Now that Pat McQuaid has been voted out of the UCI presidency and the troubled institution is being led by Brian Cookson, there is some reasonable hope that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be formed and testimony will take place. Given how cycling has been governed since the UCI was formed, this is a turn of events so surprising and unlikely it is befitting an Aaron Sorkin screenplay.
Let’s imagine it for a second: Someone will be willing to pay attention as Jesus Manzano speaks.
Consider that Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton will have an opportunity to sit down in the same room as members of the UCI, tell everything they saw and took part in while members of U.S. Postal and Phonak, and when finished Pat McQuaid won’t be there to call them “scumbags.”
Now that we have the faith that the UCI has a president who will actually do what he says, and that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will convene, we have a question to consider: How far back should the TRC look? Technically, the choice of how far to look back belongs to Cookson or whoever he charges with running the TRC, but that Cookson is president now owes much to public outcry. We do have a voice and the success of a TRC will rest on public satisfaction.
So who should testify? The TRC should do more than just listen to riders and team personnel. We should hear from as many doctors, pharmacists and lab techs as possible. Let’s include the odd motorcycle driver or two. This testimony will be key in corroborating what the riders say. Anyone watching social media has noticed that there’s some suspicion about whether George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and Levi Leipheimer confessed all of their doping to USADA or not. Testimony from medical professionals and coaches will have the ability to confirm their previous testimony or demonstrate that they withheld some activity. It will also show just how fearful riders were of Travis Tygart, or not.
However, if the TRC only looks back as far as 1999, it won’t be far enough. We will have little reason to be satisfied. The TRC needs the freedom, resources and time necessary to take testimony from anyone with a heartbeat. That means we should listen to Belgian soigneurs from the 1950s. We should listen to guys like Lucien Aimar, who was a domestique for Jacques Anquetil. And yes, we should listen to Eddy Merckx.
Why go so far back? Because it will educate the sport’s governing body, riders, team staff, the public and sponsors—in short every stakeholder the sport has—on how entrenched doping and attitudes toward doping have been. Because it was ingrained at an institutional level, it will show that cycling takes doping not just more seriously than any other sport, but as seriously as one may take it. That is what will be necessary to win back sponsor and audience confidence.
The reality is that we won’t hear from everyone we would like to. We must also accept that the UCI is unlikely to allow the TRC to run for five years. They need to focus their effort, concentrate on the biggest part of the problem. To that end, I suggest that we do what we can to encourage testimony from as far back as 1990.
Based on everything I’ve learned about the rise of oxygen-vector doping, I think we can put a date on when doping fundamentally change in pro cycling. That date? May 18,1990. With it comes a specific location: Bari, Italy. That was the day and the location of the prologue for the 1990 Giro d’Italia, which was won by Gianni Bugno. Bugno went on to wear the pink jersey for the 19 days, all the way to the finish in Milan. It was the first time a rider had led the Giro from start to finish since Eddy Merckx did it in 1973. Because we know Bugno worked with Francesco Conconi and testing revealed a high hematocrit—for which he was sanctioned—I think it’s fair to mark this as the date when racing grand tours changed. Fair enough, that is, until we get testimony through a TRC.
Simply put, the 1990 Giro was the first grand tour won with the aid of EPO.
While EPO use changed the whole of racing, it had the greatest effect on the grand tours, where being able to stay out of the red zone thanks to extra red blood cells paid dividends as the race wore on. It was during the 1990 season that Bugno and Claudio Chiappucci stormed to prominence. A year later Miguel Indurain won his first Tour de France, and like Chiappucci and Bugno, Big Mig counted Conconi among his advisors.
The 1990 season was a turning point in that not only did it see the first grand tour won with the aid of EPO (the Giro), it also saw the last clean win in the Tour de France prior to two generations of wins tainted by oxygen-vector doping. Has there been a clean winner of the Tour since Greg LeMond’s 1990 win? Very probably, but certainly not between 1991 and 2006. The possibility of a clean winner seems to have grown more convincing with each year since 2007.
A TRC has the ability to settle this question.
