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.”
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
In the summer of 1989, after Greg LeMond had won his second Tour de France, I received a copy of VeloNews in my mailbox, which was then the “official” publication of the United States Cycling Federation. In it there was a story about an American cyclist who went to the Junior World Championships and took off early in the race, amassing a huge lead, only to see it and him swallowed up shortly before the finish. The writer suggested that the name Lance Armstrong would be one to watch for the future.
I’ve followed Armstrong’s career since that day. I’ve written about him a fair amount, both for RKP and for other publications, and I still count my interview with him the most entertaining I’ve ever done with a professional cyclist. That said, I need to admit to you that it’s been a long time since I thought Armstrong was a clean cyclist.
Though I had read Paul Kimmage’s “Rough Ride,” I’d compartmentalized that as something true yet not terribly applicable to the pro cycling I followed and would eventually write about. As recently as 1996 I thought cycling was a pretty clean sport. Then, at a party at my home, the photographer Mike Powell, a guy who probably knows more about track and field than I know about cycling, shattered my pretty little world. He told me that doping was rife in cycling. When I doubted him, he told me how he’d learned about the doping that goes on in track and field, and how he saw all the same signs when he’d shot bike races, such as that year’s Tour. He talked about miraculous overnight recovery for riders who had been dragged from their bikes.
I began to recall stories of steroid use told to me by a friend who had been a 440 hurdler on a full ride to Alabama. He’d seen plenty of anabolic usage among denizens of the school’s athletic complex and I recalled him once saying how anabolics made athletes unnaturally lean. They had no subcutaneous fat. Sitting in my living room and listening to Mike, I suddenly flashed on my first experience being in the same room with Armstrong. It was at the opening press conference for the 1996 Tour DuPont, which I was covering for Outside. I was sitting along the middle aisle in some hotel ballroom when in walks Armstrong in cycling kit with tennis shoes. I didn’t know it was Armstrong at first, though; I was looking down at my laptop when I caught this calf out of the corner of my eye and then turned to look. It was the most perfect calf I’d ever seen. The muscles were perfectly etched. It was as if skin-colored saran wrap had been stretched across the muscle with no intervening fat to blur the muscles’ definition. At the time I’d thought there was something supernatural about his appearance; later I would amend that to unnatural.
Ah. Two plus two equals … Lance Armstrong dopes.
I wrestled with that conclusion, what it meant for me as someone who made his living writing about cycling (by this time I was working for Bicycle Guide) and how that affected my view of the sport. I figured there was only one thing I could do: No matter what I thought, if Armstrong and other riders weren’t testing positive, then they were clean enough to compete, and if they were clean enough to compete, they were clean.
To the degree that I had lingering doubts about how clean the peloton was, the 1998 Festina Scandal was Mike’s “I told ya so.” Not that he wagged a finger my way, but when the story broke, my first thought was, “Damn, he really was right. It’s everybody.” Initially, I, like many others, thought that the Festina debacle would really clean up cycling. It wouldn’t be too many years before the realists among us realized that things weren’t better, they were worse. I came to the conclusion that the UCI didn’t want clean cycling, they just wanted the appearance of clean cycling. Specifically, what the UCI needed to avoid was anything that embarrassed the sport. That meant no deaths of over-doped riders and no arrests of soigneurs ferrying portable pharmacies. Their anti-doping efforts were as vigorous as my father’s game of checkers was with me when I was a kid—he let me win a lot.
That realization—that the UCI only wanted the appearance of a clean sport—is something that I responded to in the most cynical way possible. To me, the logic was, if the UCI wasn’t really going to do the work to clean up cycling broadly, then a guy like Armstrong should find success.
I opposed the investigation into Armstrong for the simple fact that I didn’t like that one American cyclist would be torn down while so much other doping would go unpunished. Grand Tour racing remains the unlimited class and though the UCI may not have had the resources to get the job done, that’s not much of an excuse; what they have really lacked is the will, and we don’t yet know if that’s a sin the world will ever forgive.
I’ll also admit that I, like many writers, was flat-out afraid of the Armstrong machine. I’d seen the lawsuits, and while I wasn’t trying to break any stories, I didn’t want to get caught in the cross hairs.
I was critical of Greg LeMond in an open letter I wrote, not because I didn’t think he was telling the truth, but because I thought hijacking a press conference to try to grill Armstrong publicly was unseemly and beneath one of the greatest cyclists of all time. It was an event that was just a few ounces of hair gel short of becoming a Jersey Shore-style brawl. I pointed out that LeMond wasn’t part of the enforcement apparatus and then—naively—suggested he should take his conclusions to the UCI or WADA.
I’ve been critical of the USADA investigation, noting on several occasions that they were investigating doping ten years done when doping is happening right now, today. It has always struck me as a ginormous expense for an organization of limited means, Champagne on a water-fountain budget. My fear was less what would happen to Armstrong, it was how the investigation could harm cycling as a whole—for years to come. It’s safe to say we won’t see Nike in cycling again before my son is old enough to turn pro. Plenty of other companies will need even longer to come around again. I had plenty of doubts that the investigation could reveal anything that might surprise me, anything I hadn’t already guessed. There were plenty of surprises in Tyler Hamilton’s story alone.
In short, I lacked the faith necessary to see that the USADA investigation could reach beyond the Atlantic, that it could serve as the catalyst for sweeping, permanent change. On this score, I’m pleased to say I was evolution-denier wrong.
Travis Tygart, I owe you an apology. Your work has proven to be the indictment of the UCI for which I’ve been waiting a good 15 years. I was unwilling to believe that this investigation could illustrate the corruption within the UCI as clearly as it has, that we would ever see the full body of evidence collected by the federal investigation and USADA, that a “true” picture would emerge of how cycling at the top level functioned.
