You’ve written a lot about doping rules, but I am still a little unclear about the term “strict liability,” when it comes to one kind of violation.
The reason I ask is that I am resuming training after a two-year layoff (because of a new baby) and part of my program includes a lot of food supplements and occasional energy drinks. I know that riders in the past have been convicted of doping even when they make the case that their violation was a result of an accident. I am not sure that it’s even possible to avoid the risk of consuming a contaminated supplement, when you consider the places that make these things.
What bothers me is that I risk two years off the bike again – this time because of suspension – through no fault of my own. Is that fair?
I have stirred this hornets’ nest before, so what the heck. My first advice is to avoid using those “food supplements and energy drinks” and speak with a qualified coach, or more precisely, a nutritionist who can guide you through a maze of questions about how you can achieve the same results with actual food.
I think it was two or three years ago when I wrote about “tainted” supplements and the “unregulated” industry that produces them. A representative of that industry did set me straight in pointing out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does hold regulatory authority over the supplement industry, particularly under the provisions of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). The DSHEA authorizes the FDA to take action “against any unsafe dietary supplement product after it reaches the market.”
Food supplement manufacturers are also responsible for compliance with Dietary Supplement Current Good Manufacturing Practices, comply with labeling requirements and report to the FDA any “adverse events” that are associated with use of the product.
What manufacturers do not need to do, however, is register products with the FDA or get FDA approval for those products before bringing them to market.
In other words, it’s a regulatory framework that, in my mind at least, conjures images of barn doors and long-gone horses.
It’s for those reasons that I continue to hold the opinion that taking dietary supplements – especially if you are an athlete subject to the provisions of the World Anti-Doping Code – is a risky proposition.
As you mentioned, there are several cases involving athletes who apparently unknowingly consumed banned substances while under the impression they were merely taking supplements or perfectly legal energy products.
Now retired, Scott Moninger tested positive for norandrosterone in 2002. Upon learning of the result, Moninger forwarded his opened bottle of “Doctor’s Brand L-Tyrosine,” – an amino acid supplement – to an independent laboratory, which found that 19-norandosterone was present in the bottle. Tests on other, sealed, bottles showed no sign of contamination.
While the panel did not fully accept the argument that the supplement was the cause of the positive test, they did consider that and other evidence – Moninger’s unsullied 21-year cycling career and character testimony from other riders – as mitigating factors and imposed a one-year, as opposed to two-year, suspension.
The following year, Amber Neben tested positive for 19-norandosterone – although at significantly lower levels – and was suspended for six months.
In 2009, Brazilian rider Flavia Oliveira tested positive for Oxilofrine and was suspended for two years. Oliveira appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and was able to show that an energy supplement she used to counter the fatiguing effects of prescription allergy medications was mislabeled and did not mention that it contained the aforementioned banned substance. Nonetheless, she was still suspended for a total of 18 months.
I believe Oliveira has a lawsuit pending against the manufacturer for its failure to list all ingredients on its label.
It’s important to note that all three of these decisions were based on critical language in World Anti-Doping Code:
“It is each athlete’s personal duty to ensure that no prohibited substance enters his/her body. Athletes are responsible for any prohibited substance or its metabolites or markers found to be present in their bodily specimens.”
That is the “strict liability” language of the Code, since it eliminates the “intent” element of the violation. In other words, an anti-doping agency does not need to show that you intended to consume a banned substance, only that it is present in your body.
To varying degrees, the arbitration and appeals panels are allowed to view a lack of intent as a mitigating factor when considering a penalty, but not when determining whether or not a violation occurred.
So, as to your question, Aimee, I would suggest you do your best to avoid supplements and consult with a nutritionist to determine how your dietary needs can be met with actual food. Yes, I recognize that the FDA has authority over the industry, but all three of the cases I mentioned occurred after the agency was granted that authority.
If you test positive, that “adverse event” may (or may not) warrant the attention of the FDA, but that’s after the fact. You, on the other hand, are stuck with a positive test result, possible grounds for a lawsuit and the job of showing an arbitration panel that there are mitigating circumstances worth considering when they suspend you.
Speaking of mitigating circumstances, as I mentioned, the Code allows for an arbitration panel to consider those when handing out a penalty. Conversely, the panel can also consider aggravating factors and hand down an even harsher penalty, like USADA requested in a high profile case this past summer.
Now why do I mention that? Well, because it brings us to the first-ever edition of the The RKP TV Guide!
Yes, ladies and germs’, the story that will not die is still out there. So, for the television event of the … uhhh … moment, check out the anticipated confessional on a special broadcast of Oprah, this coming Thursday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time in the U.S.
Are you going to watch? I would like to say I won’t … but, like a train wreck happening right in front of you, it may be hard to turn your head.
As for the content of this television spectacular, your guess is as good as mine.
As one friend and colleague recently posted on her Facebook page, “Please make it stop.”
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
Last week, I began this review of 2012 with the first half of my A-to -Z reflections. Here’s the second half, including some amazing performances by three 22-year-old pros, and an almost perfect sets of results by the women’s Eddy Merckx. But let’s start with one remarkable ’cross racer….
N for Nys. It’s being said that Belgian cyclo-cross star Sven Nys, 36, could be his discipline’s greatest-ever athlete. He has already won nine events in the current season to go with his more than 300 career ’cross victories. Though he’s only won a single world title (2005), Nys has taken six World Cup championships (and is headed for a seventh crown), 11 Superprestige titles and eight Belgian national championships in his 15 pro seasons.
O for Olympics. The Games of the 30th Olympiad in London saw cycling become one of the most popular sports, with estimated crowds of a million spectators watching the men’s and women’s road races on separate days, while the track, mountain-bike and BMX events all played to full houses. The home fans were rewarded by the British team winning eight gold medals, while no other country took more than one.
P for Phinney. In 2012 at age 22, BMC Racing’s Taylor Phinney shed his image as just the son of Olympic-medalist parents, and began building his own pro road palmarès. At the top of the list was his winning the opening time trial at the Giro d’Italia and defending the pink jersey until stage 4, while he came close at the London Olympics with fourth place in both the road race and time trial, before winning the final stage of the USA Pro Challenge and then taking silver medals at the worlds’ time trials (both team and individual). A sign for Phinney’s future was a promising 15th place in his debut Paris-Roubaix after working hard all day for his team leader, Alessandro Ballan, who placed third.
Q for Quintana. Another 22-year-old, Nairo Quintana, enjoyed a remarkable debut season with Movistar in the UCI WorldTour. This Colombian climber scored half a dozen wins. They included a significant stage victory in the Dauphiné at Morzine after dropping Cadel Evans, Brad Wiggins and the Team Sky armada on the Col de Joux-Plane; and a brilliant solo success in the Italian semi-classic, the Giro dell’Emilia, which finishes on the famed San Luca climb in Bologna.
