What now passes for the “they” and “them” that comprises the broad opinion of the world—that indeterminate body of the Interwebs and blogosphere—has belched up a new opinion about pro cycling: A Truth and Reconciliation Commission will never happen, that it’s not possible.
Let’s unbox that one a bit: The truth is not possible.
This opinion has been presented by cynical friends, by an occasional contributor to RKP, even by none other than Lance Armstrong. The popular reason has usually been that Pat McQuaid stood in the way, like nuclear waste.
Nah, dude, I don’t need it that bad.
Oh, but that may no longer be the problem it once was. Thanks to a not “vocal minority” that showed up to Cycling Ireland’s recent Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM), Pat McQuaid has failed to secure a third nomination to the office of president of the UCI. It’s little wonder that McQuaid thought he had the nomination sewn up initially. While the vote (91 against vs. 74 for) seems on the surface to be fairly close, what emerged in the aftermath of the meeting is that Cycling Ireland’s board members (almost uniformly cronies of McQuaid) had the ability to exercise two votes each. That’s as shitty an old-b0y network as I’ve encountered.
There’s no telling if this outcome will domino his potential nomination by the Swiss federation, but in a truly democratic process he wouldn’t have such an opportunity. Hopefully, the Swiss will heed the cry of the outraged mob and will distance themselves from the real blight behind our doping problem.
The irony here is that just as it seems like we may have the chance to throw off the McShackles, the new scenario proffered by the naysayers is the threat of prosecution for any rider who confesses. Neverminding the fact that Spanish cyclists have hitherto been lionized for winning, no matter the method, pointing out the reasons why a TRC can’t work is a bit like peeing on your own feet before walking in a New York subway restroom, which as a category are some of the foulest places I’ve ever been, but that’s no reason to decide that urine-soaked feet are so inevitable that you take matters in your own hands.
As cyclists who profess to love this sport I think we—each of us—have an obligation to spread good ideas when we hear them. I believe that Pat McQuaid would have cruised to a third nomination were it not for the worldwide outcry against his leadership. The Irish (God bless their souls) heard us and joined the chorus. One CI board member noted that the vote was largely split along generational lines, with younger cyclists voicing their opposition against McQuaid. It should be little wonder then that Stephen Roche came out in favor of the current UCI pressdent. Lest we forget, Roche was one of Paul Kimmage’s most vocal critics when Rough Ride was first published. Kimmage was frequently called a traitor to the sport. History has finally proven that it was Roche, not Kimmage, who betrayed the ideals that the public had been led to believe were how their favorite pros lived and trained. Let’s not forget two things about Roche’s past: He threatened to sue Kimmage (though he never did) and he was proven by Italian courts to have taken EPO while working with Francesco Conconi.
So while we may manage to remove McQuaid from his office in Aigle, we are unlikely to be completely rid of him; he’s likely to return to race promotion. If we get lucky, potential sponsors may shy from him they way they shy from some teams currently. It would be a fitting outcome.
Brian Cookson may provide a fresh direction for the UCI, should he be elected as the next president. However, it would be somewhat ironic to have him run unopposed if the Swiss federation pass on nominating McQuaid. It would be helpful to have an actual election in which at least two candidates face off for the simple reason that the competition would force each candidate to sharpen their thoughts. I’ve heard plenty of snarky responses in response to the interview we ran with Cookson. I’ll defend the interview in as much as I think we needed to start to get to know Cookson, and find out about his background. I wasn’t terribly surprised that most of his answers were somewhat canned; I suspect we’ll hear greater depth once he has finished composing his manifesto. I think he would do well to note the snarks out there; the cycling world is too angry about how things have gone to simply rubber stamp him into the next presidency.
No matter what happens with the election, we will need to make our voices heard about what we expect for the depth and pace of reform.
While the prosecutorial and jurisdictional concerns make it seem like a TRC is unworkable, the fact is that WADA could conceivably cut agreements with agencies in the largest cycling countries. Honestly, there aren’t that many governments at stake. Agreements with just a dozen countries—France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, the U.K., the U.S., Australia and Canada—would cover more than 95% of the current road pros. Immunity from prosecution isn’t the biggest hurdle we face. The bigger problem is backlash from sponsors and fans. Even if team management negotiated contract clauses that excepted riders from confessions made as part of a TRC, that’s not to say the sponsor couldn’t just not renew the contract once it expires. And the fans. The fans.
Recent history has shown that cycling fans (cue the Jack Nicholson clip) “can’t handle the truth.” Prior to the nosing around of Jeff Novitzky and Travis Tygart, George Hincapie was one of the most beloved American riders there was. Even as Lance Armstrong’s star began to fall, the cycling public continued to dote on Hincapie. Most of us were still able to main an uneasy fandom even as the allegations surfaced. What’s been most interesting to my eye is the backlash that ensued against Hincapie and his co-confessors, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie and Tom Danielson. Two years ago these riders were beloved, even if Hincapie’s Pla d’Adet development in suburban Greenville hadn’t panned out. If you doubt that, all you need to do is check out a Youtube clip of Hincapie from relatively recent history, such as this one (just fast foward to about 7:45 for the desired effect). Given the backlash against his revelation, one wonders how his B&B will fare.
The message we’re sending is pretty clear: Don’t confess so we can still pretend you’re clean so we can still like you. The term for this is dysfunction. Such pretending is going to be much harder in the wake of a report just issued by the Dutch Anti-Doping Commission. The commission interviewed a number of riders active during the period the Armstrong dominated the Tour de France. Their conclusion was that a conservative estimate suggests 80 percent of all Dutch cyclists were using EPO, though it’s possible that percentage was as high as 95 percent.
What this points to is an overall cognitive dissonance I think we, as a subculture, have yet to reconcile. The report suggests that the odds are every cyclist who won a stage race from 1996 to 2005 was on EPO and/or blood transfusions. It’s a safe bet it’s true for most of the one-day races as well. If only 20 percent of the peloton was on EPO, the laws of probability hold that some clean cyclists win. But the advantage of oxygen vector doping is so great that if 80 percent of the peloton (and that seems a reasonable, as in not overboard, number) was using, the chances that a clean rider might win a race fall between mince et non.
These revelations have come at a price for at least some of us. On Sunday’s ride, a friend said that he was less excited by the prospect of the looming Tour de France than any in memory. I told him I was relieved to hear that because I have to admit, I just don’t care the way I normally do. I credit Pat McQuaid, not the doped cyclists, with my disillusion.
Writing off all the dopers and ex-dopers is more difficult than it seems; it ignores the complicated past of cycling. It’s hard to rail against a guy like Hincapie while we still wear T-shirts glorifying Eddy Merckx and Fausto Coppi. The only difference between those two giants of the road is that Coppi admitted to doping. Can we maintain a double standard for pros as if we collectively agreed to some sort of grandfather clause regarding all wins prior to 1996, rather than to simply make our peace with what happened and move on? Coppi may not be a fair example; he hails from a time so long ago it’s hard to get upset about anything he did because it took place before a great many of us were born. But what of Miguel Indurain? Are we really going to draw and quarter Armstrong and yet give a pass to a guy who was 6′ 2″, weighed 176 pounds and could chase Marco Pantani up the Col du Galibier?
Yeah, that’s naturally occurring.
My point here is that in giving a bye to certain riders, we demonstrate our uneasy relationship with the truth. We are probably more comfortable not having the full truth, but that doesn’t eliminate the good that could be gained were the UCI and WADA to have the benefit of in-depth interviews with riders who have doped. The bottom line is that you, I and the rest of cycling fandom want the sport cleaned up. To get there requires finding the button for Pat McQuaid’s ejector seat, as well as learning how to prevent doping in the future. Detailed, sealed testimony is the best path to that. It may be that some cyclists will choose to make their testimony public. If so, God help them—I mean, great. Either way, we need to give our vocal support to the idea that the UCI and WADA need as full an accounting of the past as they may achieve. A truth and reconciliation commission remains an indispensable tool in moving forward.