The USADA investigation and some of the subsequent events (such as Rabobank’s indictment of the UCI and Skins’ CEO Jaimie Fuller’s open letter to the UCI) ultimately are unlikely to lead, on their own, to the overhaul at the UCI that is necessary to restore our faith in the institution. Pat McQuaid has signaled that he will commission an independent investigation. I am suspicious of this the way I am suspicious of my son when he says he hasn’t pooped—then why does your diaper droop and the room smell? Apparently, I’m not the only one who views this with a crooked eyebrow. Brian Cookson, the president of the British Cycling Federation, has said that unless the UCI impanels a truly independent investigator, then it will lose what he called its’ “last chance to re-establish itself as a credible organization.”
I have my doubts McQuaid and company understand just how dire the situation is.
Paul Kimmage has hinted that he may file suit against the UCI, even though they have shelved their suit against him. While the UCI’s decision to back off what would almost certainly have been ruled a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) here in the U.S., backing down in the face of $85,800 in contributions (so far) to Kimmage’s defense fund suggests maybe McQuaid and Verbruggen aren’t entirely blind. The fund set up in his name must be used for legal bills, so it stands to reason that he’d go ahead and engage the fight against the UCI. This is civilized society’s version of meeting behind the gym for a bare-knuckle fight. Just because the UCI got the first lick in doesn’t mean the fight is over.
Right now the best opportunity we have to see just how corrupt the UCI has been is a lawsuit by Kimmage. Twenty years ago, had anyone suggested to me that the only way to clean up cycling right to its roots would be a lawsuit by a journalist against the sport’s governing body, I’d have laughed. I’d have said it was as unlikely as the polar ice caps melting.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
All things considered, this has to be the strangest two weeks of my cycling life. A bit over a week ago I had the worst crash I’ve ever suffered on the bike. To give you some idea how radical my impact was, the only image I can conjure to describe the experience is the Looney Tunes short in which the ACME catapult slams Wile E. Coyote into the dirt. My experience would have been just as comical had it not been, you know, me.
It takes a most unusual calculus to figure that 47 stitches is in any way a blessing, but it’s been 13 or 14 years since I was last on the deck courtesy of a road bike. Pardon me, but I kinda feel like my number was up. Not crashing for more than 10 years is its own kind of fortune. Similarly, the fact that I didn’t manage to break my jaw or any teeth, or bite through my tongue is luck on a scale that could make me as superstitious as the entire European peloton. Where’s my rabbit’s foot? Screw that, somebody get me the whole damn bunny, STAT!
But my crash came the day the USADA “Reasoned Decision” on Lance Armstrong was issued and trying to read pieces of that on my iPhone in the ER through the lens of a morphine drip was as comically black as Slim Pickens riding the nuke in “Dr. Strangelove,” just minus the glee. Again, you’ll have to pardon me, but this would be where I think the gods gave me a taste of cosmic irony.
Oh yeah bud? Mid-morning ride? You think you can afford that time away, do you? How ’bout this? WHAP!
Tess of the d’Urbervilles didn’t know how good she had it.
The hand-wringing over the derailment of the Blue Train has been enough to break fingers. The anger burning in cycling fans has hovered like a swarm of Africanized bees, swirling around, looking for its most suitable victim. Here are a few stings for the riders, a few more for the media, a couple for the sponsors who turned a blind eye to the obvious, a dozen more for the UCI. The rest can go to everyone who ever drew a paycheck from Tailwind Management. But wait, let’s save a couple for Chechu Rubiera for being more tone deaf than a whale oil lamp. Speaking to El Diario de Mallorca (link is to the Cyclingnews piece), the newspaper of record of Mallorca (yeah, Chechu, to defend your former team captain make sure to talk to the smallest newspaper possible, preferably one on an island), he said he never saw Armstrong dope. Okay, fine, maybe he didn’t—but that doesn’t do much to rebut the testimony of those who did. Weirder still, he called Michele Ferrari the best coach there is.
Well, I suppose in a way, we can all agree on that.
It’s a shame he doesn’t grasp that his defense did nothing to help Armstrong but did a marvelous job of making him (Rubiera) look like a tinfoil hat.
But that hardly counts as news compared to the fact that the UCI has attempted to distance itself from its once favorite son, Armstrong. It announced that, yes, it will ratify the USADA reasoned decision, thus stripping him of his seven Tour wins, plus every other result he gained since August 1, 1998. This is either but one important step to cleaning up the sport, or it is the sound of the other shoe dropping—in other words, the end of the progress surrounding this case. Previous episodes, such as the Festina scandal, would suggest this is as far as this episode will drive, but other events suggest this car hasn’t hit its tree just yet.
The flight of sponsors from Armstrong in just two days was to watch the inverse of the Titanic. Rather than people jumping off a ship, this was nearly a dozen ships jumping off a person. How many dollars left the bike industry that day? Think of what you could have funded with that! (I mean, aside from the world’s best doping program.) And the LA Times has weighed in now with an editorial—rather than the skewed perspective of Michael Hiltzik (and while he makes some good points, he can’t change the obvious)—that calls for Armstrong to cut all ties to his eponymous foundation, which is a severing of ties so monumental it’s a bit like suggesting all the disgraced banks abandon their office buildings on Wall St. One is synonymous with the other. Gads, he could be forced to fly coach after this.
Finally, we finally have for all to see a true one-to-one correlation between doping and sponsor departure. For years to come Google searches of “Lance Armstrong” and “sponsor” will turn up item upon item about the sponsor diaspora from the one-time marketing goldmine that was Big Tex. If anything will ever demonstrate to cycling just how seriously sponsors dislike doping, no moment is more teachable.
It’s been curious to sit back and watch the incredible flood of negative stories that are now surfacing about Armstrong. The way these stories—take this one for instance—were kept under wraps for so long and yet now are bubbling out like an over-soaped load of laundry is as wondrous as the comeback was itself. Who knew?
