The Catalyst

Journalist Paul Kimmage has filed a criminal complaint against the UCI for defamation, slander and fraud.

That’s worth repeating: Paul Kimmage is suing the UCI.

This would be where Wayne and Garth are supposed to say, “Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.”

Lo, see the winged orangutans!

Even though UCI President Pat McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen have always been as fast and easy with insults as the Real Housewives of Orange County are, as recently as a year ago, a defamation suit would have seemed impossible, like unicorn impossible. Of course, Kimmage isn’t suing the UCI because they hurt his feelings. The papers filed on his behalf by Swiss attorney Cédric Aguet cite both slander and defamation, but that’s not what makes the suit earth-shaking. It goes on to include a criminal complaint that there are “strong suspicions of fraud.”

Yes, fraud.

It’s the fraud charge that causes Kimmage’s suit to step beyond what might be merely a civil case and into something with serious teeth. Criminal. Capital C. Jail time. Should the prosecutor the case has been referred to pick it up one can expect a bunch of subpoenas.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned through this process it’s that we aren’t willing to believe the truth until someone gives sworn testimony. Richard Virenque was clean until he was confronted by a prosecutor in court. We’d never have learned Tyler Hamilton’s full story without a subpoena. The eyewitnesses who were Lance Armstrong’s undoing? Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly, Tyler Hamilton—their stories were mostly ignored until they became sworn testimony attached to the USADA investigation, which, it’s worth noting, was the second time around for Betsy Andreu. Sure Stephanie McIlvain lied on the stand, but she’s maybe the best demonstration of just how important the moral courage of people like Andreu, O’Reilly and yes, even Hamilton were to the process.

It’s why Kimmage suing the UCI for fraud is the best shot we have of finding witnesses who can tell just what happened in Aigle. But we’re going to need more, better, witnesses than the likes of Julian Devries. You may recall that Devries told Kathy LeMond that Nike paid Verbruggen—not the UCI—$500,000 back in 2001 to make Armstrong’s 1999 positive for corticosteroids go Jimmy Hoffa. While I believe LeMond, this case needs a witness closer to the action than Devries.

When Floyd Landis first started spouting off about the corruption within the UCI his charges were long on vitriol and short on specifics. Sure, he was making charges, but he wasn’t doing a lot to tell us how he knew what he knew and what facts he’d seen to support his assertions. After all, the difference between saying “the UCI is corrupt” and “I saw a check for $500,000 drawn on Nike’s checking account and made out to Hein Verbruggen” is the difference between saying “guns can kill” and watching someone shoot your mother.

As important as the testimony from each of the eyewitnesses has been, we would not be in this position without a couple of crucial acts by Mr. Armstrong. There’s a strong causal link between Armstrong’s refusal to give Landis as spot on the RadioShack team and his downfall. That simple act of charity, something alleged to have been suggested to Armstrong by a few different people, would have reinvigorated Landis’ career and life. Could Armstrong have found room in his heart to mend a fence with Landis, there would never have been that legendary tete-a-tete with USADA. And had Landis never met with Jeff Novitzky and Travis Tygart, Tyler Hamilton would never have been deposed. Hamilton was as crucial a witness as USADA ever found. It’s safe to say that if Armstrong hadn’t dropped a dime on him (this is a charge alleged by Landis that I believe to be true), Hamilton’s career would have run its course, with him winning some more big races before sailing off into retirement with us none the wiser.

A portion of Armstrong’s downfall must be attributed to his Machiavellian ruthlessness. Ironic, eh?

In interviews with the media, many witnesses in the USADA investigation made a similar, if crucial, statement: They didn’t want to be talking to investigators, they didn’t want to be on the stand. Some of the riders snared in the investigation have been slagged doing what seemed obvious: telling the truth. Despite what some think, the testimony they gave wasn’t obvious or easy, and while some cycling fans still wonder just how much of what they told was the truth, there are a few details worth noting. First, the riders did have options. They could easily have lied. McIlvain certainly did, despite contradictory eyewitness testimony. Second, they could have remained silent per the Fifth Amendment. While we don’t know for sure, it seems likely that George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde and the others were given immunity in exchange for their testimony. Any indication that they had lied to investigators would have nullified the agreement and opened them up to prosecution. Given the sheer number of witnesses, lying to investigators would have been a pretty significant risk, for a rider who lied would be facing charges for both doping and perjury.

A recent piece published by The New York Times pointed to Kayle Leogrande as the catalyst that set the investigation in motion that led to Armstrong’s downfall. The Times rarely ever gets the story wrong, but this is one of those occasions when they did. In calling him “pivotal” to the investigation, Ian Lovett missed the event that deserves remembering.