The Facebooks and Twitters have been full of apocalyptic references thanks to the easily anticipated fail of the Mayan end-of-the-world prediction. Laughing off the prediction of a 5000-year-old calendar created by a long-extinct people seems easy enough until you think about what cycling has been through this year. Had anyone told me this time last year that Lance Armstrong would be utterly disgraced and bereft of all sponsorship to the point of being dumped by his own eponymous foundation, I’d have laughed until I threw up. Similarly, if you’d told me that half the pro continental cycling teams in the U.S. would be without sponsors for 2013, I’d have laughed, though maybe not to the point of the technicolor yawn. And if you’d told me that there was a revolutionary movement afoot to topple the UCI and replace Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen with people of actual moral fiber, I’d have asked you just which drugs you were taking—and if you’d be willing to share them with me. For cycling, at least, it does seem a bit like end times.
The reality is, this is a year unlike any other the sport of cycling has ever faced. The news has been more bad than good this year, so this year’s awards may have more snark than praise. Herewith are a few things we think are worth remembering. And for good measure, this time around, we’ve asked Patrick O’Grady to sit in with our band.
News of the decade: Even though this one isn’t over, not by a longshot, I think we can call this one now—the actual fall of Lance Armstrong. Not only does most of the rational world believe he doped—a conclusion I didn’t think we’d ever get most folks to reach—sponsors have run from him like cute girls from a leper colony. I had an easier time getting a date in eighth grade than he does finding a sponsor today. That his own foundation wouldn’t shake hands with him with rubber gloves says a lot about how badly everyone wants to distance themselves from him, that is, excepting Johan Bruyneel, Chechu Rubiera and a few other pros who don’t understand that most people see doping the way they see racism—completely unacceptable.
Most believable Grand Tour winner: Ryder Hesjedal. I don’t care what Bradley Wiggins says about how he hates dopers or how the fact that he’s not as fast as Armstrong was proves he isn’t a doper. The fact that he won stage races in March, April, May and June before winning the Tour and then revving up once more to take the ITT at the Olympic Games smells as bad as one of my son’s used diapers. I’m not going to accuse him of doping, but if the press are going to be held to a standard of expectation that we’ll speak up when we’re suspicious, well, then I have to say that Wiggins’ never-before-performed season is highly suspicious. Even Eddy Merckx never swept Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie, the Criterium du Dauphine and the Tour in the same year. Hesjedal, on the other hand, was vulnerable in the Giro. His win was not the inevitable outcome that sucked the life out of watching this year’s Tour. He’s been riding for a team that I have the utmost belief in as a clean program; while I believe that cycling is probably the cleanest it has ever been, I think Garmin-Sharp has taken the best, most transparent approach to demonstrating their team is clean. Hesjedal, as a product of that team, has earned my respect and admiration.
Most clueless person in cycling: This one’s a tie between Pat McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen. I liken them to the small-town mayors in the Southern states when the civil rights legislation was enacted. Those old boys fought integration for any number of spurious reasons, but the biggest problem with them wasn’t that they couldn’t come up with a solid, objective reason to fight equal rights for all people, it was that they failed to see how public opinion had evolved and, like those who now fight gay marriage, how their opinions were coming down on the wrong side of history. Verbruggen lost any credibility as a leader and even as an administrator once he proclaimed that it was the fans’ fault that doping had taken root, that because we wanted to see fast racing the fans had forced the riders to dope. Their mudslinging agains Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton in the wake of those two deciding to finally tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, is shameful on the level of scoutmaster sex abuse. Those two can’t go quickly enough.
Best new piece of gear: I can’t not give this to Shimano for the new Dura-Ace 9000. While my full review will come in the next few weeks, let me say that this group is what we hoped for when 7900 came out a few years ago. It’s a group of such magnificent improvement it reminds me of what I thought when I first heard Metallica’s Black Album: How did I ever live without this?
Biggest mistake award: For this one we have to go back to Armstrong. If he had just been willing to set aside his ire with Floyd Landis and give him a spot on RadioShack, his life would be very different right now. I’m not bemoaning our current situation, but come on, there must have been an epic, “D’oh!” in the shower one morning.
The Commander Omertà award: This one goes to Patrick Lefevre for thanking Levi Leipheimer for confessing his previous doping by firing him. If anyone could have sent a more convincing message to the peloton to shut up, I can’t think who could have accomplished that. ‘Shh, don’t tell mom about the pot brownies.’ I’d pay money to have Lefevre retire the day we put McQuaid and Verbruggen out to pasture so that I could hold a Stevil Kinevil-style party. Hell, I’d hire Stevil to run the thing.
The JFK-style Conspiracy Theorist award: This goes to everyone who is unwilling to believe that Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie, et al, told the full truth about their doping. Given that Leipheimer didn’t know what Hamilton, Zabriskie or any of the other riders who were ordered to testify before the grand jury would say, not telling the full truth about their involvement in doping was incredibly risky. If any of them were caught in a lie, they’d face prosecution for perjury and those agreements for reduced suspensions would be unwound. The pressure to be truthful was enormous. We should all be willing to take them at their word in this regard. Besides, so far as USADA and USA Cycling are concerned, this matter has been put to rest. You can second-guess it all you want, but you’re not going to get any new answers. Best just to move on.
Most Disappointing Win: Alexander Vinokourov at the Olympic road race. Based on his statements in the media, he has neither fully confessed nor repented his sins. He harks from a generation and mindset we need behind us. His victory salute was a reminder that even if he was clean on that day, the sport needs to be ever-vigilant in its quest for clean(er) cycling. My lack of confidence that he could/would win clean is the doubt that currently undermines my love for professional cycling. This would be why Vino also gets my Most Relief-Inducing Retirement Award.
Best line in a product introduction: Back in October at the introduction of Giro’s new line of clothing we were told how it was meant to pay homage to a new direction in cycling. Giro’s PR guru, Mark Riedy, uttered the line, “No more heroes.” ‘Nuff said.
The One Fingered Salute Award – Peter Sagan. The grown ups tend not to like it so well when some young whipper-snapper gets above his raising and makes them look foolish. The effect is only exacerbated when the whipper-snapper in question does it day after day after day and with increasingly audacious celebratory flourishes. Thus it was that Sagan more or less made the Tours of both California and Switzerland his bitches, while the grown ups flogged away at their pedals somewhere behind in his dusty trail. More than anything, the shy (off the bike) Slovak announced that not only was he not intimidated in the deep end of pro racing, but that he was capable of much more, that his raw power and top-end speed were wed to a racer’s brain far more mature than his youth would suggest.
The All Business Award – Tom Boonen. When I think of Tom Boonen, I have a hard time not thinking about cocaine and under-age super models. Just as a tornado will destroy the homes of both the rich and the poor indiscriminately, Tornado Tom’s approach to his career has created as much damage off the road as on it. But in 2012, the Belgian veteran was all business and all class, owning the cobbled Classics and inching his way one step closer to the record books in a Spring campaign that left the whole racing world with their mouths slightly agape.
The No Business Award – The Schleck Brothers. Luxembourg’s favorite family act must have broken a mirror while walking under a ladder placed by a darkly furred feline carpenter, because 2012 couldn’t have gone much worse for them. Chained to the sinking barge of the RadioShack-Nissan-Trek team, there was the early season set to with Johann Bruyneel (remember that guy?), a fractious start to an uncertain partnership, which saw both Andy and his brother Franck underperforming in every race they entered. Eventually Andy was injured in a seemingly innocuous crash and Franck got popped for doping.