It’s into this maelstrom of seething, mama-grizzly rage that Skins chairman Jaimie Fuller issued his open letter to UCI president Pat McQuaid. Incredibly, going to the compression wear maker’s home page brings up Fuller’s introduction to the letter, complete with his picture, which is a fine way to really personalize the message; honestly, it’s a better touch than a signature. It’s a genius move—seriously—someone should have done before now.
Of course the week’s events can’t be as cut-and-dried as that. No, they have to be salted. Rabobank, cycling’s single most loyal sponsor, announced they are ending their sponsorship of their team following a 17-year run. Their official statement cited the USADA investigation into Armstrong and US Postal as their reason for pulling out of the sport, but of course, nothing is ever as simple as it looks. Rather than damn the athlete and his team, Rabobank official aimed a scathing attack at the UCI, writing, “The report shows that the international cycling world is flawed. Doping is supported even within the highest institutions of the cycling world.”
The UCI’s response was so off the mark that crews are working to pull its fuselage out of Lake Geneva. Rather than accept the criticism that most of the cycling world believes the organization to be corrupt they “accepted” that the sponsor was pulling out due to the organization opening disciplinary proceedings against one of its sponsored riders, Carlos Barredo, going as far as to cite, “a more recent action taken by the UCI against a rider of the team, the UCI understands the context which has led to this decision being reached.”
The UCI is the idiot husband whose wife announces she is leaving because he won’t stop cheating, to which he replies, ‘Oh, so you’re upset that I told you your haircut is ugly?’
Previously, I thought if there’s perhaps one constituency that McQuaid might respect and listen to it’s the heads of sponsoring companies. Because the UCI has yet to listen to the riders, the team directors or the fans, it was either natural or naive to think maybe they’ll listen to sponsors. Now we know. Fuller’s grenade over the transom is a great move, a parental, “Get your room cleaned up or there will be no more allowance.” But based on their response to Rabobank I think what the UCI really needs is that ACME catapult, something to knock some sense into them.
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.
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.
When Paul Kimmage’s book “Rough Ride” came out in 1991 the story he told was one that not many people wanted to hear. It was a reality of cycling to which many of us were unaware. Indeed, many of us would have preferred to keep it that way. The story he wove was one few were clamoring to hear, one that contained truths many of us had never guessed, truths that were at odds with what we believed cycling was at minimum, what cycling should be at worst.
When Kimmage was ostracized from most of the cycling world, few who had taken the time to read the book could have been surprised. Not only was his story a shocking one, it was bitter and left little room for nuanced responses. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could have danced a diplomatic waltz that backed him up while not simultaneously giving the finger to the entire peloton. He was in a no-win situation, one that has sealed his fate as less a journalist than an antagonist because his work so rarely contains anything approaching compassion. Journalists live and die by friends; you may call them contacts or sources, but to those who ply the trade, one always thinks of making friends.
“Rough Ride” could be summed up as the first survey of an iceberg. Like those early Lewis and Clark maps that look familiar but clearly lack the precise reflection of satellite photographs, Kimmage came to us and announced that most of the iceberg was underwater, that there was—incredibly—twice the ice below the waterline as above it. His was as fantastic a tale as we’d heard.
Yet his was a necessary initial step. First into the breach. Without him leading the charge, shattering myths, we’d think of Tyler Hamilton’s and Daniel Coyle’s “The Secret Race” (Bantam, $28) as one elaborate delusion. But Hamilton and Coyle have undertaken as specific a survey of an iceberg as we’ve seen. This is National Geographic: photos, measurements, months spent in sea ice. It’s one thing to claim a two-bit domestique is full of shit; harder to do when it’s someone who reached the top.
That the book is meticulously researched is unsurprising, at least to me. I’ve been reading (and respecting) Coyle’s work since I first read him in Outside Magazine in the 1990s. His work thorough, his storytelling perfectly paced—efficient and brief when necessary, while rich and layered when things get heavy. If Jeff Novitzky and Travis Tygart are storming the bastille, Hamilton has taken Coyle in the back entrance, showed him where everything is kept: sleeping quarters here, provisions here, armory and magazine there.
While the book is as compelling a read as can be found in cycling, one must embark with a taste for tragedy. I was reminded of William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” and Annie Proulx’s “The Shipping News.”
Of course, many readers will find exactly what they seek. People who believe that dopers should be chased from the sport with pitchforks will find the yard-sale of Hamilton’s personal life satisfying rather than heart-rending. Lance’s would-be lynch mob will find even more reason to want him eviscerated as publicly as possible. Those who don’t like Armstrong are unlikely to wince at Hamilton’s most compassionate insights into him, his motivations. Armstrong’s still legions of fans are unlikely to read the book, which will make for an unfortunate miss in potential sales, and even bigger miss in dispensing reality.
Hamilton and Coyle perceptively call out the incident that ultimately leads to the investigation culminating in Armstrong’s downfall. It is, of course, Floyd Landis’ email to USA Cycling, the confession that was called everything short of J.R.R. Tolkein’s greatest fantasy. They point out how the entire investigation would never have taken place had Armstrong possessed the charity to give Landis a spot on his team. Simply mend a fence.
However, I think the more telling event took place a few years before, an event few of us could ever have guessed. The scrutiny that resulted in Hamilton’s positive tests that destroyed his career came as a result of a tip, a tip allegedly given to the UCI by Armstrong. One can infer that no length was too great in Armstrong’s mind, no effort too outlandish, not when defeating an opponent was at stake. For me, that felt like a real turning point for Armstrong, a selling out of the omerta in the most cynical way possible.