Now, regarding LeMond, it’s easy enough to find comments on Facebook or Twitter from people willing to accuse him of having doped. Even without a TRC, the evidence suggests that in 1989 each of the grand tours was won without oxygen-vector doping. The Vuelta was won by Pedro Delgado, the Giro by Laurent Fignon and the Tour by LeMond. Each of those guys had won a grand tour prior to the availability of EPO. While we know that both Delgado and Fignon doped, we have reason to believe they weren’t using EPO in ’89. What’s interesting about ’89 is that this is the year Chiappucci, Bugno and Indurain began to threaten the GC. In ’89 Chiappucci finished 46th and 81st in the Giro and Tour, respectively. A year later? A remarkable 12th and 2nd. In ’88, Bugno withdrew from the Giro and finished the Tour in 62nd. In ’89 he went 23rd and 11th. In ’90, of course, he won the Giro and finished the Tour in 7th. Indurain’s rise was more gradual, less outwardly suspicious; he finished 97th in the ’87 Tour, but gradually climbed the ranks up to 47th, 17th and 10th before winning.
What makes all three of these riders of a piece is the fact that they started anonymously before rising to prominence. LeMond, Fignon, Merckx and Bernard Hinault all share in common the fact that their brilliance and potential shown early on. LeMond differs only in that he didn’t win his first Tour—he was third.
Lance Armstrong is accused of being at the center of the greatest doping program in history, the greatest sporting fraud ever perpetrated. It’s a charge we can’t really resolve. If there was a greater sporting fraud, it hasn’t been exposed. Ultimately, this isn’t a terribly important question. What the Armstrong fall has done, however, is to open the public’s eyes to the breadth of doping that has taken place. It has introduced suspicion into the cycling fan’s vocabulary. The problem before us is how to put this behind us. We may never put the genie back in the bottle, but a TRC has the ability to educate us on more than just who doped; it has the ability to clear those who did not dope.
Aside from simply dispensing the truth, a TRC will freshly frame the achievement of riders like LeMond, riders who would have accomplished more were it not for the rise of EPO. A TRC that reaches back to 1990 will give us a new way to define courage.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
If there’s one thing that we can say with certainty about the UCI and doping, it’s that they have done a dismal job of investigating eyewitness testimony on doping charges. That they never followed up on charges made by eyewitnesses is galling because it makes an end-run on their defense that they lacked the resources to do more. Talking to eyewitnesses requires little more than a phone, though a plane or train ticket is handy.
Their unwillingness to actually investigate allegations by riders is unacceptable the way stripping naked in a restaurant and standing on the table singing Debbie Boone songs is unacceptable. Sure, you may think that Floyd Landis is crazy; you may even agree with Pat McQuaid and think he’s a scumbag. But that doesn’t make what he said untrue. The same goes for Tyler Hamilton, Frankie Andreu, Jorg Jaksche and Jesus Manzano, just to name a few.
Each of these riders gave eyewitness testimony of doping and were then roundly attacked by the UCI. It’s like arresting—and then ignoring—the junkie who is ready to turn over his dealer and his dealer’s dealer. Insert epic “Really?”
And so now Pat McQuaid has announced a confidential hotline for those who wish to “discuss issues or concerns related to doping.”
Hmm … I’m curious about how much nandrolone you have to take to get a full-scale case of bacne. Do you suppose that’s what he’s talking about? In his letter he claims there are riders who reported doping allegations that were not investigated. That’s certainly the case with Andreu, Jaksche and Manzano, who were arguably the highest-profile riders to allege inaction on the part of the UCI for the Armstrong case was blown open by USADA.
McQuaid claims: “I would like to take this opportunity to assure you that the UCI did act on information provided in the past.”
Okay Mr. McQuaid, please tell us what you did, because we’ve not seen a serious investigation on your part into the charges made by the aforementioned riders.
McQuaid goes on to write that amnesty isn’t an option but reduced punishment is an option. Honestly, based on previous behavior, the only intelligent conclusion one can draw from this hotline is that any rider who speaks up will be attacked by the UCI for hurting the sport. And then suspended.
Okay, let’s go over the math here: Make a phone call. Confess your involvement in doping plus whatever you know about the actions of others. Result: You get suspended, ridiculed by the sport’s governing body and the other people involved go un-investigated.
If that’s not a compelling case for the survival of omerta, then I’m a dancing elephant. Jens Voigt’s Army (@jensvoigtsarmy) tweeted that the UCI should staff the hotline with Miss Cleo from the Psychic Friends. This may have been meant as comedy, but I think it’s a terrific suggestion; certainly a psychic has a higher likelihood of finding out the truth than the UCI.
McQuaid says he’ll be meeting personally with all the teams this winter. I’m reminded of the old joke, “Here comes God—look busy.” For McQuaid, we can retell it: Here comes Pat McQuaid—shut up.
Below is the full text of McQuaid’s letter to riders; note that it does not address team staff.
To riders ________
Sent by email only
Aigle, 9 November 2012
I would like to take this opportunity to update you on the latest developments and decisions we have taken in response to the current crisis in our sport.