The Other Shoe Award – Bjarne Riis. In a season when it seemed to be raining shoes, the painfully serious Dane’s reputation has been called into question more often than an Italian Prime Minister’s. Having confessed to doping during his own racing career, there remain serious allegations that he also facilitated doping in his teams as a manager. Tyler Hamilton says he did. Bobby Julich says he didn’t. It seems that, in pro cycling, where there’s smoke now, there was fire a decade ago. Riis’ persistence should really be seen as the test case for what cycling wants to do with its doping past. Will the worst offenders of the ’90s find a future in the sport? Julich’s own fate (fired by Team Sky) suggests one possible answer, but when/if the other shoe drops for Riis will tell us for certain.
The Most Sleep-inducing Grand Tour: Yeah, I know. Many of my British friends will believe it’s sacrilege to suggest that the first Tour de France to see a Brit’ atop the podium in Paris would rank as the most boring of this year’s grand tours. It was more than that. It was one of the most boring Tours in history. Come on ASO, three mountain-top finishes? Thankfully, this year also offered us the Giro and Ryder Hesjedal’s surprising and impressive win over Joaquim Rodríguez and the Vuelta’s three-way battle between Rodríguez, Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde. Here’s hoping that in 2013 the “world’s greatest bicycle race” lives up to that designation.
Most well-deserved victory lap: It’s clear that most agree that the implosion of Lance Armstrong is the cycling story of the year — or as Padraig points out, the story of the decade. It’s hard to disagree, but it’s important to point out that this was far from a new story. It’s a story that Sunday Times of London journalist David Walsh has been telling since 1999. I know first-hand of Walsh’s skepticism, since I spent the ’99 and ’00 Tours with the tenacious Irishman. It was déjà vu all over again when the USADA “reasoned decision” was delivered to the UCI on October 13, 2012. Sure there was more documentation, but most of the allegations were made years ago, when Walsh and Pierre Ballester co-wrote ”L.A. Confidentiel: Les secrets de Lance Armstrong” in 2004. At the time, Walsh was demonized by the Armstrong camp — which labeled him “the F#cking Troll” — and even shunned by fellow journalists. Well, he who laughs last …. When the report was released and the UCI soon confirmed its conclusions, Walsh teamed up with Paul Kimmage, John Follain and Alex Butler and quickly released ”Lanced: The Shaming of Lance Armstrong,” on October 31st, and followed that with his own, much more personal story “Seven Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong,” on December 13. I, for one, hope that “Seven Deadly Sins,” sells more than the many works of apparent fiction shilled to an unsuspecting public by writers who should have known better. Maybe he should change the title to “It’s Not About the Bullshite: The Unmaking of the World’s Greatest Sports Fraud,” eh? Quite frankly, the book should be required reading for anyone hoping to work in sports “journalism.” Without that kind of moral compass; without that tenacity and without that consequences-be-damned attitude, we’re all just – to use an old, sadly accurate term — fans with typewriters. Hats off to the “F#cking Troll.” Enjoy the moment. You deserve it, sir.
Inspiring show of support: In recent years, the aforementioned Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen found that filing lawsuits against critics in a friendly, local court could be an effective tool. They, along with the UCI itself, filed suit against former World Anti-Doping Agency head, Dick Pound, and then against Floyd Landis, after he admitted his own doping and alleged the UCI conspired to cover-up Armstrong’s own infractions. Pound issued a brilliantly word non-apology-apology. Landis pretty much blew them off and lost in a default judgment. Then they went after Paul Kimmage. Ooops. Kimmage decided to put up a fight and he soon got overwhelming support from you, the fans. The folks over at Cyclismas.com and NYVeloCity started promoting the “Paul Kimmage Defense Fund” and readers eventually kicked in more than – get this – $92,000 to help in the fight. Kimmage, laid off from the Sunday Times last year, suddenly had the resources to take on the UCI. And, sure enough, McQuaid, Verbruggen and the UCI, put their suit “on hold.” Kimmage, however, is now pursuing his own case. None of that would have been possible had you, the readers, not stepped up to lend a valuable hand.
My favorite photo of the year: This one comes from Betsy Andreu, who offered up photographic evidence of Frankie Andreu’s reaction to Tyler Hamilton’s detailed confessional, “The Secret Race.”
A personal favorite: When it comes to my work in cycling, I think the highlight of the year for me was finding out that the unique business model of LiveUpdateGuy.com actually worked. Thank you to all of those readers who offered help and support during our Live Coverage of all three grand tours. Because of your support, we may well be able to offer the same in 2013. Those, of course, will appear right here on Red Kite Prayer, as well.
Patrick the Other—
Donna Summer Memorial Disc-O Dance Party Platinum Rotor Medallion: To the bicycle industry for trying to hang disc brakes on everything from road bikes to stick ponies. I can understand why bike companies want to sell discs —after all, some shameless hucksters will try to sell you a rat’s asshole, telling you it’s a pinhead’s sweatband, a Chris King headset or the One Ring To Rule Them All — but I don’t understand why anyone who isn’t a pro racer with a team mechanic needs discs. And some of them don’t even need ’em (see Sven Nys, Katie Compton, et al.). If I want pointless complexity “enhancing” my cycling I’ll look to the UCI or USA Cycling for it. Speaking of which. …
The Salvatore Palumbo Good People Certificate: This honor traditionally goes to the nefarious criminal organization most hell-bent on kneecapping the sport of bicycle racing (either USA Cycling or the UCI). This year, it’s USA Cycling, which this year tried putting the squeeze on the wildly successful activities of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, once again confirming our worst fears — that our national governing body cares as much about grassroots bike racing as did Kid Sally Palumbo, organizer of the six-day bike race immortalized in “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” by Jimmy Breslin. One can practically hear USAC caporegime Kid Stevie Johnson ringing up OBRA executive director Kenji Sugahara to hiss, “You could be dead in a bomb accident.”
The Gov. William J. LePetomane Protecting Our Phony-Baloney Jobs Here Gentlemen Citation for Excellence In Oversight: UCI President Pat McQuaid. I still haven’t gotten a “Harrumph” out of that guy. But what I’d really like is an “Adios.”
Charles Foster Kane Snowglobe of Destiny: Lance Armstrong. As reporter Jerry Thompson said of Citizen Kane, Armstrong was “a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it.” We may never know what his personal Rosebud was, but a sled is a fine thing for going downhill fast, if you don’t mind the bonfire at the bottom, and Armstrong was not the first to build his Xanadu from a drug-induced dream.
Everyone agrees that confidence in professional cycling has to be restored after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report revealed the sport’s sordid underbelly: the rampant blood doping within Lance Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service team and the ease with which riders fooled the anti-doping authorities (and the cycling community) at the height of the EPO era. And everyone—from the fans to the teams, from the riders to the organizers, from the officials to the media—knows that cycling’s longtime culture of doping has to be eliminated before the sport can truly move forward. The question is: How do we do it?
At the last count, three significant initiatives were on the table: the first, proposed in late October after the UCI’s acceptance of USADA’s decision to suspend Armstrong for life from Olympic sports and give the whistle blowers the minimum, six-month suspensions, was the Manifesto for Credible Cycling (MCC). Launched by five major European newspapers, the MCC focused on restructuring pro cycling, stiffening penalties and adhering to the anti-doping regulations in a similar way to the “clean” teams’ Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crédible (MPCC), an association that has gained greater acceptance and more members in recent weeks.