This book weighs on me. It has infected my dreams, putting me in rooms with Hamilton and Armstrong, their sponsors, causing bicycles to float through my nights, and resulting in mornings that lack the refreshed satisfaction of a night’s rest. The question on my mind is that after cycling is burned down in the United States, what, if anything, will come in Europe. Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid have been less leaders than shopkeepers. They are the competent employees left to mind the store while the owner runs to the bank. The problem: There’s no owner. No one has taken responsibility for the mess the sport is in and perhaps the one thing everyone can agree upon is that the UCI has done a terrible job of governing. McQuaid can’t be trusted to get the reform accomplished that cycling desperately needs if only for a simple reason—it’s virtually impossible to amputate yourself.
Hamilton cheated and lied about cheating. He sinned against cycling. There’s no getting around that. But in as much as anyone can ever repent a sin, “The Secret Race” makes amends by taking responsibility for his part and giving up everything he knows. He’s done his time, served his sentence. As a culture we profess to stand against cruel and unusual punishment. I can’t say I believe the punishment fit the crime, not when you consider the way we punish violent crimes, white-collar crimes.
Hamilton has done more to expose cycling’s flaws than all the anti-doping crusaders combined. From the way the book closes, it sounds like he wants little to do with cycling other than his coaching business and something in that makes my heart ache for him. He is our Prodigal Son. I’d like to think that he’s got more to contribute to this sport, something positive. If I had an olive branch—a job—I’d extend it; somehow “thanks” and “I’m sorry for your loss” don’t seem enough. This may be the most important book ever written on cycling.
Last week, in different cities hundreds of miles apart, I saw, quite by chance, two cyclists who personify the quandary posed to cycling by celebrity racers who some see as heroes, others as cheats. Each of those cyclists sported a natty pirate’s goatee and bandana above a uniform that resembled the Mercatone Uno team kit of the late Marco Pantani. One of my sightings was in Philadelphia, the other in Boulder, and because I was driving a car in traffic I couldn’t stop to ask those riders what they thought about Pantani.
This past weekend, a famous pro cyclist who was thrown out of the 2007 Tour de France for blood doping, retired from cycling in glorious style. The principality of Monaco honored one of its residents, 2012 Olympic gold medalist Alexander Vinokourov, with the final race of his career on a circuit along Monte Carlo’s waterfront, next to the luxury yachts of billionaires. Among those who came to the party was the sport’s greatest racer, Eddy Merckx, along with men who admitted doping, including Jan Ullrich and Richard Virenque.
Regarding the two Pantani look-alikes, the chances are they regard the 1998 Tour de France and Giro d’Italia champ as one of the greatest climbers the sport has ever produced, and not as the rider who lost a Giro he was winning because his blood tested above the 50-percent-hematocrit level, or the sad drug addict who died at age 34 from a cocaine overdose.
At the farewell race in Monaco on Sunday were several current pros regarded as leaders in the anti-doping movement: world champion Philippe Gilbert of BMC Racing, Chris Froome of Team Sky and Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale. On Monday, Gilbert tweeted a photo of himself standing next to the man of the day and one of his sons, with the caption, “The last race of Vino yesterday! Great champion!”
In Italy, Pantani is revered as one of his country’s greatest riders, despite the suspicions that he used EPO to notch his grand tour victories and break course records on climbs such as L’Alpe d’Huez. His name is still etched in stone as the winner of the Giro and Tour; a major Italian pro race is named after him; Pantani memorials dot the countryside; and the Giro organizers regularly honor him with special awards on famous climbs such as the Mortirolo. But on this side of the Atlantic, Pantani is mostly regarded as a cheat.
In Kazakhstan, despite that 2007 blood-doping positive, Vinokourov is revered as a national hero, the country’s only Olympic gold medalist in a mainstream sport. On multi-story buildings in the capital city, Astana, giant murals of Vino adorn the walls, and he’ll remain popular as he converts from rider to manager of Team Astana. Clearly, no one in Kazakhstan, and, it seems, quite a few pro racers, consider Vino’s racing legacy a tainted one.
Even though it seems the Europeans have their heads in the sand when it comes to doping, that’s not the case in the U.S. Neither Vino nor Pantani is considered a hero here (except perhaps by those Il Pirata fanatics!), but we have to wait and see how the public eventually views the generation of American riders who raced alongside Pantani and Vinokourov in the 1990s and 2000s.
Some of them have already said they used banned drugs or blood-doped (including Frankie Andreu, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis and Jonathan Vaughters), others have been outed by a former teammate (including Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie), USADA has suspended Lance Armstrong for life and nullified all his Tour victories (though the Texan continues to deny ever using performance-enhancing drugs), while others are likely to be prominent as involved witnesses (including George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer and Kevin Livingston) in USADA’s upcoming report into the alleged doping conspiracy at the former U.S. Postal Service team.
USADA says the revelations in its report will be devastating, and will knock American cycling sideways. But in essence it’s very little different, or even similar, to what has happened in other countries. Over the past 20 years, most cycling nations have had to cope with doping scandals that involved their leading teams or star riders.
Chronologically, the Dutch had to cope with their all-star PDM team getting sick (with later evidence of EPO being used) and dropping out of a Tour de France it was hoping to win; the French were demoralized by the organized doping uncovered in two of their top teams, first Festina and then Cofidis; the Spanish were hit by blood-doping revelations at their favorite squads, Kelme and Liberty Seguros (formerly ONCE), at the time of the Operación Puerto police bust; the Danes were shocked by the Puerto shockwaves that hit their Team CSC; the Germans were even more scandalized by the admissions of doping from most of their Deutsche Telekom stars; and the Swiss had to witness the dissolution of their all-conquering Team Phonak because of repeated doping positives.
I haven’t yet mentioned the Belgians and Italians in this brief overview because countless riders and teams from those countries have either been the subject of police drug investigations or connected with alleged doping doctors. It’s well know that the Italians were the first to experiment with EPO, as early as the late-1980s, but cycling fans (including the stalwart Pantani supporters) are as enthusiastic about cycling as they have ever been, while doping offenders such as Ivan Basso remain as popular now as they were before being suspended. And the crowds in Belgium at the spring classics are just as thick now as they were before their (still) icons Johan Museeuw and Frank Vandenbroucke were busted for doping.
