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THE STORY THAT KEEPS CHANGING

Even by cycling’s standards, it has been an extraordinary week. Since the Wall Street Journal and Espn.com published Floyd Landis’s admission that he doped and alleged that others did too, the story has moved on at a lightning pace.



Now, almost a week after one of three emails Floyd Landis sent to USA Cycling, the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the UCI was leaked onto the internet, we stand on very different ground.



There are so many strands to the story it’s as if an ornate rug has unravelled and all we have in front of us is huge bundle of tangled wool. Now it looks as if it will be down to some heavyweight investigators in the United States to find out where each strand leads. Already the matter appears to have transcended the sports authorities and people who will not be easily lied to or fobbed off will be shining the light into the sport’s darkest corners.



Before the weekend, there was an assumption that this, like so many allegations and investigations before it, would melt away, that tongues would tighten, lips would seal and everyone would look the other way, partly because of a fear of being hung out to dry and abandoned to their fate.



On Sunday, Cycling Weekly suggested that the fact Landis doped while riding for a team sponsored by the United States Postal Service might be significant. That story was written after receiving information from someone close to the investigation. Calls and emails to the press office at the US Postal Service yielded a “no comment” and further follow-up questions have gone unanswered.



Although the US Postal Service is no longer funded directly by taxpayers’ dollars, it is still a Government agency and as the New York Times reported last night, it appears federal investigators are looking into what happened to the postal service’s money once it had been paid to Tailwind Sports, the company that owned the team.



Yesterday, CW received a call from Bob Hamman, the president of SCA Promotions, a sports promotions company that based in Dallas, Texas. In layman’s terms, Tailwind Sports took out a series of insurance policies that would guarantee hefty pay-outs for each of Armstrong’s Tour de France wins. By the time of his sixth win, in 2004, the payment due was $10m. However, after the publication of the book LA Confidentiel by David Walsh and Pierre Ballester, which contained allegations of doping against Armstrong, SCA withheld part of the payment. A lengthy legal battle ensued and, eventually, SCA decided to settle out of court and paid up.



During the hearing, Armstrong gave a deposition - an out-of-court interview under oath to be used as his testimony at the hearing. During that deposition the matter of a payment made to the UCI came up. Not surprisingly, SCA’s lawyers wanted to know what the payment was for and why it had been made, because a payment from an active athlete to his sport’s governing body could be viewed as a conflict of interest. In that deposition Armstrong said the payment was around $25,000, certainly not more than about $30,000. Armstrong’s attorney, Bill Stapleton, said in his deposition that Armstrong had made “one or two” payments over the years. CW has seen the text of both deposition statements.



Now that Pat McQuaid has confirmed that Armstrong paid $100,000 SCA Promotions is considering its options.



Amid the clamour for a response from each of those Floyd Landis named was understandable, what they say to the press is only of cosmetic importance. It is what they say when they are asked by the authorities that counts. And if federal investigators start asking the questions, there’ll be little appetite for misleading them. You don’t mess with those guys.



ONCE A LIAR, ALWAYS A LIAR?

Floyd Landis lost his credibility long ago. He doped, then he got caught and he lied. He spent four years and in excess of a million dollars in persisting with the lie. He wrote a book called Positively False, and asked people who believed him to donate money to the Floyd Fairness Fund. When he finally got his day in court, one of his closest friends stooped to such an unbelievable low in trying to bribe Greg Lemond into silence.



So it was understandable that many would take what he had to say with a pinch of salt. It’s very easy to paint Landis as a bitter character who has a grudge, although it was incredible to see the president of the UCI take that line before anyone had examined the allegations.



But perhaps it occurred to people that such allegations - even if they come from a proven liar - are so grave that they cannot be dismissed as the ramblings of a crank. For a start the allegations are too specific and too damaging to be brushed off. Instead, they must be scrutinised. If some or all of what Landis said is true then it must be taken into account. Even if he has lied or is innocently mistaken about one or several aspects  the bits that turn out to be true should be treated seriously.