R for Rodriguez. At age 33, Spanish climber Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha Team had his best-ever season, ending as No. 1 in the UCI WorldTour rankings for the second time in three years. His season was book-ended by classics victories at the Flèche Wallonne and Il Lombardia, while he won two stages and finished second overall at the Giro, and won three stages and placed third overall at the Vuelta.
S for Sagan. Many observers have compared Slovak prodigy Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale, still only 22, with the young Eddy Merckx. He won 16 times this year, starting with a stage of the Tour of Oman in February, and going on to win singles stages at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Three Days of De Panne, five stages at the Tour of California, four stages at the Tour of Switzerland and three stages of the Tour de France (along with the green jersey). Perhaps just as significant was the promise he showed in the spring classics, including fourth place at Milan-San Remo, second at Ghent-Wevelgem, fifth at the Tour of Flanders and third at the Amstel Gold Race.
T for Tiernan-Locke. Despite riding for a ProContinental team (Endura Racing) and missing several weeks of racing because of injury, Britain’s latest discovery, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, won four European stages races this year: the Mediterranean Tour and Tour du Haut Var in February, the Tour Alsace in July, and the Tour of Britain in September. All this at age 27 after missing three complete seasons because of the Epstein-Barr virus. His reward is a contract with Team Sky for 2013.
U for USADA. What could never be proven by hundreds of anti-doping tests was revealed in the testimonies of a dozen former U.S. Postal Service teammates in an investigation conducted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency: Lance Armstrong used banned drugs and blood-doped for a decade when he was clocking up all those Tour de France wins. The investigation was masterminded by USADA CEO Travis Tygart, an attorney, who homed in on America’s iconic champion after May 2010, when Armstrong’s one-time colleague Floyd Landis began to spill the beans about doping within the former U.S. team.
V for Vos. Still only 25, Dutch phenom Marianne Vos carried all before her in 2012. Not only did she win the world cyclo-cross championship for the fourth consecutive year, but she also won the UCI World Cup for a fourth time (along with three rounds of the premier women’s competition), retained her title in the women’s Giro d’Italia (including five stage wins), and then won gold in a brilliantly exciting edition of the Olympic road race. Vos capped her season with a solo victory in the world road championship—after five consecutive years of silver medals!
W for Wiggins. Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour de France, and he did it in the style of five-time champions Jacques Anquetil and Miguel Induráin: by winning the long time trials and defending the yellow jersey in the mountains. But the 32-year-old Brit’s 2012 season wasn’t just about the Tour. He preceded it by becoming the first man to win Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné stage races in the same year, and he capped it by winning the Olympic time trial to add to the three pursuit golds he won at previous Games and his six world track titles from his pre-road career.
X for Xu. Winner of the Chinese national road championship, the Champion System team’s Xu Gang, 28, raced from February to November in his first season as a ProContinental team rider. Besides winning his national title, Xu finished no less than 11 international stage races: the Tours of Qatar, Oman, Taiwan, Japan, Qinghai Lake, Utah, China I and China II, Beijing, Hainan and Taihu Lake! He cracked the top 20 in Taiwan, Japan and China I.
Y for Yates. British cycling Hall-of-Famer Sean Yates crowned his management career by leading Wiggins and Chris Froome to their unprecedented 1-2 finish at the Tour de France. That added to his own Tour career as a rider when he won a time trial stage in 1988 and wore the yellow jersey for a day in 1994. Yates, 52, announced his retirement from cycling in October because of health problems (he has suffered from heart irregularities for several years) and not because of Team Sky’s new zero-tolerance policy (Yates had an A-sample test positive after a Belgian race in 1989, but the B-sample was negative).
Z for Zabel. No, not Erik Zabel, the winner of six Tour de France green jerseys, four editions of Milan-San Remo and three Paris-Tours, but his 18-year-old son Rick Zabel who began his under-23 career this year with the Rabobank Continental squad. His 2012 highlights were winning the German national U23 road title and placing second to Belgian pro Kevin Claeys in the Ronde van Limburg, a 190-kilometer Belgian semi-classic with a 1.2 rating in the UCI Europe Tour.
You can follow John at twitter.com/johnwilcockson
Olympic image: Surrey County Council
Sagan & Wiggins images: Photoreporter Sirotti
What a week it’s been. Since USADA released its reasoned decision on the US Postal doping conspiracy, the flood of confessions that followed and the various spin off conflicts and conflagrations, my head has been a mess. My urge is always to find the way forward, to stay positive, but I have not found a good way to wrap my mind about what’s happened to our sport.
Then, of course, Padraig crashed his bike, which put a lot of the stuff on my mind into much better perspective. What a cadre of deluded pro athletes did in hotel rooms and shady medical clinics over the last decade-and-a-half is fascinating and depressing in equal measure, but I am part of something larger than that, something that starts with my closest friends and family and extends out to the larger cycling community. We launched the Beer Face Crash Relief effort to try to help Padraig out with medical expenses, and that just reinforced for me how massively positive cycling and the cycling community are for my life. I stopped thinking about doping and the dopes who doped.
When the idea of raising money first came up, my initial reaction was fear. Padraig and I are close. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I failed? And then, within 24 hours of the first conversation we’d raised every dime we needed. All we did was ask for the price of a beer, and you, our readers, drowned us in it.
This might be the single, biggest surprise of my cycling life, following closely behind being asked to write for RKP in the first place. That was like having my favorite band ask me to be their new guitar player. If you’d ever heard me play guitar, you’d know what a long shot that analogy really represents.
Of course, there have been other great surprises, finding out I could ride 100 miles in a day, finding out I could clear a section of single-track I’d failed to ride 100 times before, meeting people on steep hills and forming instant bonds simply by dint of our shared effort.
If you ride, it will come. That has been my experience.
This week’s Group Ride asks: What have been your biggest (and best) surprises from cycling? What have you learned about the world that you wouldn’t have dared hope was true before? What have been the gifts and how would you have gotten them, if not for the bike?
I’ve been following you for years, through your time at VeloNews, through your illness last year and now at Red Kite Prayer and LiveUpdateGuy.com.
Usually, I get what your saying, but I was a little confused by a Tweet you recently made urging the sporting world follow “the U.S. model” in doping control and enforcement. One of the responses seemed to imply that you want all sport to follow the example of the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball.
I know the 140 characters of the “Twittersphere” isn’t exactly your cup of tea. Just look at that 2000-word-+ monster you wrote last week. (You must be a lawyer, Mr. Pelkey. It’s the only profession where someone writes a 100-page treatise and still has the nerve to call it a “brief.”) So, I’ll ask it here: Is that true? Are you a fan of American professional sports’ doping “controls?” If so why?
Man, are you ever right about my being wordy last week, Amanda. One of my friends compared the column to an old guy sitting on a porch ranting about anything and everything.
“And another thing dammit ….”