The second initiative was made public last week by Change Cycling Now (CCN), a group founded by Australian Jaimie Fuller, chairman of the Swiss-based compression sportswear company, Skins, and spearheaded by campaigning anti-doping journalists, Irishmen David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. The group’s Charter of the Willing has a similar agenda to that of the MCC, except it first seeks the resignation of UCI president Pat McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen—with CCN putting forward Greg LeMond’s candidature as a potential interim UCI president. The group also posited the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an idea that the UCI Management Committee considered and voted down a few weeks ago.
The third initiative has come from the UCI itself. Its Stakeholder Consultation, first announced a month ago, is now seeking feedback from the sport’s major stakeholders prior to a comprehensive review of the best ideas in the first quarter of next year. The UCI has already approached CCN for its input, and it has sent letters out to riders, teams, race organizers, national federations, administrators, sponsors, industry representatives, anti-doping organizations and sports bodies, asking for comments on a list of topics such as anti-doping, globalization, riders and the racing calendar—including the UCI’s potential joint venture with a group headed by Czech billionaire Zdenek Bakala to strengthen the pro cycling calendar that was announced this week. Among the goals are wider participation in cycling and identifying ways to make the sport even more interesting for spectators.
All these initiatives are in addition to the recently formed Independent Commission that is looking into the contentious issues revealed by the USADA report—including allegations that the UCI turned a blind eye to Armstrong’s alleged positive drug test at the 2002 Tour of Switzerland. Sir Philip Otton, an eminent British appeals judge who has extensive experience with similar cases in other sports, heads the commission. He and his two colleagues on the commission’s panel have already begun work and are due to host a three-week hearing in London next April before submitting a report to the UCI by June 1, 2013.
The necessity for a redirection in pro cycling was best summed up by Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport, one of the five journals that launched the MCC, which wrote: “The entire fabric of cycling has been rotten for too long. From the mid-1990s to today more than 400 professional cyclists have been disqualified or embroiled in doping investigations. The Lance Armstrong affair and the disturbing news coming out of the current investigation in Padua (Italy) show that the entire world of cycling has come through an extremely long and dark time. But we believe that the sport can start afresh—as long as a few rules are changed.”
The MCC newspapers opined, “It is impossible to start afresh with the existing structure” and suggested that future drug testing be instigated by WADA and administered by the national anti-doping agencies, and that penalties for doping be made more severe. In fact, WADA has already proposed doubling suspensions for “heavy” drugs and blood doping from two to four years in the draft for its new code that comes into effect in 2015.
As for the MCC’s demand that WADA spearhead future drug testing in cycling (rather than the UCI), that would be difficult to implement because WADA’s mission is to establish its all-encompassing anti-doping code and ensure that there is “a harmonized approach to anti-doping in all sports and all countries.” So if cycling-specific testing were added to its responsibilities that policy would have to apply to every other Olympic sport—which would be too costly for WADA, whose limited funding is split between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and national governments. And its budget already has to cover such things as code compliance monitoring, cooperation with law enforcement agencies, drug-detection research, accreditation of testing labs, maintaining the ADAMS whereabouts database, coordinating regional anti-doping organizations and education programs, and athlete outreach.
Currently, drug testing for the sport of cycling is shared between the IOC, WADA, national anti-doping agencies, and the UCI. It should also be noted that a major part of the UCI’s anti-doping efforts is its pioneering biological passport program, started five years ago, which now monitors a pool of almost 1,000 pro racers—and gleans information from all the relevant anti-doping organizations. And as UCI medical officer Mario Zorzoli said recently, “Essentially, we are moving from the toxicology approach … to a more forensic science approach.” This means that there will be even greater emphasis on collaboration between the IOC, WADA, national agencies and the UCI—while WADA is keen to step up its coordination with international criminal agencies and national police forces in countries where doping is already a criminal offense.
What all this means is that it is getting more and more difficult for athletes who are doping to avoid detection, not just in cycling but also in all the sports that are adopting the passport program. Cheating cyclists had a free run in the 1990s because EPO was undetectable, and the USADA report showed that blood doping was rampant (along with micro-dosing with EPO) prior to the implementation of the UCI’s biological passport program in January 2008. The “forensic approach” is the way forward, and the success of that policy depends on the input of such things as establishing stricter anti-doping codes within every team, self-policing among athletes, and continued (and stepped-up) collaboration between all the various anti-doping agencies.
Considering the discussions that have already taken place between the ProTeams, the major race organizers, the Athletes Commission and the UCI, and the feedback being sought in the Stakeholders Consultation process, it seems that all parties have the intent to work together to rebuild the sport. Obviously, there are some issues that need greater consideration than others, especially the thorny one on whether (or how) to integrate past dopers into a cleaner future. One route toward that goal is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but that could be a gigantic, highly expensive undertaking that might take years to complete.
It so happens that the co-owner and manager of one of the teams affiliated with the MPCC, Jonathan Vaughters of Garmin-Sharp, who also chairs the pro cycling teams association, tweeted this last Friday: “I hear and understand the ‘clean the house out’ argument. Problem is, if we do it, with honesty from all, [there] won’t be anyone left to turn lights off. I might also add that without total honesty from all, instead of ex-dopers running business, you’ll have lying ex-dopers instead.”
Perhaps a better way to go is for teams to renew their clean-up efforts and perhaps conduct their own truth-and-reconciliation processes. That is what is already happening at Team Sky, though some critics (including Vaughters) are saying that the British squad has gone too far in its “zero tolerance” campaign, in forcing staff members to resign if they admit to any past connection with doping.
The major catalyst for restoring confidence in pro cycling has to be the independent Otton Commission, which must fully resolve the unfinished business of the USADA report, including a verdict on whether the UCI administration acted corruptly in regard to ignoring (or not taking seriously) the warning signs that doping in cycling was systemic. The commission’s findings will determine whether the next steps forward should be undertaken by a new, independent entity, the UCI’s current administration, an interim president, or the president who’s elected by delegates from the world’s 170 or so national cycling federations at next September’s UCI congress.
Whatever action is carried out, it’s the hope and expectation of everyone concerned, including proponents of the MCC, MPCC and CCN, that the public’s confidence in cycling will be restored and the sport will be in a position to begin building toward a brighter, cleaner future.
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
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
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
Thank you for your column on Paul Kimmage’s legal troubles last week. I went ahead and donated $100 to his defense fund mostly (and I think I am quoting something you once said) “because I f’in’ hate bullies.”
Anyway I was wondering if you could go into a little more detail about what Mr. Kimmage might be facing in this case and what were the actual statements he made that caused him to be sued.
I also noticed you argued that the fact that The Sunday Times and L’Equipe weren’t being sued was an indication that the UCI, Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid were using the law suit to send a signal to all critics. In one of the links you provided, though, Verbruggen is quoted as saying that “No it’s him. He’s said it. You don’t sue the paper.”
Is Verbruggen right? That doesn’t make sense.
First off, I want to thank you for helping out with what is rapidly becoming a referendum on the UCI’s leadership as much as it is a defense fund.
As I post this, the Paul Kimmage Defense Fund is now up to $43,730.49 and growing. That is an incredible show of support from 1369 donors and the news is even better than that.
Several of us have been exchanging emails with Mr. Kimmage regarding the case and it appears that there may be Swiss attorneys willing to take this thing on pro bono (that’s lawyer talk for “free”). Of course, that shouldn’t dissuade you or others from continuing to donate, since there will be significant costs involved and losing this case could prove to be rather expensive, too. I’ll touch on those topics later.
A significant show of support
Last weekend, Kimmage’s former Sunday Times colleague, David Walsh, was in Missoula, Montana, interviewing Tyler Hamilton, who has, since his “60 Minutes” appearance in May of 2011, been quite open about doping practices on the U.S. Postal team. Of course, he’s gone into even more detail since the publication of his book “The Secret Race,” which he produced with Dan Coyle.