Common features in revealing the organized doping in those eight European countries were initial police involvement (Festina Affair, Operación Puerto, Italy and Belgium investigations), and tell-all books by team personnel (Willy Voet of Festina, Jef d’Hondt of Telekom). Only after those developments did the media pick up on the stories and get athletes to talk—as with the series of articles in Germany’s Der Spiegel that resulted in Telekom team members Rolf Aldag, Bert Dietz, Christian Henn, Brian Holm, Bjarne Riis and Erik Zabel all admitting to EPO use.
Other common features of those European doping affairs were the lack of in-depth investigations into those teams by anti-doping agencies, no retroactive suspensions (most of the above names are still working in cycling), and virtually no stigma attached to their doping offenses. That’s in contrast to what has happened, or appears to be happening, in the U.S.
Yes, there are similarities with Europe, with frequent media allegations of doping against Armstrong and his Postal squad (many of the pieces based on the extensive investigative reporting work of Irish journalists David Walsh and Paul Kimmage), admissions of doping by certain riders, and more extensive confessions from Hamilton and Landis (but only after they’d spent fortunes on failed appeals against their doping suspensions in 2004 and 2006 respectively). But what’s different has been the repeated legal cases that have revolved around the alleged doping by Armstrong and Team Postal.
In 2004, there was the arbitration hearing demanded by Armstrong’s lawyers after SCA Promotions failed to pay a $5 million bonus predicated on his winning a sixth consecutive Tour. That case was eventually settled out of court, with SCA paying the bonus plus $2.5 million in interest, costs and attorney fees. Then came the two-year federal fraud investigation into the Postal team, led by the FDA lawyer Jeff Novitzky, that was suddenly abandoned this past February. The USADA investigation, which took up the threads of the FDA work, is different because, as far as I can recall, a national anti-doping agency has never done anything on a similar scale—perhaps because most such agencies don’t have the funding or resources to contemplate such work.
The details of the USADA report are likely to start being known after it’s sent to the World Anti-Doping Agency and the UCI by next week, but for now most of the subjects in that investigation continue their cycling careers (as riders, coaches, team officials or race organizers), while Armstrong continues to deny doping despite the verdict handed down by USADA.
One question remaining is whether American fans will react to the eventual “devastating” details in the USADA report in the same way the Europeans have reacted to the doping sins of their (remaining) heroes. If the British are as close as we can expect to get as an example, then the negative reactions to any more doping revelations could be limited. I was watching the recent Tour of Britain on line when the highly respected British commentator David Harmon of Eurosport said: “Good to see Ivan Basso here—one of the really big superstars.”
If he were still alive and racing, Pantani would likely have elicited the same designation.
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Early in the 19th Century the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge—famed for his poem Kubla Khan and laudanum—coined the term “suspension of disbelief.” It was his way of codifying the belief that a fantastic story if “infused with human interest and a semblance of truth” could be made believable. It’s what we did to our parents in high school when we lied about our whereabouts. We used the names of friends and familiar locations, places that we frequented in an effort to throw them off the scent. For me, it worked until some time in my senior year.
If my opening paragraph isn’t sufficiently obscure, give me a second. I’m now going to pull in T.S. Eliot, who coined the term “objective correlative” early in the last century. It is an image that explicitly defines something that can otherwise be difficult to describe. To that end, I submit the image above from the film “Blade Runner.” Whether you like science fiction or not, the work has widely been hailed as the finest sci-fi film ever committed to celluloid. And for reasons that may never be fully plumbed, it achieves that element crucial to all science fiction: suspension of disbelief. We don’t question that there are androids, that it never seems to stop raining or that the 21st Century’s version of the car flies, as shown above.
Let’s consider the alternative. Above is a still from the Disney film “John Carter,” arguably one of the biggest flops of this year. Post-mortems on the film have decried the wooden acting, the Swiss-cheese script and the hyperbolic special effects. I can’t say what killed the film, but I know what killed it for me. I had been excited to see the Edgar Rice Burroughs masterpiece made into a film, but was dismayed the moment I saw the first trailer and it was precisely because of John Carter’s ginormous jump contained with said trailer. I recall commenting to my wife, “Okay, I’m out.”
It was that whole suspension of disbelief thing. “John Carter” takes place on Mars and has loads of jumping in it; it’s a thing, as they say, and over there (Mars, that is) to jump is to sak. The problem is that seconds into the trailer comes this jump that looks like Evel Knievel sans motorcycle and, well, it just looks silly. So I didn’t go see it. (As a complete aside, there’s a pretty fascinating discussion of bigger-than-life jumping in the movies in a piece published on Slate, though I think it gets the conclusion exactly wrong, in part because of the dismal box-office take of “John Carter.”)
Suspension of disbelief is crucial not just to science fiction, it’s crucial to all story telling. Imagine if you didn’t think that women really talk to each other and hang out as portrayed in “Sex and the City.” Apparently lots of people believe there are women exactly like them—and why shouldn’t they?
So when Philippe Gilbert stormed to victory at the World Championship Road Race on Sunday, if you’re anything like me you felt relief, the relief of seeing a longstanding omission—the absence of Philippe Gilbert from the podium—finally corrected, and along with it you felt elation, that Dopamine spark of joy at seeing a rider you like spank the field. Gilbert is a rider whose style I like and—more importantly—whose riding I’ve been hoping is clean. But that’s a problem; for suspension of disbelief to work you have to be all-in. The moment you even ask the question about whether or not what you’re seeing or reading is real, the illusion has been busted—metaphorically and literally.