Of course, in my own defense, I was actually writing about a 200-page “reasoned decision” and more than 1000 pages of supporting documents. It just begged for wordy.
Anyway, the short answer to your main question is “no.” The longer answer to your main question is “Hell no!”
Now for the really long answer: Anti-Doping programs in big American professional sports – the NFL, the NHL, MLB and NBA – are a joke. Even after “reform efforts,” like the 2007 release of the “Mitchell Report” on baseball, the core problem for all of those sports is that they have left control and regulation of anti-doping efforts to the sports themselves.
It’s a classic example of “self-policing.” The banking industry should serve as an example of how that doesn’t work.
I know, I know, one should never use Wikipedia as a primary source, but I can’t help but quote one small passage I ran across recently. Under the sub-head of “Self-Policing” on the Conflicts of Interest entry someone wrote an elegant and concise description of the problem:
“Self-policing of any group is also a conflict of interest. If any organization, such as a corporation or government bureaucracy, is asked to eliminate unethical behavior within their own group, it may be in their interest in the short run to eliminate the appearance of unethical behavior, rather than the behavior itself, by keeping any ethical breaches hidden, instead of exposing and correcting them. An exception occurs when the ethical breach is already known by the public. In that case, it could be in the group’s interest to end the ethical problem to which the public has knowledge, but keep remaining breaches hidden.”
Since this wasn’t footnoted, I am left to applaud just you, anonymous Wiki contributor, for a terrific summary of the UCI’s treatment of drugs in general and Lance Armstrong in particular.
While the LieStrong scandal isn’t really a new story, it would never have been put under the glaring light of an official inquiry had it not been for the “American model” of which I spoke – errrr, tweeted. The structure now followed by the U.S. Olympic Committee, its affiliate national governing bodies and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is really one the entire sports world should consider. Namely, handing off the responsibility for enforcement of doping rules to someone who really doesn’t give a shit about what nailing a guilty party will do to the vested interests in the sport.
Try, for a moment, to imagine what would have become of the Lance Armstrong case had American cycling been operating under the anti-doping rules that had been in effect prior to 2000.
At that time, the responsibility for doping controls and enforcement fell to the USOC and to individual governing bodies, whose own interests may have naturally run counter to strict enforcement, particularly when it came to high-profile riders.
It was in October of 2000 when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency began operations. As part of its mission, USADA established a set of multi-year contracts with the USOC and individual national governing bodies to assume full responsibility for the management of anti-doping programs, including testing, results management and enforcement.
In essence, the current U.S. model is what most hoped would be the structure adopted at the 1999 World Conference on Doping in Sport, namely taking the IOC and its affiliate governing bodies out of direct participation in anti-doping efforts.
After two days of speechifying and debate, the conference attendees – mostly IOC members, headed up by its aging president Juan Antonio Samaranch – voted to lay the foundations of what would become the World Anti-Doping Agency. The mission of what was then referred to as the International Anti-Doping Agency was “to coordinate the various programmes necessary to realize the objectives that shall be defined jointly by all the parties concerned.”
The so-called “Lausanne Declaration on Doping in Sport” went on to outline duties and responsibilities for the IOC, its national affiliates and the governing bodies of affiliate sports.
The IOC, the (International Federations) and the (National Olympic Committees) will maintain their respective competence and responsibility to apply doping rules in accordance with their own procedures, and in cooperation with the International Anti-Doping Agency. Consequently, decisions handed down in the first instance will be under the exclusive responsibility of the IFs, the NOCs or, during the Olympic Games, the IOC. With regard to last instance appeals, the IOC, the IFs and the NOCs recognize the authority of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), after their own procedures have been exhausted.
Okay, ignoring the irony of “respective competence,” when this conference had been organized solely due to the 1998 Festina scandal, the problem there was that the IOC, IF’s and NOCs have any role to play at all.
It’s an improvement, but is it enough of an improvement?
As I said, the 1999 Lausanne conference was a direct response to the 1998 Festina scandal. The IOC and the UCI finally had to admit that their half-assed doping control, enforcement and penalties were just that, half-assed.
The creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency improved things, namely in adding a degree of consistency and uniformity to doping penalties. Recall, for example, that the second-placed rider in the 1999 Tour de France was none other than Alex Zülle, who just a year earlier had confessed to using EPO as a member of the infamous Festina team. Absent mitigating factors, he would have received a two-year suspension under the current WADA Code.
But again, harmonization of penalties is essentially meaningless if the enforcement side of things is weak. Under the Code WADA does have enforcement authority, but the international governing bodies themselves have primary authority and responsibility when it comes to enforcement. Therein lies the problem.
Once you get past the whole “Lance-was-a-doper” thing in the USADA report, start looking at some of the supporting documentation. What I found most interesting were comments by athletes who had raised the issue directly with UCI anti-doping authorities and were ignored.
Caught in the whole, ugly trap of the 2006 Operación Puerto scandal, Liberty-Seguros’ Jörg Jaksche, publicly admitted to having used EPO and growth hormone.
In a follow-up to his interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Jaksche went to the UCI to bare his soul and offer information about what he knew about doping in the peloton. According to Jaksche’s sworn affidavit released along with the 200-page Armstrong decision:
“… I spent hours talking with the UCI in 2007. I spoke to UCI lawyers, to Anne Gripper, who was then head of anti-doping for the UCI, and to UCI President Pat McQuaid. I wanted to be fully transparent regarding my doping and the anti-doping rule violations of others to fully explain the level of doping of which I was aware and that was taking place on Team Telekom, ONCE, CSC and Liberty Seguros during my time in professional cycling. However, the UCI showed zero interest in hearing the full story about doping on these teams and did not seek to follow up with me.
Moreover, despite my efforts to assist in cleaning up cycling, the UCI attempted to push for two years of ineligibility in my case, and Pat McQuaid told me he’d have liked me to have handled things differently from which I can only conclude he wished I had not been as forthcoming regarding the degree of doping that was taking place in the peloton.
To the best of my knowledge, information and belief, the UCI did not move forward on any evidence of doping that I provided to them.”
Yeah, and if Jaksche had been an isolated case, maybe there would have been some justification in ignoring the lone crazy guy standing outside of UCI headquarters screaming about doping. But Jaksche was not.
Kelme’s Jesús Manzano spoke out in 2004. Filippo Simeoni did so in 2003 and you saw where that got him. More famously, the recently converted Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton also spoke publicly about doping. They tried to work with the UCI … but were ignored.
Indeed, in Landis’ case, they turned around and sued the guy. WTF?
No, indeed, it took USADA to use the above confessionals to serve as a launching point and gather a total of 26 sworn affidavits, 11 of which came from former Armstrong teammates. Why couldn’t the UCI have done the same five years ago?