The Walsh interview was notable for a number of reasons, since Hamilton and he weren’t exactly on speaking terms after Walsh wrote some scathing columns about him after his 2004 positive for homologous blood doping. But the two men sat down in Montana and had a long conversation, which Walsh wrote about in last week’s Sunday Times.
Perhaps one of the most touching parts of the article came at the end, when Hamilton reflected on a career that was largely highlighted by doping.
“You know how I’ve still got every bit of memorabilia from my career, tons of stuff from the Tours and classics; bikes, jerseys, trophies, race numbers, everything. It fills an entire room,” he told Walsh. “I don’t want any of it and have been thinking what to do with it. I’m going to auction it online and donate the proceeds to anti-doping. Do you think that would be okay?”
Do you think that would be okay? Yeah, I do.
The two men had coffee on the Sunday morning after publication of that story and Hamilton decided that he will donate the proceeds of such a sale to Kimmage’s defense fund. If and when that happens, I will certainly let you know here and I am sure the guys over at NYVeloCity.com will, too.
Of being fools, etc.
So, now to the case. The complaint, filed in the Est Vaudois District Court in Vevey, Switzerland, involves charges levied by three plaintiffs: The UCI, former UCI president Hein Verbruggen and current UCI president Pat McQuaid.
The three plaintiffs are claiming that Kimmage made statements against their reputation and honor and are therefore pursuing a civil complaint under Article 28 and 28a of the Swiss Civil Code:
Any person whose personality rights are unlawfully infringed may apply to the court for protection against all those causing the infringement.
The litigants are lumping the UCI into Article 28’s definition of “any person.” (Apparently, International Governing Bodies are people, my friend.)
Swiss Civil Code broadly protects the person against the affronts to the rights of life, limb, body, health, reputation, privacy and the right to personal liberty. Those rights are specifically enumerated in the both in Switzerland’s Federal Constitution and Swiss case law shows that they have been expanded to include those rights outlined in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights Fundamental Freedoms.
Article 28 is a remarkably broad provision that is used in civil libel and slander actions. (Interestingly, that same section of Swiss law is also often used by bank customers who believe that their rights to secrecy have been violated.)
In this case, the plaintiffs note that the alleged violation involves Kimmage’s “violation of their social rights and in particular of their reputation – both intrinsic (which denotes the sense of their own worth) and extrinsic (this refers to the qualities that are necessary for a person to be respected in his social environment).”
The complaint points to a number of instances in which Kimmage either questioned – or allowed and encouraged others (mostly Floyd Landis) to question – the plaintiffs’ integrity, “causing them, at the very least, annoyance … and, therefore, moral prejudice.”
The complaint begins by noting that since 1989 Kimmage “has been writing a great deal about cycling in general and its various stakeholders of all kinds … often in negative terms.”
Specifically, the complaint points to Kimmage’s 2010 interview with Landis, in which the rider “made a number of comments which cast aspersions on the Claimants’ honour,” including accusations that the plaintiffs’ did note care “about the rules, of pulling strings, of being corrupt, of not genuinely wishing to establish discipline in cycling, of having, by their behavior, been behind his decision to resort to doping, of ‘loading the dice,’ of being fools, etc.”
The complaint goes on to say that “despite the fact that Floyd Landis’ remarks cast doubt on the honour of certain persons, Paul Kimmage did not hesitate to publish his interview with him in the Sunday Times and on the Internet.”
Did not hesitate to publish
Take a look at that key phrase, “did not hesitate to publish.” The plaintiffs are following a traditional strategy in that they are going after Kimmage for repeating what they assert are false statements by Landis by publishing them in the Sunday Times and, in their entirety, on NYVelocity.com.
Verbruggen, as you noted, said that he didn’t intend to sue the Sunday Times or L’Equipe because “you don’t sue the paper.” He’s not entirely correct there and there exists a long history of cases in which newspapers, radio and television stations and now websites have been sued for publishing the defamatory statements of others which they knew – or should have known – to be false.
In their complaint, however, the plaintiffs point to the Times inclusion of a disclaimer – “The opinions put forward are those of their authors only – as the apparent justification for not including the newspaper in the suit.
Apparently, while nervous attorneys don’t always believe the disclaimer will prevent an aggressive plaintiff from pursuing action, Verbruggen seems to regard it as a magic wand, once passed over something he perceives as libelous will protect all but the original speaker from liability.
Maybe that’s why the good folks over at NYVeloCity.com weren’t named in this thing either. Andy Shen wisely included “We’d like to thank Kimmage and Landis for speaking freely, and note that the opinions within are strictly theirs” on top of a complete transcript of Kimmage’s conversations with Landis in January of 2011.
Later that year, however, L’Equipe included no such disclaimer in its publication of Philippe Brunel’s interview with Kimmage at the 2011 Tour de France.
In his interview Kimmage expressed anger and frustration “because doping was tolerated by the riders’ entourage, by the organizers, and by the UCI, which, as everyone knew, concealed the tests. That is what annoys me. The UCI is never responsible for anything! But everything would be put right if there were honest people at the head of cycling ….”
So why sue Kimmage, in part at least, for things he merely repeated in a way that a newspaper or website might? Again, as I said last week, I suspect that two of the three publishers who could have been named as defendants have deep pockets. If the Times and L’Equipe were sued, they would show up with a team of lawyers and with resources that could potentially overwhelm the otherside.
Add to that the fact that Rupert Murdoch, who owns the Times, is also the sponsor of one of cycling’s biggest teams, SKY, and that L’Equipe is part of a much larger enterprise that also runs the Tour de France and one might sense suing such folks might be impolitic at best.
But Kimmage has no such protection. He’s an easy target who, until last week at least, was himself overwhelmed at the thought of fighting a lawsuit in Swiss courts. The suit is largely tailored to send a message and picking an individual, rather than a corporate entity, is a much easier way to transmit that message.
What are they looking for?
The three plaintiffs are specifically seeking damages of 24,000 Swiss francs ($25,000 U.S.), which they promise will be donated to “anti-doping efforts,” should they win. If he loses, that means Kimmage may join Lance Armstrong in making a substantial “donation” to the UCI’s anti-doping fund.
They are also seeking an injunction preventing any further statements by Kimmage “claiming that the International Cycling Union, Patrick (Pat) McQuaid and/or Henricus (Hein) Verbruggen knowingly tolerated doping, concealed tests, are dishonest, do not behave in a responsible manner, do not apply the same rules to everyone, did not get rid of Lance Armstrong after he reportedly produced a predated certificate, or from making any other allegation of the same kind and from allowing third parties, including Floyd Landis, to make comments which attack the honour and the personality of the International Cycling Union, Patrick (Pat) McQuaid and/or Henricus (Hein) Verbruggen.”
If they win the case, the plaintiffs are also asking the Court to order Kimmage to publish, at his own expense, the Court’s findings in The Sunday Times of London, L’Equipe, Geneva’s newspaper Le Temps and (get this) on NYVeloCity.com. That’s a fairly expensive proposition (although I am assuming he’ll get a “bro’ deal” over at NYVeloCity).
They also ask that Kimmage be charged with criminal contempt of court under Article 292 of the Swiss Penal Code.
Realistically, the civil penalties and the criminal contempt charges will be difficult to enforce outside of Swiss borders. Still, the bigger consequence is that the three plaintiffs would succeed in delivering a message to virtually anyone who levels a charge against the UCI or its leaders.
Mounting a defense
Like I said, until last week, Kimmage was pretty disheartened. The support that has been shown since the Paul Kimmage Defense Fund was established is overwhelming. Kimmage said this past week has been “incredible.”