Lance Armstrong would still be (as he’s been called, occasionally ironically) “the cancer Jesus,” were it not for the efforts of Suzanne Sonye. Sonye is a former professional rider for the Saturn team who worked as a soigneur for Michael Ball’s Rock Racing squad. It was Sonye Leogrande confided in when he feared he was going to test positive following a urine test. Sonye then did the unheard-of: She reported Leogrande’s doping of her own volition.

In a recent phone interview Sonye said, “When he told me [that he might test positive] it was number one, ‘Oh my God! He’s dirty!’ and number two, ‘He can’t race.’ I knew he was going to race the national championships and this was something that was definitely going to affect his performance.

“I couldn’t live with myself if I let this go. It made me sick to my stomach. It was wrong on so many levels I couldn’t let it go.”

Sonye reported him to team management, including Ball.

“When I realized Michael Ball wasn’t going to do anything, I knew I needed to call USADA. I had to call USADA twice. The first time they didn’t respond. The second time I said I had first-hand information about a doping violation. I thought Michael Ball would do the right thing; so did Frankie [Andreu, then the team director], but he didn’t. To his credit, Travis Tygart called me back right away.

“At first I couldn’t decide if I would do it anonymously … it was hard to do because I liked Kayle, but I couldn’t not do it.

What makes Sonye unique among everyone in the Armstrong debacle is that she took action for no other reason than it was the right thing to do. She wasn’t compelled by a subpoena or enticed by an outside entity (such as a newspaper or magazine). She had nothing to gain; self-interest was a motivation that would have steered her away from reporting Leogrande.

For Sonye, the choice was as simple as it was unavoidable.

“I was on the number-one cycling team in the world and I didn’t choose to put a needle in my arm.”

Leogrande would go on to sue Sonye for defamation, and while he lost the suit (and wound up having to pay her legal bills because the lawsuit was deemed a SLAPP), the stress it put her through upended her life.

“I’d been on antidepressants and they were awful for me. I had a nervous breakdown. I went to the hospital for five days. My doctor took me off everything, then I was switched to a really low dose of a mood stabilizer for four or five months. When I came out, I was beaten. I thought, ‘I can’t beat this.’ Eventually I realized, ‘Fuck that, this guy is going down.’ It took two years.

“The mental stress I went through I can never get back. The drain on me, what it took from my life, was enormous.”

The debt cycling owes Sonye for being honest, for acting on her conscience, can never be repaid; there’s no way to make that suffering go away. The least we can do is recognize her for being the person without which Lance Armstrong would be competing as a professional triathlete.

 

Image: Danny Munson, Cycling Illustrated

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32 comments

  1. Aaron

    They say no good deed goes unpunished, and it seems like Suzanne Sonye has shown that to be true. We can hope that she feels some rightful satisfaction now for doing the right thing.

  2. Scott

    The sad part of this debacle is the lack of real heroes — until now.

    When I want to show a young rider, like my son, a professional cyclist to emulate, there’s no one left. I can’t in good conscious say, “Hey son, did you see what Lance did; you should ride like Levi; you should train like David, or Christian, or Tom, or Floyd, or Tyler.” In fact, I’ve asked him to take down his “Hope Rides Again” poster — it’s a little like having a picture of the anti-Christ taped to your wall.

    The conscious, intentional misinformation and outright lies of this generation (even those who’ve confessed) has created such a vast credibility gap that it’s difficult to believe the newcomers; even if they LOOK squeaky clean. Once bitten twice shy. And for them (or any pro) to say, “I’m just going to let my legs do the talking,” well that doesn’t prove shit. I’d EXPECT the doper to be the fastest guy, duh.

    Right or wrong, young people follow heroes. But in this climate of corruption, who do I point them toward as a role model for cycling? Therein lies the problem: the very real possibility of losing an entire generation of kids who may dismiss cycling as a joke or have concerned parents guide them toward other interests. Will today’s 13 year olds even bother to try bike racing?

    Suzanne, Betsy, Emma, Paul, and Greg fill a vacuum that transcends sport. A real hero isn’t the juiced guy who beat another juiced guy to the line, whether that line is a finish line, goal line, foul line, or the line on a backboard. Real heroes are the Suzannes of the world who have the courage to do the right thing even when it’s not popular. I’m going to make a point of promoting their stories in the future.