Self-policing doesn’t work
Unless there is a fundamental change, the only time an organization that polices itself will have reason not to ignore such information is when the public relations costs prove to be too high … as is the case right now. As was the case following the Festina scandal, this may be another of those fleeting opportunities to advance the cause of reform a little further in the right direction.
I applauded – and still applaud – the decision to create WADA on the heels of Festina. Now, let’s take advantage of the LieStrong scandal and give the anti-doping some teeth.
Whether or not you buy some of the more outrageous – albeit not incomprehensible – charges of bribes and intentionally suppressed test results doesn’t really matter. What matters is that there is an inherent conflict of interest when the sport is responsible for making tough decisions involving even its most high-profile stars.
No longer affiliated with the governing body, Gripper recently told Australia’s The Age that the UCI would often make exceptions for a rider of Armstrong’s caliber, citing the example of his being allowed to ride in the 2009 Tour Down Under, despite being short of a required post-retirement window in which he was supposed to be subject to doping controls prior to a return to competition.
“I have always said that Armstrong’s influence was a danger in the sport,” she said. “He was allowed to ride in the 2009 Tour Down Under. He shouldn’t have been. Once again, for Lance, special consideration was provided.”
Referring to the problem of doping and to McQuaid, Gripper said “I heard Pat say the other night, ‘We test and test and test as much as we can and send all the samples to the labs and that’s all we can do’.
“Well, it’s not, Pat, there’s lots more that can be done.
“It’s not just about testing because we know in many ways testing is the most ineffective way of eliminating doping … There are so many more things the UCI can do.”
I would suggest that the best thing the UCI can do is to get the heck out of the doping-control business and hand it off to an organization that doesn’t have a direct and vested interest in the outcome.
Who do you trust will put more effort into the pursuit of a doping athlete, particularly when he or she is high-profile and high-profit? Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid or Travis Tygart and Dick Pound?
I’m voting for Tygart and Co.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
So, what do you think? I am guessing that USADA’s document dump today (Wednesday) must have caught your attention by now.
Do you have any thoughts on the evidence presented? Any surprises? Will it have any impact given that we’re only seeing one side of the whole case?
Do you have any thoughts on what the UCI might do?
Winners? Losers? Who are they?
Let’s start with the winners and losers. Aside from Armstrong, the list of losers is pretty extensive, starting with Johan Bruyneel, who was fired yesterday, Michele Ferrari, who may be facing additional criminal charges in Italian courts and the rest named in the original June 12, 2012 charging document: Dr. Pedro Celaya, Dr. Luis del Moral and Pepe Marti. When all is said and done, the sport will be rid of these guys. Good-frickin’-riddance, gentlemen. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.
To a lesser degree, there is that list of riders who that found themselves in the untenable position of continuing to lie – and risk lengthy suspensions or even criminal perjury charges – or to give up on that whole culture of omerta, the “code of silence” that has long governed the world of professional cycling. I applaud their decisions to “come clean,” but sure do wish it had been 10 years ago.
Also on that list of losers has to be the parade of “journalists” who – for reasons of sycophancy, a desire for profit or both – sang the praises of a man they knew to be a bully and, above all, a cheat. And, no, they can’t claim they didn’t know. The only way they didn’t see the obvious is that their seats on the gravy train were too damn comfortable and they didn’t want to stand up and take a look. They should be ashamed.
Sadly, there is a much larger group of other journo’s – myself included – who, while declining to heap praise on Armstrong, didn’t do nearly enough with the information that we had. We poked around the edges and only did stories when we knew we had our asses completely covered. Few of us took the big risks. Whether driven by fear of lawsuits or losing our jobs, we should, nonetheless, be embarrassed. I know I am.
The winners? That list is a helluva lot shorter. It includes – but is not limited to – Betsy and Frankie Andreu, Emma O’Reilly, Dr. Prentice Steffan, Stephen Swart, Christophe Bassons, Greg LeMond, Filippo Simeoni, David Walsh, Pierre Ballester and Paul Kimmage. Each of those people has consistently stated positions that were often contrary to their own interests, risking career, financial security and reputations to pursue what they saw as the truth.
Wednesday’s revelations show they were right.
I’m shocked, shocked, I say
There have been some who said that Wednesday’s revelations were earth-shattering news. Some even declared they were “shocked.”
Look, the evidence was extensive (you can see that for yourselves), but was it surprising? Not so much.
While blowing off most of the work associated with my current “day job” on Wednesday, I had the feeling that I was reading the unabridged version of “L.A. Confidentiel,” which David Walsh and Pierre Ballester wrote eight years ago.
Walsh had his suspicions even longer than that. I had the privilege of meeting Walsh for the first time at the 1999 Tour. It wasn’t just a quick introduction, either. We spent the entire Tour together, as it was Walsh’s tradition to join up with the VeloNews crew, coordinate hotel accommodations and meals and the drive from each day’s village departé to the press room at the finish. I was the driver, riding shotgun was my former boss, John Wilcockson and crammed into the back seat were Walsh and Australian journalist – and world famous Hawaiian shirt aficionado – Rupert Guinness.
That meant hours in the car, often at slow speeds, so we could stay in range of race radio, and then more time in the press room as we all crafted our stories and then dinner and then often late nights at the hotel bar. Shallow and myopic as most sports writers are, our conversations pretty much revolved around a single subject. Yup, that would be cycling.
Do recall, that the 1999 Tour came on the heels of the previous year’s devastating “Festina Affair.” With teams arrested, ejected or simply packing up and leaving the Tour under cover of night, a lot of us pretty much expected that by 1999, the costs of doping far exceeded any benefit and that sport would be clean from here on out.
Certainly, that was the hope of 25-year-old Christophe Bassons, who had earned the reputation as a clean rider when teammates testified that he had been the only member of the 1998 Festina team who refused to dope. Now a member of Francaise des Jeux, Bassons saw the 1999 Tour as an opportunity for the entire peloton to speak out against doping.
The new hero of this “clean era” quickly emerged as cancer survivor Lance Armstrong scored an impressive win in the prologue at Le Puy du Fou.
Within days, though, news broke that none other than Armstrong had tested positive for corticosteroids. There hadn’t been a Therapeutic Use Exemption … but the UCI accepted a back-dated prescription for topical cream that Armstrong said was for the treatment of saddle sores. It was quickly called the “butt cream defense,” by skeptics in the press room. So much for the new and clean era.
Had the UCI handled that first positive properly from the start, Armstrong would have been kicked out of the 1999 Tour right then and there. But no, he went on to dominate the race, beating former Festina rider – and admitted doper – Alex Zülle by nearly seven-and-a-half minutes. Really, following the disastrous crash on the Passage du Gois on stage 2, which took out many of Armstrong’s top rivals, and a dominant performance in the stage 8 time trial at Metz, the GC picture was pretty much settled before the race ever hit the mountains.