Kimmage said he’ll now be able to afford to bring in witnesses and present expert testimony to fend off the plaintiffs charges that he made allegations knowing – or having should have known – they were untrue.
The standard is a subtle one. Truth is, in fact, a defense against the charges leveled by Verbruggen, McQuaid and that other plaintiff, Mr. UCI. But Kimmage doesn’t have to actually prove what he said was true. What he has to show is that he had a reasonable basis for believing those allegations were true. He has to show that he did not knowingly make a false statement and he has to show that he had reason to believe that what Landis and others said about the UCI and its leadership was true.
Look at the evidence out there. We all know about the miraculous appearance of a back-dated prescription for butt cream that made Lance Armstrong’s 1999 positive for corticosteroids disappear. That alone would serve as a reasonable basis for Kimmage’s claim that the UCI held out some kind of double standard for some athletes. Kimmage’s references to the alleged suppression of Armstrong’s positive test for EPO at the Tour de Suisse is based on statements from two of Armstrong’s former teammates – Landis and Hamilton.
Kimmage can also point to Armstrong’s “donations” to the UCI of $25,000 in 2002 and $100,000 in 2005 as the basis of at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.
While Kimmage is listed as the “defendant” in this suit, if he comes to court with sufficient resources to make his case, it may end up being the UCI and its leadership that are on trial. Kimmage stands more than a fighting chance of winning this thing. With your support, that chance is getting better every day. You should pat yourselves on the back.
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.
Working as a full-time writer and editor in cycling for more than 40 years, and having raced and trained with elite athletes in Europe before that, I was always aware of the sport’s netherworld. The place where riders decided to cut corners, imitate their peers, or accede to the desires of their team directors; the place where soigneurs, sports doctors and charlatans made it possible for those riders to use performance-enhancing drugs or methods. None of them, especially the riders, was willing to talk about that netherworld because they feared reprisals from their peers, penalties from the authorities, or loss of respect from the public.
And without true details, other than rumors or circumstantial evidence, it was impossible for journalists to write accurately on that netherworld. Like others, I did write what was possible. Over the past two editions of this column, I’ve mentioned some of the many stories I wrote about doping in cycling at a time when very little was known about the subject outside of Europe, including lengthy pieces I did for The Sunday Times of London.
I’d become that newspaper’s first ever cycling correspondent (and its sister daily, The Times) in the mid-1970s, but only after writing long and persistent query letters to the editors to plead my case. That led to those once-stodgy British publications taking cycling as a serious sport, and I began contributing daily reports from the major events (including road, track and cyclo-cross races), which heightened the editors’ and the readers’ interest in our sport.
Because I developed a good relationship with the newspapers’ sports editors, they put their trust in me to write that first long piece on the Tour de France doping scandal of 1978 (when race leader Michel Pollentier was thrown out of the race after trying to cheat the anti-doping control). That article was among the first in the English language to (slightly) lift the curtain on modern cycling’s doping culture.
As with the decade before that Tour and for five years more after it, I followed the race alone, taking lifts with journalists from Belgium, France and Spain. That experience allowed me to get their different perspectives on cycling and to learn about their general reluctance to say much about doping. From 1984 onward, I traveled in cars whose expenses were paid for by the magazines that I edited: Winning for three years, Inside Cycling for a year and VeloNews for more than two decades.
Through the years, I traveled with a lot of different sportswriters. One was Irish journalist David Walsh who first came to the race in the mid-1980s. We often shared interview opportunities, like with Sean Kelly on the evening of a stage, when the three of us sat on the curb outside Kelly’s hotel, chatting about the race. David was with Irish newspapers at first, and beside his reporting work he wrote books about Kelly (published in 1986) and the other Irish star, Stephen Roche (1988).
While driving Tour stages, we had lively discussions about developments in the race and problems in the sport. Those discussions increasingly turned to doping after David’s pro cyclist friend Paul Kimmage retired from the sport and wrote his book “Rough Ride” about his four years in the European peloton, detailing the widespread use of drugs. Not a cyclist himself, David grew more skeptical about the sport, but that didn’t stop him writing “Inside the Tour de France,” his 1994 book of interviews that included a chapter on Tour rookie Lance Armstrong.
During our Tour discussions, I was often in the minority when David and VN colleague Charles Pelkey were in the car, talking about our suspicions on which riders were or weren’t doping. I liked to give riders the benefit of the doubt, but I always listened to their arguments, and their views inevitably influenced what I’d write—especially after the disastrous “Festina Affair” Tour of 1998. By then, David was a full-time reporter for The Sunday Times covering several sports including cycling. As a result, my lengthy piece on that doping scandal was one of the last I wrote for The Sunday Times after more than 20 years as its cycling correspondent.
Like many other longtime cycling journalists, I’ve been accused of being too close to the athletes and the teams to write with detachment about doping, and as such I’ve been complicit in cycling’s doping problems. That’s a subject I want to address in a future column. For now, I want to add that we always suspected that Tour contenders and champions in the 1990s, including Gianni Bugno, Claudio Chiappucci, Bjarne Riis, Tony Rominger and Jan Ullrich, were using EPO.
But there was never any evidence of that possibility until a trunkload of EPO (and other banned drugs) was discovered by the French police in Festina soigneur Willy Voet’s team station wagon on his way to the Tour in ’98. That opened everyone’s eyes to how cycling’s doping problems had escalated in the EPO era when use of the blood-boosting drug was so prevalent because it was not only very effective but also remained undetectable in lab tests for more than a decade.
I’ll continue my thoughts on doping in my next RKP column, focusing on the years when more truths started to emerge from cycling’s netherworld.
Follow me on twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The UCI’s dynamic duo – Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid – are at it again. Last year, they sued Floyd Landis. This year, they are going after Paul Kimmage, probably for having the nerve to actually interview Floyd and put their “honesty” and “integrity” into question.
So what’s the deal here? They are going after Kimmage in Swiss courts, but they are not going after the people who actually published the same allegations.
Why Switzerland? Kimmage is Irish and Landis, an American. I don’t think anything they said or published took place in Switzerland. Heck, since McQuaid is Irish, too, why doesn’t he go after Kimmage in an Irish court?
What is the deal with these guys? Do they run to the courts whenever they feel insulted? Why is it that in all of those cases, they seem only to go after about 8000 Swiss francs? If what Landis and Kimmage said about them was so bad, shouldn’t their tarnished reputations be worth more than that?
Finally, why are they going after individuals rather than the newspapers and websites that published those statements in the first place?
Pat McQuaid and the notoriously thin-skinned Hein Verbruggen are no strangers to the Swiss Courts. In addition to the now-petered-out lawsuit against Floyd Landis, Verbruggen and the UCI itself once brought a similar suit against former World Anti-Doping Agency president, Dick Pound.
In reviewing all three cases, some common themes emerge. The suits have generally asked for relatively small amounts in damages – probably enough to cover legal fees – along with a demand that the defendants issue some form of retraction … generally the simple publication of the court’s finding in the event that the plaintiffs prevail. Even so, that won’t be cheap, since the plaintiffs are asking that those retractions be published in the form of full-page advertisements in several of the world’s largest newspapers.
In Kimmage’s case, it appears that the two are going after much more than just the interview with Landis on NYVeloCity.com. Kimmage has been a tireless anti-doping campaigner since he retired from the sport and published “Rough Ride,” a ground-breaking book detailing his years as a domestique in the professional ranks from 1986 to 1989.
