Stetina. That trio, thankfully, has come of age at a time when clean cycling is the norm, not the exception. I don’t see a time when they will have to give testimony to a USADA investigation.
Before heading back home, I looked toward the top of Flagstaff Mountain, where the U.S. Pro Challenge saw its climax a few weeks ago and where I used to trail-run every weekend when I first moved here a quarter-century ago. But on this soft, windless morning, my only hard climb was the double-digit grade up Fourth Street where the 26-tooth sprocket came in handy.
Then, as my short, pleasant, Sunday spin neared its end, there came one final “only-in-Boulder” sighting. A female runner, still sweating from what must have been a strenuous workout over Dakota Ridge, jogged to a halt by her car. Nothing special you might think until I saw that a belly exposed to the by-now-warm sunshine was very pregnant. That baby’s gonna be one tough little tyke, I thought—maybe, within another quarter-century a marathon runner, an Ironman triathlete, or a Tour de France cyclist.
New lives begin with every new day.
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
So, what do you think? I am guessing that USADA’s document dump today (Wednesday) must have caught your attention by now.
Do you have any thoughts on the evidence presented? Any surprises? Will it have any impact given that we’re only seeing one side of the whole case?
Do you have any thoughts on what the UCI might do?
Winners? Losers? Who are they?
Let’s start with the winners and losers. Aside from Armstrong, the list of losers is pretty extensive, starting with Johan Bruyneel, who was fired yesterday, Michele Ferrari, who may be facing additional criminal charges in Italian courts and the rest named in the original June 12, 2012 charging document: Dr. Pedro Celaya, Dr. Luis del Moral and Pepe Marti. When all is said and done, the sport will be rid of these guys. Good-frickin’-riddance, gentlemen. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.
To a lesser degree, there is that list of riders who that found themselves in the untenable position of continuing to lie – and risk lengthy suspensions or even criminal perjury charges – or to give up on that whole culture of omerta, the “code of silence” that has long governed the world of professional cycling. I applaud their decisions to “come clean,” but sure do wish it had been 10 years ago.
Also on that list of losers has to be the parade of “journalists” who – for reasons of sycophancy, a desire for profit or both – sang the praises of a man they knew to be a bully and, above all, a cheat. And, no, they can’t claim they didn’t know. The only way they didn’t see the obvious is that their seats on the gravy train were too damn comfortable and they didn’t want to stand up and take a look. They should be ashamed.
Sadly, there is a much larger group of other journo’s – myself included – who, while declining to heap praise on Armstrong, didn’t do nearly enough with the information that we had. We poked around the edges and only did stories when we knew we had our asses completely covered. Few of us took the big risks. Whether driven by fear of lawsuits or losing our jobs, we should, nonetheless, be embarrassed. I know I am.
The winners? That list is a helluva lot shorter. It includes – but is not limited to – Betsy and Frankie Andreu, Emma O’Reilly, Dr. Prentice Steffan, Stephen Swart, Christophe Bassons, Greg LeMond, Filippo Simeoni, David Walsh, Pierre Ballester and Paul Kimmage. Each of those people has consistently stated positions that were often contrary to their own interests, risking career, financial security and reputations to pursue what they saw as the truth.
Wednesday’s revelations show they were right.
I’m shocked, shocked, I say
There have been some who said that Wednesday’s revelations were earth-shattering news. Some even declared they were “shocked.”
Look, the evidence was extensive (you can see that for yourselves), but was it surprising? Not so much.
While blowing off most of the work associated with my current “day job” on Wednesday, I had the feeling that I was reading the unabridged version of “L.A. Confidentiel,” which David Walsh and Pierre Ballester wrote eight years ago.
Walsh had his suspicions even longer than that. I had the privilege of meeting Walsh for the first time at the 1999 Tour. It wasn’t just a quick introduction, either. We spent the entire Tour together, as it was Walsh’s tradition to join up with the VeloNews crew, coordinate hotel accommodations and meals and the drive from each day’s village departé to the press room at the finish. I was the driver, riding shotgun was my former boss, John Wilcockson and crammed into the back seat were Walsh and Australian journalist – and world famous Hawaiian shirt aficionado – Rupert Guinness.