So instead, Walsh spent his time working on what he viewed was the “real story” of the Tour, namely that Festina had changed nothing in the sport, other than to drive doping deeper underground.
Walsh spent time interviewing riders like Bassons, who was becoming increasingly frustrated both by the lack of a definitive statement from top GC contenders regarding doping and, more importantly, by the social pressure he was getting from other riders to drop the subject. Chief among those pressuring Bassons was the man in the yellow jersey, who, as Walsh reported, had threatened a cajoled the Frenchman, urging him to “shut up” about doping and efforts to clean up the sport.
Walsh saw Bassons as a lone hero. Documents released this week show Armstrong saw him as an idiot and “a pussy.”
By the time we reached Paris, Walsh was pretty much barred from the Postal camp. He left the Tour “with a bad taste” in his mouth, but he had his sights set firmly on Armstrong.
He would return to the Tour, but his reporting continued to focus not on what he believed was a parade of lies, but on the doping that produced those lies.
In 2002, Walsh uncovered evidence that Armstrong had been working with the notorious Dr. Michele Ferrari and had an article ready to run in the Sunday Times of London. Having learned of that fact, Armstrong did a preemptive interview in which he casually stated in passing that he had worked with Ferrari, as if it were no big deal.
Over the next couple of years, Walsh’s Armstrong file grew. He interviewed the Andreus, who consistently stood by their position that Armstrong had revealed his use of performance-enhancing drugs to doctors before beginning chemo-therapy in 1996. Frankie took some serious career hits, both in cycling and in broadcasting, but he stuck by his story. Betsy was characterized in any number of less-than-complimentary ways by the Armstrong camp, but she stuck by her story.
So, too, did former Postal soigneur, Emma O’Reilly, who, after speaking with Walsh in 2003 had to endure personal attacks on her character. But she stuck by her story.
Steffan, the original team doctor at Postal, was fired after some riders complained that he wasn’t doing enough to give them a competitive edge. Under pressure from Armstrong, Steffan was temporarily dismissed from his job on the Slipstream team. He was threatened, essentially blackmailed about his own personal struggles with substance abuse and he stuck by his story.
Working with French journalist Pierre Ballester, Walsh wrote “L.A. Confidentiel,” which was released on the eve of the 2004 Tour. In retrospect, that book still serves as the essential framework for the document bomb that was released this past week. The evidence made available to all of us just adds to the case and reaffirms that Walsh and Ballester were right from the start.
In response, Armstrong’s legal team filed suit in France and in Great Britain, where a translated summary of the book’s main charges appeared in the Sunday Times. The French suit was dropped, but the Times eventually offered an out-of-court settlement and Armstrong declared victory against the man he and Johan Bruyneel privately called “the Troll.”
On stage 18 of that Tour, Armstrong lashed out at another rider – Filippo Simeoni – who had made the “mistake” of testifying against Ferrari in a 2002 criminal matter. He was the only rider to do so. Simeoni never said anything about Armstrong and only testified as to his own experiences with Ferrari and doping practices.
You will probably recall that the tension between the two was already high before the 2004 Tour. When Simeoni found himself in a relatively unthreatening break on Stage 18, it was the man in the yellow jersey who set off in lone pursuit. Armstrong stayed with the break until Simeoni agreed to wait for the peloton, allowing the other escapees a chance.
Armstrong famously gave Simeoni the zip-the-lip gesture as the peloton approached and the Italian testified that the race leader also threatened him. Threat or no, Simeoni’s career was cut short, even though he did get some joy out of earning the 2008 Italian national champion’s jersey … but even then, he was regarded as something of a pariah. Nonetheless, he stuck by his story.
Is there any value to having access to liars?
I missed the Tour that year, as I was slated to cover the Vuelta and being part of a family with a 10-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl in the house didn’t make doing three-week grand tours all that easy at home. That said, I kinda wish I would have been there.
Walsh, as was his practice of many years, joined the VeloNews crew for the three-week journey through France. Embarrassingly, though, after pressure was exerted from the Armstrong camp, Walsh was informed that he was no longer welcome in the Velo-mobile.
WTF? Given a choice between standing by a friend and colleague or having access to “his Lanceness,” Walsh got the boot.
Later at the Vuelta, where I had the pleasure of taking my son with me, I tracked down Michael Barry for a quick post-stage interview. With young Philip at my side, we chatted about the race and the Postal team’s hopes for the Spanish Tour. We were just getting to the interesting part about the apparent tension between Floyd Landis and team management when Johan Bruyneel walked up, grabbed my press badge, glanced at the name and flicked it back into my chest.
“Pelkey, eh?” he said. “So, how’s your little Irish friend?”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“That fuckin’ troll, Walsh,” Bruyneel growled. “David Walsh … what did you do to get mentioned in the acknowledgments of that piece of shit book of his?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “We’re friends and we trade information now and then, but ….”
Suddenly Philip piped up and said “Mr. Walsh was at our house for dinner! Dad gave him a ride in our Army jeep. Maybe that was it.”
That made me smile. Bruyneel didn’t see the humor of the moment. He grunted, walked away, taking Barry with him. From that point forward, I had no access to Postal riders for the duration of the Vuelta, save for sitting in on press conferences … and it really didn’t matter.
A one-sided story?
As you note, Wednesday’s “reasoned decision” from USADA is pretty much a one-sided presentation of why the agency reached the conclusion that Lance Armstrong should be banned from competitive sport for life and that his results dating back to 1998 should be negated.
It was the “prosecution’s” case, that which would have been presented to an arbitration panel had it ever gone to arbitration. Personally I would have been interested – perhaps amused – to see how the defense would have presented its side. But remember, it’s not USADA’s fault that it didn’t go to arbitration.
The timing was actually kind of funny. Just one day earlier, Armstrong’s attorney, Tim Herman had sent a scathing five-page letter to USADA demanding the agency send its entire file to the UCI, not just a limited report packaged in a way to support its case.
Be careful what you wish for, dude.
Not only did USADA’s “Discovery Team” drop the whole package in the UCI’s lap, they let the rest of us sort through it, too.
As it turns out, the agency had justification for the delay. They produced the entire case as if it were presented at hearing. The reasoned decision itself was a detailed, beautifully footnoted, 200-page document, accompanied by nearly 1000 pages of appendices and supporting materials. Most damning, were the 26 sworn affidavits from witnesses, 11 of whom were former Armstrong teammates.
Herman didn’t even miss a beat.
“I’m not suggesting that they are all lying, but I am suggesting that each witness needs to have confrontation and cross examination to test the accuracy of their recollection,” he declared, with what I assume was a straight face.
And damn, if he isn’t right. The whole arbitration process is governed by Federal law, under 36 USC § 220522 (a)(8), which requires any athlete charged with a violation that might result in a period of ineligibility be provided “with fair notice and opportunity for a hearing.”