Kimmage carried that banner into his career as a journalist, writing for the Sunday Independent and later for the Sunday Times of London, where he teamed up with fellow Irishman, David Walsh, before leaving the paper early this year. Because of our mutual friendship with Walsh, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Kimmage on a number of occasions and have found him to be, above all, honest, committed and passionate about the sport he loves … and about the people he’s accused of destroying it. He’s among a small cadre of journalists covering the sport that had the guts to say out loud the things others were thinking … and just whispering in off-the-record coversations.
McQuaid and Verbruggen, it appears, would disagree with my assessment.
In looking at the three cases – Pound, Landis and Kimmage – I frankly have to conclude that the current and former presidents of the UCI are engaged in a practice often referred to as a “SLAPP.” The Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation is essentially a suit filed with the intention of keeping critics silent, by targeting a select few of them in a public battle.
The idea is to burden those critics with the costs – in both time and money – of defending against a suit, and sending a message to anyone else that a making a critical public statement may cost someone more than it’s worth … or at least more than they can afford.
Now what got these guys sued? Pound, for example, once said that Verbruggen and the UCI were doing nothing to combat doping. Landis’ allegations that the UCI actively covered up Lance Armstrong’s allegedly positive EPO test from the 2001 Tour de Suisse were repeated by Kimmage, along with other statements about the UCI’s corrupt structure. Kimmage accused McQuaid and Verbruggen of “having knowingly tolerated tests, of being dishonest people, of not having a sense of responsibility, of not applying the same rules to everyone.”
Let’s assume (just for the sake of argument, of course) that what Pound, Landis and Kimmage have said about the UCI, Verbruggen and McQuaid is, in fact, true. Even if they had no case, the filing of a SLAPP suit would take up time and money and send a clear message to others that criticizing the plaintiffs could have dire consequences.
Has it worked? No, not really.
For his part, Pound reached a settlement and issued a “retraction,” that still makes me smile whenever I read it:
“Richard Pound acknowledges the fact that some of his comments reported in the media might have seemed excessive if they were interpreted to mean that the UCI and Hein Verbruggen were doing nothing to combat doping.” (My emphasis added – CP)
As for Landis, Verbruggen acknowledged the other day that the case has gone nowhere since “the problem is we can’t find Landis.” Even if they could find him, what are they going to do to force him into Swiss Courts to face allegations of slander and defamation?
Enforcing a foreign civil judgment against Landis might be problematic as well.
So why Switzerland?
I, too, often wonder about the choice of venue in McQuaid and Verbruggen’s thinking.
It’s doubtful that the two presidents in this case are filing in Swiss courts merely because the laws are in their favor there. There are better places to bring a suit if looking for the most sympathetic courts. Much of Kimmage’s work has appeared in the aforementioned Sunday Times and English law is probably one of the western world’s most plaintiff-friendly in libel and slander cases. If these two were “forum shopping,” Great Britain would have to top the list.
But the choice of Swiss Courts is a sign in my mind that the suit is little more than an elaborate press release and an attempt to send a signal to Kimmage and anyone else with a mind to criticize the way this sport has been run for the last 20 years. The District Court in Vevey, near Aigle, Switzerland, is a pretty logical place to file the case, and it really takes minimal effort and expense for the plaintiffs to pursue it. The UCI is, of course, based in Aigle, both have attorneys already in place through the UCI. While McQuaid is an Irish citizen and Verbruggen is Dutch, both live and work in Switzerland.
The big drawback – at least from a plaintiffs’ perspective – is that Swiss law doesn’t allow for punitive damages. A plaintiff has to show how an alleged defamatory statement affected his reputation and earning power and show proof of actual economic damages, hence the relatively low demands for compensation in all three suits.
Given the low cost and relative convenience of filing in Swiss courts, it could also be a sign that neither Verbruggen nor McQuaid have a whole heck of a lot of confidence that they will prevail. Truth is an affirmative defense in libel and slander cases in most court systems. (Even English courts allow the truth defense, but add a caveat, allowing a plaintiff to claim that the defamatory statement amounts to a “breach of the peace,” even if it’s true.)
Again, it looks like the suit against Kimmage is another salvo in a public relations war, albeit one that could cost the defendant time, money and inconvenience.
But how do the comments of an American cyclist, told to an Irish journalist and published in a British newspaper and American web site become the subject of interest of a Swiss court?
That’s actually an interesting tangent. Under Swiss law a defamatory statement can be cause for both civil and criminal action. It would be harder to press that case in criminal courts since the alleged defamatory statements in this case took place outside of Switzerland. Even if they could bring it in to criminal court, the case would be difficult to prove.
Under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – to which Switzerland is a signator – citizens are guaranteed “the right to freedom of expression. this right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”
The 1999 case of Dalban v. Romania affirmed that the prosecution of journalists would be more difficult than even an ordinary citizen. The case was nicely summed up in the 2007 European Council publication “Freedom of Expression in Europe:”
“The Court ruled that a journalist’s criminal conviction of defamation following the publication of several articles accusing prominent public figures of involvement in fraud constituted a violation of Article 10 of the Convention. It was the duty of the press, while respecting the reputation of others, to impart information and ideas on all matters of public interest, and it was unacceptable that “a journalist should be debarred from expressing critical value judgments unless he or she [could] prove their truth.”
The impugned articles had to do not with the private lives of the prominent figures but with their behaviour and attitudes in discharging their duties. There was no proof that the description of events given in the articles was totally untrue or calculated to fuel a defamation campaign. In relation to the legitimate aim pursued, therefore, convicting the applicant of a criminal offence amounted to disproportionate interference with exercise of the journalist’s freedom of expression.”
Even strictly interpreted, though, Article 10 would not preclude civil action. And the standard for exercising jurisdiction in Swiss civil courts is lower than it would be in criminal court. Even if the defendant lives outside of Switzerland and his statements were made outside of Switzerland, Swiss courts can assert jurisdiction if the statements are shown to have an effect inside Switzerland. Obviously, since Pound, Landis and Kimmage were referring to inaction – or outright corruption – at UCI headquarters in Aigle, that standard is met and the case can go forward.
Choosing the right defendant … or picking on the little guy
It’s worthy of note that the McQuaid/Verbruggen suit didn’t involve a deep-pocket defendant.
Again, much of what Kimmage has written over the years has appeared on the pages of the Sunday Times and much of what he has said about doping and corruption in the sport has been quoted in L’Equipe.
So why weren’t those publications included in the suit? A libel and slander suit can be pursued against anyone who repeats the alleged defamatory statement. Certainly, Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times and L’Equipe, owned by Éditions Philippe Amaury (yup, that’s the same family that owns the Amaury Sport Organization, which runs the Tour de France) were guilty of repeating Kimmage’s “libel,” no?
As I mentioned, this suit isn’t aiming high on the damages scale, so bringing in a deep-pocketed defendant probably isn’t strategically wise in this case. If those papers were brought into this thing, they sure-as-hell would show up and they would do so with a gaggle of high-priced lawyers and shoot this thing down like it deserves to be.
No, instead, they zeroed in on an individual. What’s more, an individual defendant who was the victim of a reduction in force at the London paper late last year. We have an outspoken, but now-underemployed, crusader. In this case, he’s the ideal defendant. It was strategically wise (but morally repugnant) to zero in on Kimmage.
It’s also another indication that this suit is being used to harass someone willing to speak out. If the suit had merit, the Sunday Times and L’Equipe would have been named, too.
We are not likely to see this case end up like the other two. Kimmage can’t just vanish like, according Verbruggen at least, Landis managed to do.
We will probably not see a retraction of any kind – even one worded as elegantly as the Pound statement – emerge from the pen of Paul Kimmage.
“Hell will freeze over before I issue either of those gentlemen an apology for anything,” Kimmage told VeloNation’s Shane Stokes.