I actively want to believe that a clean rider beat a field that was partially or maybe even mostly clean. Actually, it doesn’t matter just how clean the rest of the field is, so long as Gilbert was clean. That’s the key. In winning, cycling is as clean as the winner.
Which is why I hated the Olympic Road Race outcome with a passion that I (otherwise) reserve for child molesters. Alexander Vinokourov is part of that generation of riders, guys whose knowledge of the sport is so predicated on medical assistance that I suspect they have ceased to believe they can achieve anything remotely like their doped form through clean methods. It’s a kind of worst-case-scenario for institutional memory, dysfunction that persists simply because all other ways have been forgotten. Clearly, Vinokourov’s statements following his suspension and his refusal to talk about his “dark page” and his inability to understand what this issue was when he decried that he had only engaged in the training methods used by everyone else have shown him to be a rider that cycling can do without. Seeing him win the gold medal was a moment that didn’t fill me with the slightest bit of elation. The question I asked myself was, “What are the chances that he’s clean?”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the big problem. But here’s the thing: It’s not Vino’s fault. And that I’m asking questions about guys like Gilbert and Bradley Wiggins isn’t their fault, either. The problem lies with the UCI. I have observed in other pieces that the UCI has long been a status-quo organization. Until recently, they really only ever made efforts to change the sport after colossal embarrassments. And defining those embarrassments is easy; they are any time the sport makes international headlines for a reason not connected with a win. Tom Simpson dies during the Tour de France. International headlines. Bad for business, need drug tests. A few Dutch cyclists die in their sleep because of a little-known drug that turned their blood to pudding. Not even national news? Whew; stay the course. Olympic gold medalist Fabio Casartelli dies after hitting his head in a crash. International headlines complete with color footage. Bad for business; need helmet rule. A soigneur with enough doping products to start a pharmacy is stopped at the border. More international headlines. And now, the biggest name in cycling in the last 30 years has been shown to be playing the game, well, the way it’s played.
Bad for business? Yeah, ya think?
Whether or not the allegations that the UCI covered up positives by Armstrong are true, it doesn’t matter. There is plenty of damning evidence that they only ever acted enough to maintain the appearance of a clean sport. Had they truly been serious about cleaning up the sport they would have gotten serious about testing for EPO in the wake of the death of Bert Oosterbosch, the first of those Dutch cyclists to die in their sleep. They wouldn’t have waited years and years to come up with the half-assed solution of testing hematocrit levels. No, had they been serious, they would have begun investigating a test for EPO before Greg LeMond retired.
But let’s take a moment to consider the situation the UCI was in. Hein Verbruggen had inherited the mantle of a sport that had been doped since the first running of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Up until the 1990s, an approach of making the sport clean enough that no one was dying had more or less worked. If there is one sin for which we should forgive him, it is that he believed he should stay the course, that staying the course was the best approach. What he didn’t anticipate was American society. What he didn’t anticipate was a world where you’re either a saint or a sinner, but never both. What he didn’t anticipate was the perfect storm of Lance Armstrong, Macchiavellian doping and ambitious American investigators.
Verbruggen’s sin, and now by extension Pat McQuaid’s, is that he claims that the sport is clean, the UCI did all it could, all it needed to, that no more could have been done than was. Which is just crazy talk. The first lesson you learn as a bike racer is that just because you won a bike race you should never, ever think that means you are the fastest guy on a bike.
And so I submit to you the de facto evidence that the UCI has not done enough: Every time someone wins a big bike race our response is not to celebrate; rather it is to wonder, to ask the question, “Was that athlete clean?” Why was Bradley Wiggins asked about his training methods at the Tour de France? Simple, because he was wearing the yellow jersey.
We have lost the suspension of disbelief. And given how hard most of us want to believe, how much we love the sport, the heartache is more than some of us can bear.
Mr. McQuaid, Mr. Verbruggen, you haven’t done enough. Not by a long shot, and if you think that suing Paul Kimmage is the answer, then you, sirs, are unfit for your respective offices.
You’re not kings and shooting the messenger is no longer a viable option. The peasantry has risen up and we will defend him.
We’ve asked you for a clean sport. You can’t seem to manage the task. And now the talk is of starting a new federation, one that understands the stakes of the game, the will of the fans. Stay tuned.
Images: Warner Bros. Pictures, Disney Pictures, Fotoreporter Sirotti
Thank you for doing the Live Update Guy during the Vuelta a España. I followed several stages with you when I had no television access, and found your coverage very enjoyable.
I have followed cycle racing since Greg LeMond raced the Tour, which also means that I’ve had to follow a lot of doping scandals, as well.
One thing that has bothered me has been the disregard of due process for the athletes involved and lack of rigorous scientific methods in the testing and identification of performance enhancing drugs carried out by WADA, and the national ADA’s.
It is very apparent to me in the Lance Armstrong case. No evidence has been presented by USADA, and statements from them lead me to believe that the evidence is under court seal of the grand jury investigation.
My question is what consequences are there for releasing evidence under court seal or the use of it in a court proceeding. I seem to recall that journalists have been jailed for publishing leaked grand jury testimony. I wouldn’t be surprised if this comes up soon.
First, thank you for your kind words regarding the Live Update Guy coverage of the Vuelta this year. We – Patrick O’Grady and I – had a lot of fun and I am surprised that 1) I was able to do all three grand tours and my day job without my head exploding at some point along the way and 2) that the response was generally positive and folks kept coming back to check in. We’ll see if we can do the same next year. No promises yet, though.
Let’s start with your assertion that USADA has demonstrated a disregard for due process rights in its treatment of athletes alleged to have doped. The World Anti-Doping Code has specific procedure outlined as to how an athlete is to be charged, what burden of proof is required to make a charge stick and how that athlete may defend himself or herself against those charges. That includes the option to appeal the original ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
In other words, the Code has within its rules the classic definition of procedural due process: “A course of formal proceedings carried out regularly and in accordance with established rules and principles.”