Part of that hearing process, of course, is the opportunity to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses. By gum, Herman hit the nail right on the head … but for the fact that his client declined to participate in the hearing.
It’s a little late now, Tim.
The UCI is left in the awkward position of either accepting the USADA case on its face value, or appealing the whole thing to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport where it will likely be defending its own conflicts of interest and apparent disinterest in pursuing the allegations of the sport’s highest-profile rider.
Read the decision. Scan the documents. Combined, they constitute the richest treasure trove of evidence underscoring just how corrupt riders – and governing bodies – can be. My bet is that the UCI will take a pass. They’ve stood up for Armstrong in the past, but there is considerable risk in doing so now … and very little benefit. The UCI isn’t likely to take a big risk.
No, the only people in this story willing to take risks for little or no benefit were those “winners” I mentioned earlier. And, actually, when you come to think of it, that fact alone suddenly makes the list of “winners” a lot longer. The real “winners” in all of this are those who love the world’s most beautiful sport. Fans and riders alike. Hopefully, cycling will emerge from this embarrassment all the better. I, for one, will keep my fingers crossed. I promise, though, never to say that I am “shocked” if it doesn’t turn out that way.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
I don’t really want to talk about doping in the way that we normally do, debating the merits of lifetime bans or declaring open season for all illicit products, slicing and dicing the moral code riders ought to ascribe to. We’ve done that.
I don’t have the answer to the problem anymore than anyone else does, not Paul Kimmage or Michael Ashenden or Anne Gripper or Andrea Schenk. We, most of us, feel passionately about clean sport, and those who don’t mostly cast themselves of too practical a mindset. Humans will cheat, they argue, and may well be correct.
All of that aside, I have found it interesting over the last few weeks to see dominoes begin to fall across the top level of the sport. Yes, USADA sanctioned Lance Armstrong after he chose not to defend himself against their allegations. The UCI struggled to strike the right tone in response. The whole structure of the sport began to shift.
Tyler Hamilton has a book coming out, which details much of what happened in his own somewhat tragic career, and that implicates himself, many former teammates and major players in the management of the sport at both team level and within the UCI.
One event that shocked me this week was Jonathan Vaughters going on the Cycling News forums and outing some of his riders as former dopers, including Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising, given his own recent confession in the New York Times, but the timing and venue seemed suspect. Were the riders aware he was going to spill the beans?
Is this just where we are in the process of truth telling? Suddenly everyone is talking.
You expect this from characters like Jorg Jaksche, Christophe Bassons and Filippo Simeoni, but we’ve moved into some new territory with recent statements from Johann Museeuw and Sylvia Schenk. Given all the recent information flooding into the open, journalists are turning up the heat on figures like Bjarne Riis, who has confessed his own transgressions as a rider, but has left, perhaps, too much still unsaid.
People are speaking out. More people are asking hard questions like, is the UCI even capable of cleaning up the sport? It is one thing for fans and marginalized journalists to say these things. It is another entirely for people like Schenk, once a member of the UCI management committee and Museeuw, a respected rider from the EPO era, to say them. Now the questions and confessions are coming from the inside. People are emboldened. The calculus is changing. But is it changing enough?
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: Have we finally reached the watershed moment in confronting cycling’s doping history? Or is this just a strange conflagration of events, more stumbles down the wrong path, toward the status quo?
Could it ever have been any other way, with the fall of Armstrong? It seems cycling has been on a collision course with this moment for the better part of its history. From riders dosing up with brandy in the early days, to the scourge of amphetamines, to modern day blood doping, top level racers have always pushed beyond the rules in search of an advantage.
And now we have, arguably the greatest grand tour rider of all-time stripped of his titles and banned from the sport. Looking back at the great champions of the past, each of them with their own sordid side story, can we say this outcome was inevitable?
Perhaps we can forgive the modern day rider for believing that dope is simply a part of the sport. Almost everyone is willing to acknowledge that Lance Armstrong, if guilty as charged, was only doing what everyone else was doing, was only following in a long line of champions before him who had employed the dark arts to stunning effect.
How is it that, after decades of sabre rattling and bluster, an authority finally stepped to the fore to apply the rules, for better and for worse? It should be lost on no one that the UCI was not the authority in question. Perhaps this also was inevitable.
We can ask if where we are now is better or worse than where we have been. We can take issue with Lance, Johan and their cohort of co-defendants. We can impugn the motives and methods of Travis Tygart and USADA, but all of this seems to me to be beside the point.
What has happened has happened. Cycling is a sport that has been rife with dope and cheating. It has been poorly governed. We have tried to find the middle way, managing outcomes, either by the authorities turning a blind eye or by prosecuting infractions. We have tried small penalties, medium penalties and lifetime bans. We have tried selective enforcement.
Cheaters evolve. Tests develop. The rules struggle to contain them both.
Fans are upset when the rules aren’t enforced, and we are upset when the rules are enforced in ways we don’t like or don’t think will be helpful, because we hate to see the sport we love self-immolate.
But if we believe in our rules, if we really think they will produce better cycling, then don’t we have to accept their enforcement, no matter the short or even medium term consequences? It seems, when you subscribe to a plan for the sport, you have to hold firm, even if the result isn’t exactly as you would have wished it.
To be sure, the calculus will be difficult for everyone involved. Some will be able to both accept the penalties levied against Lance and his co-defendants, and still remember his (their) victories fondly. We can know what happened, at least partially, without retroactively revising our enjoyment of that era.
Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” The world does not arrange itself in neat packages. Human behavior and emotion are not digital, black/white or right/wrong. We are gray creatures. We are, of necessity, ambivalent, and we should allow ourselves the latitude of inconsistency. Neither, should we fear foolishness. This is only sport, after all.
You can say that, once a rider decides to break the rules, he knows what the consequences of his actions might be. There are sanctions printed in ink in by-laws and on contracts. But this is a short-sighted reading of the decision for there are myriad consequences beyond our knowing.
I would venture that when you first decide willfully to take the wrong path, you very quickly lose control of the narrative. In your mind, there is winning. There is glory. If you are unlucky, you sit out a suspension.
In reality, you are unable to begin to parse the threads of consequence that spin themselves in every direction. Did Lance and his team imagine Travis Tygart and the role he would play? Did they imagine the myriad judgements they were letting themselves in for? Did they imagine court cases and Pat McQuaids and Hein Verbruggens? Did they think of Greg LeMond or Le Monde or l’Equipe? Do you ever race the Tour de France wondering if a plea deal will torpedo your legacy?
All the PR and litigation money can buy will shift a narrative, but clearly, in this case, couldn’t alter the eventual outcome, and that’s true for Lance and for the UCI and for USADA. The chips always fall where they may. They’re funny like that.
Now, we are in the hand-wringing phase of this particular (cycling) life event. And just as the prime players could not have known that they would arrive here, we also can’t know how what has happened over the last week, or over the last decade, will play out in years to come. Is this a death-knell for our sport? Or a birth announcement?