So Kimmage will be in the position of either ignoring the thing and losing by default – an approach we’ve seen in another high profile case recently – or appearing in that Swiss district court and showing why his statements are, in fact, not defamatory, but true.
If Kimmage takes the latter approach, it isn’t going to be easy. It isn’t going to be cheap. The plaintiffs know that and there are many of us who believe that’s precisely why they did it. My bet is that they have that strategy in mind … but they picked the wrong guy. Kimmage is a fighter. He is not going to go quietly into the night and buckle to that kind of pressure … but he will need help.
You can lend a hand. The folks over at NYVeloCity have created a ChipIn Page for the Paul Kimmage Defense Fund.
Give it some thought.
Do you really want these guys to get away with this crap? Let’s not send Kimmage off on another rough ride, okay?
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.
There’s been talk that an amnesty for past doping offenders is the path to a new era in clean cycling. But it’s not that easy to disperse years of pollution from a sport that is, more than ever, haunted by ghosts of doping past. An amnesty may be one step toward the goal of putting the dirty decades behind us, but it’s going to be far more difficult to purge professional cycling of its systemic sins.
We hope that the latest round of riders coming out or being outed is the start of a final phase in the cleansing process; but for it to be a truly effective process it has to be extended to the other tainted players, including team owners, directeurs sportifs, soigneurs, coaches, team doctors, rider agents, event promoters, the sport’s administrators, race officials and, yes, journalists.
When I first became immersed in the European racing scene almost 50 years ago, there were no rules against using drugs in cycling (or any other sport). I raced for an amateur team in France and was aware that some teammates popped amphetamines to help them win lap primes in circuit races. I was offered the same drugs but knew that no amount of performance-enhancement would turn me into a Tour de France rider. I also knew that ex-pros with a dicey reputation worked as a mini-mafia in the same amateur races I competed in, and that top British riders I trained with were reluctant to sign for continental pro teams because of those teams’ doping cultures.
The cycling authorities didn’t legislate against performance-enhancing drugs until 1965. The very first tests were carried out at the amateurs-only Tour of Britain Milk Race, and the country was shocked when it was announced before the final stage that race leader Luis Santamarina of Spain and two others had tested positive for amphetamines and were being thrown out of the race. That shock was somewhat tempered when Britain’s Les West won the last stage by a couple of minutes and took the overall title. The fight against doping had begun….
The British public was even more shocked two years later when their former Sportsman of the Year, Tom Simpson, died at the Tour de France on the climb of Mont Ventoux. The coroner said that the amphetamine pills discovered in his racing jersey pockets were only part of the reason he died from heat exhaustion. Simpson was my cycling hero. I met him and saw him race many times, including at the foot of the Ventoux on that tragic day at the 1967 Tour. It was hard to accept that he’d doped and died.
Simpson’s death forced the Tour organizers to introduce daily drug tests, and the 1968 edition was dubbed the “Good Health Tour” by J.B. Wadley, my editor at International Cycle Sport, the magazine where I began my first full-time journalism job. Everyone was hoping that the new testing program would end doping practices, but all it did was make the riders and their teams more secretive as they found ways to elude positive tests. That was confirmed a decade later when Tour leader Michel Pollentier was disqualified from the 1978 race at L’Alpe d’Huez. The anti-doping inspector discovered under Pollentier’s shorts a rubber bulb containing clean urine, with which he’d intended to fill the test tubes at the post-stage medical control.
I was one of a half-dozen journalists who visited with Pollentier the next morning on the balcony of his hotel room. We learned that his actions weren’t much different from what many (most?) riders had been doing for years to avoid testing positive. That candid conversation on doping with the disgraced yellow jersey was the basis of a 2,000-word news story I wrote that week in 1978 for The Sunday Times of London, one of the first mainstream articles to look at the underbelly of pro cycling.
Pollentier’s transgression led to more stringent anti-doping rules, but another 10 years on, at the 1988 Tour, another race leader, Pedro Delgado, tested positive for a steroid-masking agent. He wasn’t sanctioned because the incriminating product (already banned by the International Olympic Committee) had yet to be added to the UCI’s list of proscribed drugs. We again wrote our stories about the hidden depth of cycling’s drugs problems—but when no one would talk to the press about what was actually going on inside the peloton, it was impossible to give details or to know the full extent of doping in cycling.
Yellow jersey Delgado’s escape from disqualification was the highest-profile “doping” incident in the ’80s, when the punishment for testing positive at the Tour was a cash fine plus a 10-minute time penalty. As a result, not much was made of the slap-on-the-wrists doping violations of top Dutch pros Steven Rooks, Gert-Jan Theunisse, Johan Van der Velde and Joop Zoetemelk. It was only years later that they and other Tour riders admitted to their abuse of amphetamines, steroids or testosterone.
For the few English-speaking cycling journalists who traveled to Europe in the ’80s, those were heady times. We wrote about the break-through successes of Sean Kelly, Steve Bauer and Phil Anderson in the classics, Greg LeMond’s and Stephen Roche’s victories at the worlds and Tour, and Roche’s and Andy Hampsten’s wins at the Giro d’Italia. Some skeptics said they couldn’t have achieved those successes without doping, but we never saw anything suspicious in that pre-team-bus era, even though we’d chat with the riders in the showers at Paris-Roubaix, interview them during massage sessions at the Tour, and do extensive one-on-ones at their homes.
The amazing performances of Kelly and Roche in that period made them Ireland’s biggest sporting stars, a fact that encouraged Irish sportswriter David Walsh to move to Paris with his young family to cover their stories. We became friends and followed many Tours together over the following decade or so. Walsh also made friends with journeyman Irish pro Paul Kimmage, who was then racing for a French team and shared some of the doping stories with Walsh that became the basis of Kimmage’s 1990 book, “Rough Ride.”
After that whistle-blowing book was published, Kimmage became a pariah in the European peloton, which remained highly secretive about its use of drugs. But it was clear that athletes and sports doctors had moved on from the haphazard use of amphetamines and other stimulants. I wrote an editorial in VeloNews in 1989 titled “EPO: The scourge of the 1990s?” that pointed out the dangers of the new blood-boosting hormone, which had just been approved for use with cancer patients by the Food and Drug Administration.
The speculation, unfortunately, became a fact. An early, but unconfirmed, indication of EPO use came at the 1991 Tour when, one by one, the high-profile PDM team fell sick and dropped out. The last man standing was Kelly, who a few of us, including Aussie colleague Rupert Guinness, chatted with the morning before stage 11 when he and the rest of the team flew home. Kelly said that they’d all been sick, as if they had food poisoning, though it was later confirmed it was due to injections of a badly stored nutritional supplement, Intralipid, used for recovery … though doping was still suspected.
The wheels started to come off the EPO wagon in 1998, when Belgian soigneur Willy Voet was caught with a station wagon packed with EPO, human growth hormone, artificial testosterone and amphetamines that was destined for the world No 1-ranked Festina team at the Tour. The race took a back seat as revelation after revelation emerged from the Festina camp, and when the French police intervened to arrest team officials, race director Jean-Marie Leblanc held his infamous late-night press conference in Brive to exclude the whole Festina team from the Tour.
I sat up all night to write another doping story for The Sunday Times, this one based around Festina’s Aussie team member Neil Stephens, after he spoke with companion Rupert Guinness about his criminal-like treatment at an overnight questioning session in a French jail. The subsequent riders’ strike, further police raids and a second strike, followed by mass team withdrawals almost ended the Tour—and drowned out a dramatic comeback by eventual winner Marco Pantani to beat defending champion Jan Ullrich.
The Festina Affair began a new wave on the battle against doping, a story that I’ll continue next Tuesday.
Follow John on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International