    Me thinks they are the ones who deserve a namesake Gran Fondo.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Scott: You’re right about Suzanne, Betsy, Emma, etc. but let’s not forget Taylor Phinney, Tejay Vangarderen and the other riders coming along in their generation. I’ve no problem holding up a guy like Taylor or Peter Stetina.

      You may be on to something with that Gran Fondo idea.

  3. buck

    Kimmage hasn’t sued anyone. He’s requesting a criminal investigation. Asking the cops to investigate. Big difference. How can you get that so wrong? From Kimmage lawyer :

    “By this release, the undersigned makes the public announcement that his client Paul Kimmage has sent today to the Public Prosecutor of Vevey a criminal complaint and denunciation against Hein Vebruggen, Pat McQuaid and unknown persons against whom Paul Kimmage requests the opening of a criminal investigation for slander/defamation, denigration and for strong suspicions of fraud. “

  4. beninslc

    Padraig,

    I liked your comment about how Lance’s “Machiavellian ruthlessness” was a major contributor to his downfall and I agree absolutely. In addition to that, however, I believe it was really his ego more than anything that led to his downfall.

    If Lance could have left well enough alone, and not bothered with his ill-fated comeback in 2009, I don’t believe the events of this past month would have ever went down. By insisting on his comeback, everything was thrown right back in people’s faces. More salt was rubbed in the wounds, all the old charges were drug up again, the people he had walked all over (Floyd, Tyler, Betsie, Kimmage, et.al.) were reinfuriated.

    The comeback was just Lance’s huge ego not being able to take being out of the spotlight, not being able to take the idea that maybe some people actually had the nerve to think that Contador or Schleck might actually be BETTER than LANCE.

    Really Lance brought this all on himself with his comeback. In this regard it is alot like a classical Greek or Shakespearean tragedy where the hero brings about his own downfall through a defect in his own personality. Humanity really doesn’t ever change…

  5. charlie fuller

    Thank you for pointing out a true hero in this whole sordid debacle. And thank you, Suzanne, for maintaining such a clear and strong conscience. That level of character is so rare.

  6. polkadot

    Suzanne – we can’t know how many cyclists knew of your actions but I did and it made a difference.

    I volunteer a lot of my time for NICA – the national intercollegiate (high school) mountain biking league – and actions like yours keep me motivated to continue working for a better future.

    Those who profit from cheating and lying can not be role models for our kids.

  7. Hugo Slevin

    Suzanne, Betsy, Emma…. you all have bigger b—- than the whole peleton put together. Amazing that these women are the true warriors in this sordid affair.
    Scott suggested a great idea in a GF ( perhaps a GF for each of these women ) that should help us “remember” the past and to make sure that “present and future talent” does not succumb to the sinister ways of unscrupulous characters in the cycling world.

  8. MCH

    I recall Suzanne from the old Tuesday / Thursday rides as a damn good sprinter who could, and did, take on any of the guys without backing down. Of course, she went on to much greater things in pro cycling. But this is eye opening – I had no idea. All I can say is RESPECT!

  9. Matt Walsh

    Thanks for the Suzanne story and I’m glad she got a chance to read some of the supportive responses. Whistleblower is a tremendously unrewarding role but without people like her the truth never comes out. Thanks you Suzanne.

  10. Zonker

    Huh, I can’t believe how I was quivering with excitement to see new Kimmage developments. Defamation, oh – Slander, MMMM – FRAUD oh F yea! Lance? Tyler!? Floyd? WTF. Did I jump to a different story? What are the details on the lawsuit? Wait a minute, not actually suing? I have been with RKP for years and I really think you all are losing your way. Someone needs to visit the bridge, grab a map and compass and make some decisions.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Zonker: I respect that you wanted a piece that focused solely on Kimmage and what he’s up to. We made the decision to leave that effort for Charles’ Explainer column to give him a chance to review the full file, and frankly, as he’s an attorney, he’s better suited to reporting on it.

  11. Evan

    OK Padraig, well done. Now, do not leave out Lemond in your “You’re right about Suzanne, Betsy, Emma, etc. but let’s not forget”

    Stop seeing Lemond through your old eyes. As a journalist in that meeting where Greg spoke out in massive concern and frustration because you journalists were not doing your job, you failed to see his heroism. And worse you still fail to see this and even more worrisome you are today demeaning him.

    Let’s hear some acknowledgment you are wrong to not see him as such with your new perspective.

    Again, not to judge, but I am truly worried what is with you that you cannot see and write this. He is equally heroic as all others cited here by you.

  12. Evan

    Saul Bellow:”A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ingorance when the need for illusion is deep.”