That meant hours in the car, often at slow speeds, so we could stay in range of race radio, and then more time in the press room as we all crafted our stories and then dinner and then often late nights at the hotel bar. Shallow and myopic as most sports writers are, our conversations pretty much revolved around a single subject. Yup, that would be cycling.
Do recall, that the 1999 Tour came on the heels of the previous year’s devastating “Festina Affair.” With teams arrested, ejected or simply packing up and leaving the Tour under cover of night, a lot of us pretty much expected that by 1999, the costs of doping far exceeded any benefit and that sport would be clean from here on out.
Certainly, that was the hope of 25-year-old Christophe Bassons, who had earned the reputation as a clean rider when teammates testified that he had been the only member of the 1998 Festina team who refused to dope. Now a member of Francaise des Jeux, Bassons saw the 1999 Tour as an opportunity for the entire peloton to speak out against doping.
The new hero of this “clean era” quickly emerged as cancer survivor Lance Armstrong scored an impressive win in the prologue at Le Puy du Fou.
Within days, though, news broke that none other than Armstrong had tested positive for corticosteroids. There hadn’t been a Therapeutic Use Exemption … but the UCI accepted a back-dated prescription for topical cream that Armstrong said was for the treatment of saddle sores. It was quickly called the “butt cream defense,” by skeptics in the press room. So much for the new and clean era.
Had the UCI handled that first positive properly from the start, Armstrong would have been kicked out of the 1999 Tour right then and there. But no, he went on to dominate the race, beating former Festina rider – and admitted doper – Alex Zülle by nearly seven-and-a-half minutes. Really, following the disastrous crash on the Passage du Gois on stage 2, which took out many of Armstrong’s top rivals, and a dominant performance in the stage 8 time trial at Metz, the GC picture was pretty much settled before the race ever hit the mountains.
So instead, Walsh spent his time working on what he viewed was the “real story” of the Tour, namely that Festina had changed nothing in the sport, other than to drive doping deeper underground.
Walsh spent time interviewing riders like Bassons, who was becoming increasingly frustrated both by the lack of a definitive statement from top GC contenders regarding doping and, more importantly, by the social pressure he was getting from other riders to drop the subject. Chief among those pressuring Bassons was the man in the yellow jersey, who, as Walsh reported, had threatened a cajoled the Frenchman, urging him to “shut up” about doping and efforts to clean up the sport.
Walsh saw Bassons as a lone hero. Documents released this week show Armstrong saw him as an idiot and “a pussy.”
By the time we reached Paris, Walsh was pretty much barred from the Postal camp. He left the Tour “with a bad taste” in his mouth, but he had his sights set firmly on Armstrong.
He would return to the Tour, but his reporting continued to focus not on what he believed was a parade of lies, but on the doping that produced those lies.
In 2002, Walsh uncovered evidence that Armstrong had been working with the notorious Dr. Michele Ferrari and had an article ready to run in the Sunday Times of London. Having learned of that fact, Armstrong did a preemptive interview in which he casually stated in passing that he had worked with Ferrari, as if it were no big deal.
Over the next couple of years, Walsh’s Armstrong file grew. He interviewed the Andreus, who consistently stood by their position that Armstrong had revealed his use of performance-enhancing drugs to doctors before beginning chemo-therapy in 1996. Frankie took some serious career hits, both in cycling and in broadcasting, but he stuck by his story. Betsy was characterized in any number of less-than-complimentary ways by the Armstrong camp, but she stuck by her story.
So, too, did former Postal soigneur, Emma O’Reilly, who, after speaking with Walsh in 2003 had to endure personal attacks on her character. But she stuck by her story.
Steffan, the original team doctor at Postal, was fired after some riders complained that he wasn’t doing enough to give them a competitive edge. Under pressure from Armstrong, Steffan was temporarily dismissed from his job on the Slipstream team. He was threatened, essentially blackmailed about his own personal struggles with substance abuse and he stuck by his story.
Working with French journalist Pierre Ballester, Walsh wrote “L.A. Confidentiel,” which was released on the eve of the 2004 Tour. In retrospect, that book still serves as the essential framework for the document bomb that was released this past week. The evidence made available to all of us just adds to the case and reaffirms that Walsh and Ballester were right from the start.