No, these are not the same as those afforded a criminal defendant charged in the United States. We’re looking at a set of rules designed to enforce a private agreement between parties – namely you get a license to race and you have to agree to follow the rules – and, frankly, they are rather extensive when you compare them to the procedural options available to others in similar situations.
Armstrong raised those very due process concerns in a federal lawsuit, filed in the Western District of Texas. In his suit, Armstrong asserted that USADA lacked jurisdiction and that the entire arbitration process violated his constitutional due process rights.
In dismissing the suit, Federal Judge Sam Sparks disagreed and said that USADA’s procedures and “arbitration rules, which largely follow those of the American Arbitration Association, are sufficiently robust to satisfy the requirements of due process. This court declines to assume either the pool of potential arbitrators, or the ultimate arbitral panel itself, will be unwilling or unable to render a conscientious decision based on the evidence before it. Further, Armstrong has ample appellate avenues open to him.”
The Olympic sports world’s final arbiter of disputes is the International Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. There are 25 years’ worth of case law to review since CAS issued its first decision in 1987. As Sparks noted, there are “robust” means by which an initial decision is subject to review. History shows that most national federations’ initial rulings are upheld at CAS, but there are some noteworthy exceptions. Most recently, CAS overturned the life-time ban of Mohamed bin Hammam, noting that soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, had presented insufficient evidence to support claims that he had bribed NGB officials in his bid to become president of the organization.
In cycling, the case of Iñigo Landaluze is worthy of note. Landaluze won the 2005 Dauphiné Libéré, but was suspended after lab results showed an elevated testosterone/epitesterone level in his urine. Despite concluding that Landaluze “probably” committed a doping violation, CAS over-turned his suspension based on the UCI’s failure to meet its burden of proof in the case, by ignoring a series of lab errors that occurred during testing. Of course, WADA subsequently opened itself up to harsh – and quite justified – criticism when it revised the WADA Code to preclude further challenges based on the legal theory used by Landaluze’s attorneys. (Landaluze, by the way, was later suspended again after testing positive for CERA.)
Of course, governing bodies and doping, too, have the option to appeal national federations’ decisions with which they don’t agree. The Contador case is a good example of that.
Whether he’s sick of the fight, or just not willing to lose it, Armstrong opted to forego those procedural steps and simply walked away, declaring the whole process to be flawed and inherently biased against him. That was his choice.
He raises an interesting question or two, though.
For one thing, it may be time to clarify USADA’s role. It has long claimed that it’s not a “state actor” (the police, for example, are state actors, working under the authority of the government), although a significant portion of its funding comes from public sources and much of its authority through both U.S. statute and international treaty. Were it to be defined as a state actor, in essence a law-enforcement agency, USADA would be subject to a much stricter constitutional requirements. I personally don’t believe that an agency enforcing what are essentially private contract provisions (you can ride, but you can’t cheat) qualifies as a state actor, but it would interesting to see how the courts take on that question. They may, however, be reluctant to get involved.
Sparks certainly felt it inappropriate to involve the courts in a dispute involving sports’ governing bodies and athletes. Sparks turned to another famous case, Harding v. U.S. Figure Skating Association, quoting that “courts should rightly hesitate before intervening in disciplinary hearings held by private associations. . . . Intervention is appropriate only in the most extraordinary circumstances, where the association has clearly breached its own rules, that breach will imminently result in serious and irreparable harm to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff has exhausted all internal remedies.” (My emphasis added. – CP)
Obviously, in choosing to walk away from the fight, Armstrong won’t come close to having “exhausted all internal remedies,” so if the courts ever do tackle the question, it’s unlikely to be because of the Armstrong case.
For his part, Sparks did raise some constitutional concerns based on what he characterized as deficiencies in USADA’s original charging document. Sparks noted that the June 12 letter wouldn’t meet the requirements of a charging document issued in a criminal case because it wasn’t detailed enough. In other words, like you, Sparks noted that USADA didn’t include enough detail about its evidence to allow Armstrong to prepare an adequate defense.
“Indeed, but for two facts, the court might be inclined to find USADA’s charging letter was a violation of due process and to enjoin USADA from proceeding thereunder,” he said. “First, it would likely be of no practical effect: USADA could easily issue a more detailed charging letter, at which point Armstrong would presumably once again file suit, and the parties would be back in this exact position some time later, only poorer for their legal fees. Second, and more important, USADA’s counsel represented to the court that Armstrong will, in fact, receive detailed disclosures regarding USADA’s claims against him at a time reasonably before arbitration.”
Had Armstrong decided to put up a fight and USADA not provided sufficient pre-hearing discovery, Sparks said he could easily re-open the case and “USADA is unlikely to appreciate the result.”
But Armstrong’s options on that front, too, evaporated when he chose not to take the case to arbitration. Tygart has, on more than one occasion, suggested that it’s because Armstrong already knew of the strength of the case against him and didn’t want it made public. But it very likely will make its way into the public sphere. Tygart says there is nothing in the rules to prevent that.
Grand jury secrecy
But what is USADA going to release when it does make some or all of that evidence public?
You are correct in noting that the disclosure of matters occurring before a grand jury is generally barred by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, specifically Rule 6(e). The rule prohibits grand jurors and staff – court reporters, interpreters and government attorneys – from revealing the nature of testimony and evidence presented to a grand jury.
There are exceptions, chief of which is that witnesses are not barred from publicly discussing their testimony. In the Armstrong case, the best example of that, of course, is Tyler Hamilton’s interview with “60 Minutes” and his recent release of “The Secret Race.”
The other big exceptions include the sharing of information with other grand juries, other attorneys for the government in their efforts to enforce federal laws and, by petition, “any other person whom the court may designate.”