The answer is quite possibly: YES.
There comes a point in most chess games where the outcome is essentially assured. Even though the victory has yet to take place by way of checkmate, there are so few pieces left on the board, so few choices left to the trailing player that each remaining move is but a formality. In signaling that he will not engage USADA in arbitration, Lance Armstrong has essentially conceded defeat in his protracted match against Travis Tygart.
Make no mistake, to view this case as anything other than a mano a mano battle of Tygart v. Armstrong requires a willful blindness to ego. The strategies employed by Armstrong’s legal team, which were rebuffed repeatedly for lacking any legal basis, seemed to coast on the idea that somehow the sheer fact that this was, after all, Lance Armstrong, would be enough to shut down the legal process. It wasn’t. And Tygart’s pursuit of the case has left many to wonder if maybe there weren’t more pressing fires.
While Armstrong has not yet been stripped of his wins, his decision not to pursue arbitration means that USADA can follow that course of action, unimpeded by Armstrong or his defenders. In his statement announcing his decision not to continue his defense Armstrong gains two small benefits. First, he gets the chance to play martyr, as evidenced by his “Enough is enough” quote from his announcement. He’ll receive plenty of sympathy from those who have been unswayed by the evidence against him. Second, he avoids what would be a truly bloody melee had he pursued the arbitration. The sure knowledge that some of his most loyal friends would have been pitted against him must have cut to the core.
But what of USADA? What have they gained?
“It’s a sad day for all of us who love sport and our athletic heroes,” said Tygart. “It’s yet another heartbreaking example of how the win-at-all-costs culture, if left unchecked, will overtake fair, safe and honest competition.”
Tygart’s devotion to this case makes his claim that this is a sad day ring more hollow than a drum. He claims that the win-at-all costs culture has the ability to eclipse fair, safe and honest competition. In that regard, he’s right. And that conditional—”if left unchecked”—that checks and balances system, how well is that working?
It’s that part of the process that I believe is most broken. Armstrong isn’t the problem. It’s that the sport’s testing has been woefully inadequate. The UCI was so derelict in its duty that once EPO infiltrated the peloton riders were faced with the choice of either being pack fodder or cheats. It’s a hell of a choice and for those who find it so easy to condemn those who buckled to the coercion, sometimes explicit, always implicit, please let us know how life in a glass house is working out.
If any good is to come of this situation it is that the UCI may be exposed for efforts to quash one or more positive tests by the seven-time Tour de France winner. And while the worst of the UCI’s alleged questionable choices happened before Pat McQuaid took over as boss, the fact that he instigated the jurisdictional fight with USADA as regards the Armstrong case means he is equally complicit in any previous coverup by attempting to quash a thorough investigation. Exposing the UCI as a body unfit to police bicycle racing is quite possibly the only helpful thing that could come from this. At least then, if the UCI were dismantled and replaced by a new governing body, we might gain some fresh confidence—a confidence we currently lack—that racing might be properly policed.
Again, what have we gained? Doping is a present-tense problem. If Johan Bruyneel is actively managing a doping program for some of his riders, then he should be banned from the sport, but this outcome doesn’t yet assure that. And those doctors? Their names are tarnished enough that it seems unlikely a team would hire them, though it would surprise few if they turned up in, say, swimming. A ban for them seems warranted.
Once the procedure this announcement sets in motion has run its full course, here’s what the Tour de France results will look like:
1999: 1. Alex Zulle 2. Fernando Escartin 3. Laurent Dufaux
2000: 1. Jan Ullrich 2. Joseba Beloki 3. Christophe Moreau
2001: 1. Jan Ullrich 2. Joseba Beloki 3. Andrei Kivilev
2002: 1. Joseba Beloki 2. Raimondas Rumsas 3. Santiago Botero
2003: 1. Jan Ullrich 2. Alexandre Vinokourov 3. Tyler Hamilton
2004: 1. Andreas Klöden 2. Ivan Basso 3. Jan Ullrich
2005: 1. Ivan Basso 2.
Jan Ullrich Francisco Mancebo 3. Alexandre Vinokourov
Take a moment to consider the names that were elevated in Armstrong’s absence. With the exception of Andrei Kivilev, during their careers each of those riders tested positive for doping, confessed to doping in the Festina scandal or were strongly implicated in Operacion Puerto. Be not confused: This is not a fix for one simple reason: It does nothing to solve the doping occurring today.
Whether we speak of the 2012 Tour de France, the Gran Fondo New York or masters track nationals, there is plenty of doping going on right now, some of which—particularly the events open to amateur athletes—that has the ability to turn people away from the sport altogether.
When I think of the biggest problems that cycling faces, Lance Armstrong doesn’t make the list. Even if you despise him, on balance, he’s done more good than bad. He isn’t, as Greg LeMond would have you think, “the greatest fraud.” Bernie Madoff’s victims would laugh that out of any court you choose. Hope can’t really be cheated and he gave a great many people hope when they might otherwise have had none. And the bike industry has plenty to be grateful for. The increase in new road cyclists that began in 1999 is still paying dividends. I worked for the only all-road publication in the U.S. in 1998 and it died an emaciated, withering death even before Marco Pantani rode down the Champs Elysees clad in the maillot jaune. Today there are four different road-specific print publications; I have no doubt their emergence would not have happened without Armstrong’s victories.
The public wants cycling that is free of doping, full stop. The challenge we face is one of leadership. Adjudicating the past won’t fix today and attempts to cover up the past, no matter by what method, undermine the moral platform from which a governing body operates. More testing is required and better testing is required. To achieve those, cycling must be better funded. Given that the majority of cycling’s funding comes from outside sources, a dearth of sponsorship won’t get us there. And the public execution of Lance Armstrong has ensured one thing: That tens of millions of dollars that could have gone to sponsoring racers and races will go to some sport that’s less embarrassing to be a part of. A cleaner sport. Say, football or baseball.
Thanks Travis, we’ll take it from here.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Is testosterone therapy the fountain of youth? If so, WWWD? (What Would WADA Do?)
As a retired lawyer and long time cyclist, I thoroughly enjoy your column.
Here’s one that might be arising more in the Masters’ ranks, which have had their share of doping positives, recently.
Doctors are increasingly treating below normal testosterone levels with (and Big Pharma is increasingly promoting) testosterone replacement therapy for older men. The therapy is based on research that tends to show that below normal T levels lead to various premature aging symptoms, low energy levels and low sex drive.
For those who race in the masters’ classes, is a TUE available for this therapy, with or without limitations? If not, is there any effort by WADA to consider it?
Given the threshold method of triggering tests, the ratio of epitestosterone to testosterone, would it even come up in testing if the therapy resulted in levels in the “normal” range?
Your hypothetical for the day.