In the space of a few days, the UCI’s position has changed dramatically and McQuaid said that the national federations had been instructed to begin investigating.



Hopefully, the sporting authorities will be sensible about this. Threatening people with a big stick is not going to inspire them to tell the truth. So the UCI and other sporting bodies need to tread carefully if they are going to encourage people to tell the truth.



THE UCI AND TRANSPARENCY

Transparency has been the buzz word the past couple of days. Pat McQuaid, in denying that the UCI took a bribe to suppress a positive dope test, has said the UCI can provide paperwork to support it’s position. Hopefully that will be posted on its website soon.



And McQuaid said that the governing body can also prove when and how much money Lance Armstrong donated so the UCI could purchase a Sysmex machine. CW has asked for copies of the paperwork. You can read our two stories on this here and here.



However, the fact remains that the UCI is, in effect, accountable to no one but itself. I asked the International Olympic Committee whether it has any jurisdiction over the UCI and was referred to the Olympic Charter document which says: “…each IF [International Federation] maintains its independence and autonomy in the administration of its sport”.



Effectively, if there are any allegations against it, the UCI has to investigate itself or appoint an investigator to do the job. So it is not surprising that the UCI does not recognise what represents a conflict of interests.



For example, did you know that Pat McQuaid’s son, Andrew, runs a company called Azzurri Sports Management, which acts as an agent for several riders, notably Nicolas Roche, Daniel Martin and Philip Deignan. While there is absolutely no suggestion that anything improper has ever taken place, the UCI must surely acknowledge that a conflict of interest exists. Andrew McQuaid was Tweeting from the Radioshack team car during the Tour of California.

And factor in that Stephen Roche, Nicolas’s father, was appointed - rather than elected - to the UCI’s ProTour Council last year and the question has to be asked: What measures are in place to monitor these relationships? CW has asked the question and awaits a response.



CYCLING IS THE SUM OF ITS PAST

A number of riders have expressed regret that the past keeps getting dragged up to spoil the present.



Well, I hate to sound harsh but anyone who can’t see that cycling’s present is a direct consequence of its past is an idiot.



Perhaps we should concentrate on the riders of the present. Two years ago it was Ricco, now Pellizotti. Or Thomas Frei. Guys like that?

The sport has been forced to adopt a series of anti-doping policies that push closer to the boundaries of what it is acceptable to ask of an individual than ever before. Riders must declare where they will be for an hour of each day (nothing compared to most working people, who have to declare where they’ll be for 37.5 hours a week or more) and they have to give blood and urine samples (which most people would find invasive).



The whereabouts scheme and the blood passport are direct consequences of the conduct of past generations. The doping problem got so bad and techniques so sophisticated that the authorities had to draft more rules.



The lack of trust among the fans is another consequence. There are raised eyebrows at every outstanding performance. There is doubt when a young unknown comes from nowhere to win a race. There is doubt when an old rider defies advancing years to win. There is doubt when a team is dominant on the front of the bunch. There is doubt when a rider sustains a high performance for a sustained period. There is doubt when a rider peaks for a specific event. There is doubt when you have a good day. Or a bad day. And is it any wonder?



Ivan Basso, who has the credible Aldo Sassi vouching for him, couldn’t bring himself to say anything stronger than the sort of platitudes that were in vogue three or four years ago, which was a shame.



There are riders who are racing clean, some of whom may have been on the other side of the fence in the past, but for anyone to dismiss the past as another country is missing the point in the most spectacular way.



Until the conducted of the past is cleared up it will continue to bubble up periodically.



SO, ALL PUBLICITY IS GOOD PUBLICITY?

When the Wall Street Journal published its story this week, it printed a picture on its front page of Lance Armstrong riding the Tour of California. In the background was a BMC Racing rider - Simon Zahner.