In response, Armstrong’s legal team filed suit in France and in Great Britain, where a translated summary of the book’s main charges appeared in the Sunday Times. The French suit was dropped, but the Times eventually offered an out-of-court settlement and Armstrong declared victory against the man he and Johan Bruyneel privately called “the Troll.”
On stage 18 of that Tour, Armstrong lashed out at another rider – Filippo Simeoni – who had made the “mistake” of testifying against Ferrari in a 2002 criminal matter. He was the only rider to do so. Simeoni never said anything about Armstrong and only testified as to his own experiences with Ferrari and doping practices.
You will probably recall that the tension between the two was already high before the 2004 Tour. When Simeoni found himself in a relatively unthreatening break on Stage 18, it was the man in the yellow jersey who set off in lone pursuit. Armstrong stayed with the break until Simeoni agreed to wait for the peloton, allowing the other escapees a chance.
Armstrong famously gave Simeoni the zip-the-lip gesture as the peloton approached and the Italian testified that the race leader also threatened him. Threat or no, Simeoni’s career was cut short, even though he did get some joy out of earning the 2008 Italian national champion’s jersey … but even then, he was regarded as something of a pariah. Nonetheless, he stuck by his story.
Is there any value to having access to liars?
I missed the Tour that year, as I was slated to cover the Vuelta and being part of a family with a 10-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl in the house didn’t make doing three-week grand tours all that easy at home. That said, I kinda wish I would have been there.
Walsh, as was his practice of many years, joined the VeloNews crew for the three-week journey through France. Embarrassingly, though, after pressure was exerted from the Armstrong camp, Walsh was informed that he was no longer welcome in the Velo-mobile.
WTF? Given a choice between standing by a friend and colleague or having access to “his Lanceness,” Walsh got the boot.
Later at the Vuelta, where I had the pleasure of taking my son with me, I tracked down Michael Barry for a quick post-stage interview. With young Philip at my side, we chatted about the race and the Postal team’s hopes for the Spanish Tour. We were just getting to the interesting part about the apparent tension between Floyd Landis and team management when Johan Bruyneel walked up, grabbed my press badge, glanced at the name and flicked it back into my chest.
“Pelkey, eh?” he said. “So, how’s your little Irish friend?”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“That fuckin’ troll, Walsh,” Bruyneel growled. “David Walsh … what did you do to get mentioned in the acknowledgments of that piece of shit book of his?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “We’re friends and we trade information now and then, but ….”
Suddenly Philip piped up and said “Mr. Walsh was at our house for dinner! Dad gave him a ride in our Army jeep. Maybe that was it.”
That made me smile. Bruyneel didn’t see the humor of the moment. He grunted, walked away, taking Barry with him. From that point forward, I had no access to Postal riders for the duration of the Vuelta, save for sitting in on press conferences … and it really didn’t matter.
A one-sided story?
As you note, Wednesday’s “reasoned decision” from USADA is pretty much a one-sided presentation of why the agency reached the conclusion that Lance Armstrong should be banned from competitive sport for life and that his results dating back to 1998 should be negated.
It was the “prosecution’s” case, that which would have been presented to an arbitration panel had it ever gone to arbitration. Personally I would have been interested – perhaps amused – to see how the defense would have presented its side. But remember, it’s not USADA’s fault that it didn’t go to arbitration.
The timing was actually kind of funny. Just one day earlier, Armstrong’s attorney, Tim Herman had sent a scathing five-page letter to USADA demanding the agency send its entire file to the UCI, not just a limited report packaged in a way to support its case.
Be careful what you wish for, dude.
Not only did USADA’s “Discovery Team” drop the whole package in the UCI’s lap, they let the rest of us sort through it, too.
As it turns out, the agency had justification for the delay. They produced the entire case as if it were presented at hearing. The reasoned decision itself was a detailed, beautifully footnoted, 200-page document, accompanied by nearly 1000 pages of appendices and supporting materials. Most damning, were the 26 sworn affidavits from witnesses, 11 of whom were former Armstrong teammates.
Herman didn’t even miss a beat.
“I’m not suggesting that they are all lying, but I am suggesting that each witness needs to have confrontation and cross examination to test the accuracy of their recollection,” he declared, with what I assume was a straight face.