First off, let me thank you for your kind words. Given my relatively short time as an attorney (I’m just three years out of law school), I am always nervous when other lawyers – especially the experienced ones – read this column. Like anyone, I appreciate the kudos, but I do want to encourage anyone to send me a note if they notice a bone-headed mistake. I will correct those and make note of them.
Now, to your questions. The quick and simple answer regarding testosterone is yes. The World Anti-Doping Agency does make an allowance for the therapeutic use of testosterone. However, before we see the entire middle-aged masters’ peloton veer off to the doc’s office, you need to keep in mind that according to the rules, a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) for testosterone is issued under the narrowest of circumstances. Most of us would probably not qualify.
Under the current WADA Code, a national doping agency is permitted to issue a TUE for testosterone only after an athlete has been diagnosed with primary or secondary “hypogonadism.” In other words, the testes are not producing enough of the hormone to bring the level of what is considered “normal.” (NOTE: While testosterone replacement therapy is offered to women in rare cases, WADA has concluded that there are more effective alternatives, so no TUE for testosterone will be granted to females under current rules.)
The definition of “normal” is based on several factors, chief among them age. Measured in nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL), normally blood testosterone levels in the general population of adult males run anywhere between 300ng/dL and 1000ng/dL. Of course, a 24-year-old with blood levels of 300ng/dL would be a cause of concern for his doctor. That same level in his 85-year-old grandfather might be considered to be within normal parameters.
Generally in a healthy and relatively young male, a serum testosterone level below 350ng/dL is considered to be a cause for concern and would make the patient a candidate for treatment.
However, it’s important to note that low testosterone levels due to the normal aging process are usually characterized as “functional” hypogonadism and would not qualify for a WADA-issued TUE. What would qualify is hypogonadism that is the result of a medically defined cause.
Rather than get into an analysis of each contributing factor recognized by WADA, I am simply including the causes of primary and secondary hypogonadism for which the agency says it would consider a TUE:
Klinefelter syndrome, bilateral anorchia, cryptorchidism, Leydig cell aplasia, male Turner syndrome, Noonan’s syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
panhypopituitarism, idiopathic hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, Kallmann’s syndrome, constitutional delay of puberty, LH deficiency, Prader Willi syndrome
That’s the general list and there are other contributing factors for which WADA – or a national anti-doping agency – could consider a TUE request. The bottom line, though, is that anyone seeking a TUE for testosterone must submit a detailed diagnosis, with supporting medical evidence, to justify the claim that his low serum testosterone levels are due to one of the medically recognized causes.
In the words of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), “It is extremely unlikely that a Therapeutic Use Exemption will be approved for ‘functional’ hypogonadism (a diagnosis of hypogonadism based on low testosterone levels but without a defined etiology).”
Getting old sucks. Is there a cure?
So let’s assume that the members of our hypothetical field of masters racers are not suffering from any of the aforementioned afflictions, but merely “functionally” hypogonadistic. The theory is that these men, too, would benefit from testosterone replacement therapy and you’re right, Larry, there has been an increase in interest (and marketing) in recent years, especially as we Baby Boomers get older.
Aging is a key factor in reduced testosterone levels in men. According to one study (Vermeulen A and Kaufman JM  “Ageing of the hypothalamo–pituitary–testicular axis in men.” Hormone Research 43, 25–28) about seven percent of men between the ages of 40 and 60 have serum testosterone levels below 350ng/dL. That number increases to 21 percent for men between 60 and 80 and 35 percent for men 80 and older.
The symptoms of low testosterone levels – even those due to aging – are not pretty. There is the whole diminishing libido thing. (Of course, if that’s a problem, then the other common symptom, erectile dysfunction, probably won’t bother a guy as much.) But beyond those, there is a decrease in muscle mass, fatique, increased abdominal fat, loss of bone mass, frequent urination, high cholesterol and depression (probably caused by all of the other symptoms).
Like the Stones said, “what a drag it is getting old.”
So, would restoring those levels back to the way they were when you were 25 help reverse some of the symptoms of the normal aging process? Some studies say yes … and some studies say no. There is a big study going on right now, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, which involves tracking 800 men over the age of 65 who are using a gel-based testosterone supplement. So, we may have a more definitive answer once all of the data is reviewed in the next year or so.
One thing is for certain, though. While there may be benefits that accompany testosterone replacement therapy for functional hypogonadism, there are risks, too. One key concern is the effect testosterone supplementation will have on the reproductive system, especially the prostate.
Exogenous testosterone can contribute to an enlarged (but non-cancerous) prostate, a problem known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BHP) and some studies indicate that it can also contribute to the growth of cancer cells in the prostate.
Exogenous testosterone can also result in a decline in the production of natural testosterone, as the body adjusts in response to unnatural increases in serum levels of the hormone. That can also result in decreased production of sperm to the point that fertility may be put at risk.
The natural conversion testosterone to estrogen can also contribute to the growth of the much feared “man boob,” with men experiencing enlarged and tender breast tissue.
Indeed, the aforementioned side-effects are to be considered so potentially serious that any male with high risk factors for prostate or breast cancer (hey, it does happen) is automatically off the list of potential candidates for testosterone replacement therapy.
There are other side-effects, including liver toxicity, sleep apnea, fluid retention and increased risks of other cancers.
On a somewhat positive note, doctors also warn of one side-effect that would actually play pretty well with our little peloton of aging cyclists, though: Polycythemia. Yup, that’s an increase in the production of red blood cells. Unfortunately, that is also accompanied by an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke, not something you want to toy with in an age group whose cardiac risk factors are already on the increase.
Gee … this “therapy” sounds appealing, doesn’t it?
Since we’re in hypothetical mode, though, let’s assume that the NIH study comes back with stellar results and all of the 800 test subjects emerged from their two years with the strength, energy and looks of a 25-year-old. As a result, our masters all opt to take the chance and go with the therapy …. USADA be damned.
You asked if they might test positive in the rare event that USADA’s testers show up to request samples from the men’s 55+ field. The simple answer is yes. The initial test is based on the famed T/E ratio, the same test that caught Floyd Landis at the Tour de France. That test, for all of its flaws, is based on the assumption that the body produces testosterone and epitestosterone at about the same levels. WADA allows for some wiggle room, and the Dope-O-Meter™ isn’t tripped until the T/E ratio exceeds four-to-one (Landis, by the way, was 11-to-1).
Further study – using the Carbon Isotope Ratio test – would show that the elevated ratio is due to the presence of exogenous testosterone and that could result in a two-year suspension. In other words, that lucrative masters’ racing career could be at risk.
So in conclusion, testosterone therapy should probably be considered by a relatively small number of those for whom it might prove beneficial, especially if you want to live by the rules of our sport.
For the rest of us … well, I always like to remember the words of Mark Twain, who observed that “age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
The Explainer is now 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.