That petition process may have been what USADA CEO Travis Tygart may have been considering when he issued the following statement on the day the Armstrong grand jury shut down its investigation.
“Unlike the U.S. Attorney, USADA’s job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws,” Tygart said. “Our investigation into doping in the sport of cycling is continuing and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation.”
There is no indication at this point that Tygart and USADA have gained access to the evidence presented to the Armstrong grand jury. That’s not to say that Tygart has operated in complete isolation from the grand jury or those investigating the case. You might, for example, recall that in November of 2010 Tygart, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Agent Jeff Novitzky, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Miller, were spotted in Lyon, France, apparently meeting with investigators at Interpol.
Tygart was at least peripherally involved in the Armstrong investigation. He may have been able to convince Miller and other prosecutors that they should include a requirement to cooperate with USADA whenever offering any immunity deals to athletes in exchange for their grand jury testimony.
Tygart has, however, managed to gain access to evidence and documents presented to at least one other grand jury in the past. In the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) case, Tygart enlisted the help of Senate Commerce Committee chairman, John McCain, to do so. The Senate committee, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Olympic Committee, subpoenaed BALCO documents under the Rule 6 exceptions and then shared that information with USADA.
Positives from outside the laboratory
But even absent access to grand jury case, USADA says it has substantial evidence to support the claims outlined in the original charging document sent to Armstrong, Johann Bruyneel and four other respondents on June 12, 2012.
The bulk of that evidence, according to USADA, is based on witness testimony. You might note in the charging document, that in virtually every one of the evidentiary summaries, USADA uses the phrase “numerous riders will testify ….”
Early on in the letter, Tygart notes that “with the exception of Mr. Armstrong, every other rider contacted by USADA regarding doping in cycling agreed to meet with USADA and to truthfully and fully describe their involvement in doping and all doping by others of which they were aware.”
Tygart has declined to release the names of those riders who testified, but we can pretty much put together a preliminary list based solely on media reports. Obviously, Hamilton and Floyd Landis have offered testimony. It was, after all, Landis’ revelations that triggered the grand jury investigation in the first place. Others reported – although not confirmed – to have offered testimony include former Postal riders, Frankie Andreu, Jonathan Vaughters, Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and George Hincapie.
USADA has implied that there are more. What USADA has built is a largely non-analytical case, meaning that most of the evidence is based on things other than lab results. Yeah, we’ve all heard that Armstrong was “the most tested athlete in the world,” (a title that, quite unfortunately, Marion Jones once proudly claimed for herself), but the absence of a positive isn’t proof that didn’t occur. I, for example, haven’t received a speeding ticket since 2005. That’s not necessarily proof that I haven’t driven faster than 75mph on I-80 in the intervening seven years.
There is, according to the charging document, some medical evidence that would have been presented had this case gone to a hearing. USADA seemed prepared to raise the specter of those six Armstrong urine samples from the 1999 Tour de France, which subsequently showed signs of being positive for EPO. These were among a number of samples retested in 2005. Because the urine tested was composed solely of “B samples” (because the A samples had been destroyed when they were tested for other substances in 1999), they couldn’t be used to support an allegation of doping on their own. The question that would have come up, had Armstrong chosen to fight the case, was whether those results could have been used to support a largely non-analytical case.
My bet is that the Armstrong legal team would have successfully kept the 1999 EPO results from being admitted into evidence. There were enough chain-of-custody issues raised about those samples in 2005 to make it quite tough to use their results now. However, would the successful suppression of that evidence have made a difference? Probably not with that much witness testimony and other evidence available for the arbitration panel to consider.
Lab results are not the only way to prove a case of doping. Certainly, they are among the most direct means available to anti-doping agencies, but they are not the only means by which one can prove a case. Indeed, to support the aggravating circumstances surrounding the Armstrong charges – namely, trafficking, assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting and covering up – a charging party would have to produce much more than lab results to show it. That would almost invariably have to include the testimony of witnesses and USADA says it has many of those. Add to that USADA’s claim that it has Biological Passport evidence from 2009 and, if they have what they say they have, the agency has a pretty solid case.
Know when to fold ‘em
At this point, it’s moot. Armstrong, for whatever reason, has decided not to contest the charges. He may have been holding out hope that the UCI would challenge USADA’s authority to impose the sanctions it did, but from all indications the world governing body is not planning to do that … and the clock is ticking down on that option in a few days.
The UCI has asked USADA to provide it with all of its evidence and sources say that the entire case file has been presented to officials at the agency and, to quote, “it’s overwhelming.”
Amid allegations that Armstrong sought, and received, special treatment from the UCI on at least one occasion (the 1999 Tour de France positive for corticosteroids), the world governing body may just sit back and hope the whole thing goes away.
Overwhelming or not, if the evidence remains unchallenged it has the net effect of leading one to the inevitable conclusion that Lance Armstrong was a doper. Not challenging it, however, will not keep that evidence out of the public sphere.
If former Postal team manager Johan Bruyneel follows through with his plan to challenge the case, a lot of the evidence will come to light. Indeed, even if he doesn’t, USADA isn’t obligated to keep its evidence secret once the full adjudication process in the six cases is complete. They can – and quite likely will – release information, if for no other reason than to counter claims that the case was fundamentally flawed.
And, quite frankly, it should come out. Armstrong built his very public reputation on a compelling story line. If that story is based on an ongoing pattern of fraud and deception, the revelation of that fraud should be just as public.
I, for one, look forward to seeing the evidence in detail. Maybe at that point, we can all sit down, review the evidence to our own satisfaction, reach a conclusion and then finally move-the-@#$*-on.
Isn’t about time we put the whole sordid chapter behind us?
P.S. – Let’s get this column on track with topics other than doping, okay? Feel free to send your questions and comments to Charles@Pelkey.com. I’ll do my best to answer your question … or try to hunt down someone who can. – Charles
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.