You will have seen in recent media reports that Philippe Gilbert, Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins among many others have been strong voices in telling the world that today’s cycling is cleaner than ever before. Of course, they are right. You, today’s riders not only participate in the most innovative and effective anti-doping programs in sport but above all you have understood which choice to make for your career and for your sport. The result is that our sport is cleaner.
Actually the UCI has always been a pioneer in the fight against doping, a fact recognized by WADA and the IOC among others. We pride ourselves on the fact that we were the first sport to introduce a whole range of scientific measures as tools in this fight. These include the haematocrit test, the EPO tests, the homologous blood transfusion test and the blood passport, which I do not need to tell you about, as you are in the front line and have been overwhelmingly supportive of these initiatives. We are aware that this extensive anti-doping program causes much inconvenience for you, and we thank you for having accepted the hassle for the greater good of cycling.
Nevertheless, when we read in the USADA dossier that Lance Armstrong and others were able to use doping throughout their careers, we have to admit that the tests provided by the scientific community were simply not adequate enough to combat the problem.
Therefore we must all continue to work to keep improving the culture in cycling through education, prevention and as far as you are concerned by making the one choice that counts. At the end of the day it is you the riders who have the ultimate say about whether our sport is clean.
Naturally, we need to do more to ensure that the UCI is as accessible as possible, and in particular to you the riders, should you wish to discuss issues or concerns relating to doping. That is why, during the coming weeks, also after a small time frame to set up the logistical side, the UCI will be looking into establishing a new open line – a confidential ‘hotline’. We will be sending more information about this once in place. I know that it will take some time to build trust and confidence in this new line of communication, but I am confident that, with the best intentions from both sides, we can build that trust. And by doing so, we will accelerate the change in culture that we need in our sport.
We are aware that some riders have complained publicly that despite having shared knowledge with the UCI, there was an inadequate follow up. I would like to take this opportunity to assure you that the UCI did act on information provided in the past and it will always do so in the future, within the bounds of what is legally feasible.
Clearly the UCI has to work within the rules and in particular in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code. At this time the rules do not allow general amnesties but the current review of the World Anti- Doping Code may provide different possibilities in the future. The rules do currently allow reduced penalties. We are aware, and doing the utmost to address your proposals/needs in the effort to do the best by our sport.
As far as repairing the reputation of our sport, I would like to add that the UCI has listened to the world’s reaction to the Lance Armstrong affair and it has taken – and will continue to take – decisive steps in response to all matters raised.
To make sure that the UCI and cycling can move forward with the confidence of all parties, we are now establishing a fully Independent Commission to look into the findings of the USADA report and make recommendations to enable the UCI to restore confidence in the sport of cycling. John Coates, the President of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS), has agreed to recommend the composition and membership of the Independent Commission. The UCI has already begun contacting the people Mr. Coates has nominated. The names of the panel members will be announced as soon as the Commission is convened. The Commission’s final report and recommendations will be published no later than 1 June 2013 – and you can be confident that the UCI will take whatever actions are deemed necessary to put cycling back on track. We are confident that the Commission will conclude that the UCI has been one of the strongest of all sporting federations in fighting doping in sport for many years.
As part of the effort to eradicate doping from our sport the UCI has made a considerable investment in education and implementation of the True Champion or Cheat program, the ‘no needle policy’, the ethical evaluation as part of teams’ registration and the modules in the Sports Directors training programme. These are all measures to achieve the necessary changes in the culture of our sport.
Finally, while the Independent Commission carries out its work, I feel it is also important that UCI works on restoring the credibility of our sport. I have decided that, during the first quarter of 2013, the UCI will set in motion a wide-ranging consultation exercise involving all cycling’s stakeholders to tackle issues of concern within the sport and work together to build a bright future for cycling.
The UCI will welcome your participation in this consultation, which will also look at how we can continue the process of globalising the sport, encourage wider participation and take measures to make the sport even more interesting for spectators.
This is not the first time cycling has reached a crossroads. Nor is it the first time it has had to engage in the painful process of confronting its past and beginning afresh. It will do so again with renewed vigour. Its stakeholders and fans can be assured that cycling will find a new path forward.
This summer in London, we saw that cycling is one of the world’s most popular sports. Its future will be defined by you the current generation of riders, who have proved that you can compete and win clean. In December, I will be meeting all first and second division teams to address the issues which will ensure a clean, anti-doping culture going forward.
Together, we can maintain cycling’s popularity and ensure its bright future.