And damn, if he isn’t right. The whole arbitration process is governed by Federal law, under 36 USC § 220522 (a)(8), which requires any athlete charged with a violation that might result in a period of ineligibility be provided “with fair notice and opportunity for a hearing.”
Part of that hearing process, of course, is the opportunity to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses. By gum, Herman hit the nail right on the head … but for the fact that his client declined to participate in the hearing.
It’s a little late now, Tim.
The UCI is left in the awkward position of either accepting the USADA case on its face value, or appealing the whole thing to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport where it will likely be defending its own conflicts of interest and apparent disinterest in pursuing the allegations of the sport’s highest-profile rider.
Read the decision. Scan the documents. Combined, they constitute the richest treasure trove of evidence underscoring just how corrupt riders – and governing bodies – can be. My bet is that the UCI will take a pass. They’ve stood up for Armstrong in the past, but there is considerable risk in doing so now … and very little benefit. The UCI isn’t likely to take a big risk.
No, the only people in this story willing to take risks for little or no benefit were those “winners” I mentioned earlier. And, actually, when you come to think of it, that fact alone suddenly makes the list of “winners” a lot longer. The real “winners” in all of this are those who love the world’s most beautiful sport. Fans and riders alike. Hopefully, cycling will emerge from this embarrassment all the better. I, for one, will keep my fingers crossed. I promise, though, never to say that I am “shocked” if it doesn’t turn out that way.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
Bill Cass is the artist behind our fantastic Eddy T-shirt and as I noted in my description, Cass was a frequent contributor to Bicycle Guide. Last night, during a stroll through Facebook, this illo popped up. Bill had posted it and tagged me as a nod to my circumstance. It’s been really helpful to hear so many kind words and well-wishes from friends as well as readers, but the responses that mean the most to me are the ones that acknowledge the stakes of the game we play.
Along those lines, I was gratified to read a post by my buddy the Wankmeister over at Cycling in the South Bay; he is a talented writer who gets the value of true, which is to say he could have written something that offered flowery platitudes about quick healing or held himself up as better-than-thou with after-the-fact quarterbacking, but instead went with a shipping container of reality. Never mind the fact that the post is about me (man, I wish I hadn’t given him the subject matter), it’s a terrific example of why his is the best regional cycling blog on the planet.
As you may have heard, our friend and host Padraig, had a chance meeting with the ground the other day, a meeting that didn’t go so well, except that there happened to be a good plastic surgeon at the ER who put his face back together with some considerable skill. Oh, and of course, there were friends at the crash scene who made sure the ER happened and called the wife and did the things that friends do, which are simultaneously exactly what they’re supposed to do and yet also heroic and amazing.
The last time I was on the ground, I was mountain biking. The great irony is that I ended up sprawled across pavement. The trail left the woods, crossed a road and dove back into the woods. The catch was that the road edge had a slight lip on it that I quite inconveniently got my front wheel sideways to without making the subtle lift that would have made it the non-event it should have been. So there I was instead, laying in the road, windless from landing on my back. I rode on, but it hurt.
The time before that, I was riding a trail and saw a water bottle on the ground. I rolled up to it, leaned down low and plucked it off the ground. It was a brilliant maneuver until I jerked the handlebars trying to get back up straight and then of course I jackknifed the bike and catapulted myself face down into the dirt. No injury, except my pride.
When I heard about Padraig’s crash, I had a moment of visceral empathy. My last two crashes have been fairly innocuous, but I know from a lifetime on the bike what that moment is like. You are rolling along doing fine. There is no reason to expect anything but more of the same, but then you are on the ground. Sometimes it is a long, slow careening. Sometimes it is a sudden violent slam. Either way, there is that crystalline moment where all the important elements of control disappear.
Even before I heard the full story of Padraig’s crash, I knew what had happened, and it hurt me.
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: What was your last meeting with the ground like? Good, bad, indifferent? Did it change you or just make your friends laugh? Do you worry about crashing? Or do you just call it the price of admission? Spare a thought for Padraig as he sips at his smoothie (liquid diet only) and waits for his face to reassemble itself.
I went down yesterday. It was bad. After 13 years with no deck time, my number got called, and in a big way. I’ll be okay. My mouth took the worst of it; if I’m lucky, I’ll end up with a scar that gives me some rakish charm, which would be a real improvement in my case.