    Let us hope we do not shoot the messengers, the truth tellers, the journalists who seek better here forward. Cycling is a most wonderful inspiring, healthy community sport. Let us save it.
    We must act now, not wait for UCI. Press the teams to agree on changing the points system, ending loop holes, increasing some bans, creating a way to incentivize confessions without completely ending careers, agreeing to not allow ex dopers into management. It can be done, a mixture of SKY and Garmin and a non corrupt UCI, independent WADA with money and authority, UCI only regulatory and not a tester.

    If not in two months in two years the same thing is already happening and will be horrid again. Witness today’s news of Vino emails evidence of paying 150000 to fix LBL race. Italian giant scandal, Australian governmental review, etc.

  13. gmknobl

    “Do not put your faith in men” is some old saying I heard. I try to counsel my kids with that. We all have feet of clay. I try to tell them sports people aren’t heroes and anyone who puts themselves in the spotlight isn’t generally either. I tried telling others on another (non-cycling) forum that heroes aren’t necessarily soldiers nor any one profession. Heroes could be from any walk of life, like the garbage man working two jobs to put a kid through college. Unless you know the how and why of a person, the reason why they do something they do, you may never know they are a real hero, willing to stand up for what’s right or sacrifice for others for no intended personal gain. (How anti-Rand of me!) My comment that a garbage man could be a hero got ridiculed. Sometimes people just don’t get it. I am very uncomfortable with automatically placing anyone as a hero. So, yes, it rubs me the wrong way when any profession is automatically a hero. Heroes come in different forms and aren’t found more often anywhere but can be anyone. More often then not, I find, a hero is unheralded. It’s nice to herald one now. It’s good to read about some. I’ll be sure to point out what Suzanne did to my sons.

  14. Skippy

    Seems like it is ONLY these Women that are able to stand up for what WE should regard as ” The RIGHT THING TO DO “! None had anything to gain , but lost huge chunks of their peace of mind due to the unremitting ” Bullying ” , in which they became immersed .

    RESPECT ! YES they deserve the THANKS of Sports Fans and continual recognition ! A plaque at WADA Head Office , as an example , and a fund for their Expenses , so that they can attend ANY Events where they can speak out to the Public about ” DOING THE RIGHT THING “!

    Amazed to read that the Oz Gov.( Oz NOC ) is now thinking that to represent Oz , Athletes will have to state under OATH , they were never involved in ” PED Products “? Tough way to separate truth from fiction ?

    NOW is the time for SPORT to start over with a clean slate !

    Created this change.org petition with this in mind , but NO ONE seems to think that we should move the goal posts and allow Athletes that crossed the line to ” Fess UP ” , without fear of reprisals ?

    Come on folks , do you want the Next Generation taught/inspired by Athletes that have ” Secrets ” ? US Gov. does not have Laws that can Imprison ” Dopers ” ? Most other countries DO ! Time a ” Level PLaying Field ” was created by WADA with HEAVY Sanctions for ” Misdeeds “! Just now , admitting after SOL has passed , does no one , Former Athlete or ” Jo Public ” , any service ?

    Too much to expect that SPORTSPEOPLE can enter 2013 , with clear consciences ?

    sigh on to : http://t.co/oFWgsHA7 if you think they should !

  15. Suzanne Sonye

    WOW…WOW I’m completely blown away by all of the amazing things that have been posted here. If I made a difference to one youngster that makes it all worth it, I never thought about it when I decided to call USADA and plenty of times I wanted to toss the towel in, but what I want everyone to know is that Frankie and Betsy were there for me 110% through this, at the time Betsy was getting battered by media and she wanted to protect me and helped me to get positive media…She was my life line ….Now all of you are! It really brings huge good tears to my eyes reading all of these posts! I have faith now!

  16. Evan Shaw

    Suzanne kudos to you from one who in a parallel world of helping sexually abused kids during the pioneer days told the truth and lived many of the consequences as you. Not to compare but to validate your experience your truth and yes it was not in vain. Standing fast. Well done

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  18. Robbie Canuck

    Interesting article but it misses an important fact of how investigations by experienced lawyers are handled. Many people refused to believe the general allegations made about doping against LA because the USADA witnesses had not “testified” in open court.

    Most lawyers working on the Dept of Justice case and the USADA case would not simply sit the witnesses down and make notes about their stories. They would have required witnesses such as Hamilton, Hincapie etal to provide them with a sworn statement in the form of an affidavit. An sworn affidavit is the same as making the statement in court because it is the same as being under oath. Proof of lying could have subjected the witness to perjury charges.