A few words about the crash itself: I was descending Tuna Canyon road in Malibu. Of it I once wrote that Tuna was where parachute ripcords go for training. Several kilometers of Tuna are steep, in the 14 to 18 percent range. It is where the one-off Redbull Road Rage event was held, where a buddy of mine with a full-face helmet and motocross pads hit 60 mph. It’s a place where a single mistake can require a payment plan. There’s a point on the descent, a final switchback, after which the road goes much flatter; the pitch is more like four percent. This is the section of road I was in, well past everything any reasonable person would describe as dangerous. I was apexing a small bend in the road and suddenly hit a patch of road that didn’t offer the same grip is everything else.
My rear tire slid. And big time. It was the biggest slide I’ve ever ridden out on a road bike. The problem is or was that once I steered into the skid and stood the bike up, I was pointed 45 degrees to the road. I quickly chose to avoid the enormous (we’re talking the size of an office chair) tree stump. Unfortunately, my plan to keep the bike rolling for as long as possible didn’t really pan out; I hit a bump and went over the bar, pounding my face into the ground. I spent the next 9 hours at the ER, but at least got the care of a really ace plastic surgeon.
I bring all this up for a few reasons.
- Yes, we’re aware that there was actual news in the cycling world yesterday. I haven’t had much time to read, so I’m going to let Charles tackle it, at least initially, in his next Explainer column.
- I’m not sure how much posting I’ll get done in the next week. I’m going to be okay, but I’m on a liquid diet and Percoset, which is a detailed way of saying I’m not at my best.
- The oh-so-overdue jerseys are due here today. I’d promised everyone who’d had the patience to keep waiting all this time for their arrival that I’d ship them the day they arrived. I’m thinking I might need an extra day or two. Bending over isn’t what I’d call comfortable.
Thanks for reading.
Standing in the loom of the garage door with rain dripping from the wide jamb. Water pooling in oblong puddles in the road, small mirrors to the gray sky and power lines. The autumnal breeze sweeps the street and shuffles the few leaves not already stuck to the ground. It’s a fitful rain. Hard to tell whether what makes it to ground is from the clouds or just heavy globs stirred from the trees by the wind.
I stand there in my pristine kit, gloves still warm from the dryer, one hand on the bars, one on the saddle. This is the testing moment.
Dressed by the bedside in the shade-drawn bedroom, only the digital forecast beamed in through the phone to guide my clothing choices, now I wonder, have I gotten it right. I pull up my arm warmers, re-layer the jersey where they overlap. Snug up my light rain jacket at the collar. I try to imagine myself riding out into the maw of the weather. Without moving, I can feel the first fat, cold drops landing on my back.
I know that in an hour I will be wholly wet and not care. I will have been soaked by the rain and also from the upspray, my front wheel spitting against the downtube, the rear cascading water up my back, my chamois soaking through, cold at first, but then body-warm.
Even in this leaves-down cold I will sweat, my core temperature rising to meet the challenge of the weather. And everything will be fine and comfortable as long as I am moving, the effort drawing all my attention away from sodden socks and that one dangling drop at the front of my cap.
But in this testing moment I always waver. Those first minutes of soak-through and of real body cold are deeply imprinted. I know them like I know their opposites, the first sip of hot coffee on the other end of the ride, or the steamy warmth of the shower with road grime streaming off my legs.
I could not be doing this. I could turn and hang the bike from its hook and walk straight back up the stairs into the dry, warm kitchen. The wife would hardly bat an eye. The kids, anaesthetized by Saturday cartoons, never knew I left, wouldn’t register my return. No one is forcing me out. There is no noble purpose. This is a practical matter.
This is how I go to meet myself. This is how I reconnect to the world after I’ve spent the week with abstraction and distraction, gazing into this glowing rectangle, trying to make it pay. The way is cold and wet today, but it is the only way to get where I need to go.
It all comes full circle in my head, and then I’m just standing there in the half shelter of the garage. I throw my leg over and push out into the ride, cleats snapping into pedals, pedals turning over, the trees shaking their leaves in a warning I ignore.
Follow me on Twitter: @thebicyclerobot.