    Thus I suspect the DOJ and USADA investigators all had sworn statements in writing or in affidavit form. The fact many of these witnesses testified in the grand jury proceedings before USADA got the case, would have simply been another layer of sworn evidence they already possessed.

    The ONLY caveat to these sworn statements, affidavits and the grand jury testimony was that the witnesses were not subjected to cross examination. Cross examination is known in law as the process that elicits the “crucible of truth.” Armstrong’s lawyers would have had the opportunity to cross examine these witnesses had LA attorned to the USADA hearing. But he chose not to.

    One has to assume the sworn evidence in the hands of the DOJ and USADA was so overwhelming that LA was even prepared to pass up the opportunity to cross examine these witnesses,to back up his frequent nonsensical rhetoric that these witnesses were lying.

    The reason this becomes important is the ongoing myoptic belief by many LA supporters that the USADA witnesses had never testified in open court or been cross examined and therefore what these witnesses were saying was “hearsay”

    This is of course a totally inaccurate and illogical way to characterize the strength of the evidence USADA had against LA. We now know, the evidence possessed by USADA was not only overwhelming but also accurate and truthful on all of the substantive issues in the case. The doubters failed to give DOJ and USADA investigators and prosecutors the credit they deserve for knowing what they were doing!


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Robbie: Nothing I wrote suggested that the witness testimony was anything approaching hearsay. In many posts I’ve made a point to note that the accusations were based on sworn testimony. Indeed, it seems to be that while all the allegations against Armstrong have been out there for ages, the vast majority of cycling fans were unwilling to believe them until they were supported with the weight of eyewitness testimony.

  19. Suzanne Sonye

    Robbie,

    I think Patrick is leaving that part of the story for Pelkey to write since he is a lawyer. This article was not about the lawyers :-) even my lawyer acknowledges that…but thanks for the input!

  20. Eric

    Padraig says “it seems to be that while all the allegations against Armstrong have been out there for ages, the vast majority of cycling fans were unwilling to believe them until they were supported with the weight of eyewitness testimony.”

    That somewhat defined me. At some point point years ago I “knew” Armstrong and likely many others doped. But I think I based that on “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”, not because any concrete proof. Granted, there was a lot of smoke, but come on, if you are going to accuse people of something that drastic, I want something concrete. Back it up, people. Betsy A. says this, but another person in the room says that. Never failed a dope test, except some cortisone cream with a backdated doctor’s note that the UCI accepted. I was getting agitated at the UCI and other official agencies more than I was at Armstrong, because if he was doping so much for so long, I’m pissed at them for not stopping it, proving it, etc. Get me, get us, the proof. And then the Feds, or whoever, dropped the case. What? Now what am I supposed to believe?

    Finally, USADA delivers the package. It’s big, detailed, thorough, etc. About time. Now I can say I know he, and others, did it all.

    I live on the fringe, I guess. I don’t spend huge amounts of time keeping up with every single detail of what’s going on in racing, doping, seat tube angles, etc. People are saying my head was in the sand. I disagree. (And don’t write me off as being a “fanboy”. That’s not accurate and I don’t think it would matter if I was.) I was generally aware of the accusations but I don’t know the details of recovery times, I’m not reading LA Confidential, computing watts to get up a hill, analyzing typical body mass and average speeds over the last xx years and whatever so I’m not able to get a calculator out and come to the conclusion that, yep, that’s not possible so he’s doping.

    To the Betsy’s, Suzanne’s, Kimmage’s, LeMond’s and whoever else I’m missing, thanks for your efforts. Truly. I’m not discounting anything all of you have done.

    Many times it seemed like this was hinging on he said, she said evidence.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Eric: Thanks for joining the conversation. Despite the outrage a few readers have expressed, based on conversations I’ve had on rides, my sense is that you’re very, very typical among cycling fans. On many occasions people have told me they were suspicious for a long time, but the Reasoned Decision put those suspicions to rest because what it detailed was so definitive.

  21. Travis

    Firstly, Suzanne is a rock star for doing what is right. I had many friends working for Rock Racing and Mr. ball from its inception to its downfall. The inaction on the part of USADA, team management etc is appalling and tragic. A team led by someone with Suzanne’s scruples would have possibly survived an incident like an athlete making a piss poor decision. I fell sorry for the mechanics, and support staff who are caught out on these issues. And if they are complicit then they should go down with the ship. I don’t even begin to have a solution for this stuff, and everyone on this blog has amazing input and ideas. I just hope that the work that the honest folks are doing to compete in the sport we love begins to be what the discourse revolves around.

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