The BMC Racing press department Tweeted breathlessly to alert people to the fact their rider had made the front page of such a prestigious paper. They even posted a snapshot of the newspaper’s front page at http://twitpic.com/1qn2uj



Not to worry that the WSJ reported that Landis had pointed the finger at Andy Rihs, John Lelangue and Jim Ochowicz, all of BMC Racing, all of whom denied the allegations.



But it goes to show the thought process at play. All publicity is good publicity. “Hey sponsors and fans, look at this photo of our rider on the front page.”



Yeah, neat. What’s the story about?



“Oh, don’t worry about that. Ignore the words. Look at the lovely photo.”

AND NOW…

…back to the racing. There is a helluva Giro d’Italia going on.

  • Adele McCann

    If the UCI dropped the haematocrit level to 40%, the doping would stop overnight. Setting a naturally unattainable limit of 50% has just given cyclists a licence to dope.

  • old hedgey

    How long will it be before ASO say “Stuff the UCI” and start runing their own calendar? Judging by the list of events they control or have an interest in , thehere would be more than enought to sustain interest
    May need a bit of boosting for late season but otherwise its all there.

  • old hedgey

    How long will it be before ASO say “Stuff the UCI” and start runing their own calendar? Judging by the list of events they control or have an interest in , thehere would be more than enought to sustain interest
    May need a bit of boosting for late season but otherwise its all there.

  • rolfman

    Excellent commentary, as you said, tangled web. The one problem is, who has been following the money?

    Three things we have been talking about at the bike shop.

    Landis is a dope. It has become somewhat clear that he kept his mouth shut to be allowed to race at a later date. There was either a quid pro quo or an implied quid pro quo. When powers that be did not allow him to race he found no reason to NOT tell the truth. Whistle blowers seldom do perform the act for altruistic reasons.

    Team Radio Shack is a joke, with a punch line to be delivered in the near future.

    UCI is in serious trouble. Either they were inept, complicit in the original crime, or responsible for the cover-up. The punishment for the cove-rup is always the worst.

  • Mick Tarrant

    Nice job Lionel, rewarded a full read as opposed to a skim. Well researched and some little known facts surfaced. I agree that Landis is discredited and he is no doubt bitter but how galling it must be for him when he sees his peers (including some of those he has fingered) still riding and making a good living.

  • yenrod

    I feel your comments are spot on !

    Thanks, clearified a few matters too.

    ;)

  • percepter

    Excellent article CW and some good comments ,especially by Manni.Note also the attempts to silence the Peurto
    investigation when really big money sports (Tennis,Football…) involvement became apparent,

  • Scott Taylor

    Great piece Lionel.

    The sport has been doping for decades. The dopers think themselves above the law, as does the rambling figurehead of the UCI. The whole thing stinks.

    I don’t care anymore if Lancie boy doped, I just want the truth to be out and my sport to be good.

  • Mr. C

    “On every other section of a newspaper, an editor requires his reporters to have audacity, determination, and to hold the buggers to account. Not in sport. As long as they turn up at a football match on time and file the copy, that’s all they’re interested in. So we have a cabal of sports reporters who succeed by assiduous arse-licking.”
    The above lifted from last week’s Independent.
    Bravo CW, you are taking the correct stance. We are all proud of you.

  • James

    Great article. It’s all a big mess.

  • Manni

    Cycling is the Sum of its Past – my sentiments exactly. Chapeau CW!

    There has been something rotten in the heart of stage racing since Geo Lefevre and Henri Desgrange first saw 60 riders off from Montgeron on the 1st July 1903 – six mammoth stages later only 21 brave souls came back. The following year many of the finishers, including the winner, were disqualified because of cheating. I’m sorry Henri, there are no superman – stage racing is, quite simply, a ridiculous idea.

    Since then doping has evolved from the soigneur’s magic potion and the Anquetil cocktail (which essentially prevented a rider from knowing his limitations, with tragic consequences in the case of our own Tom Simpson) to blood manipulation that artificially expands those limitations, often at great risk.

    For whatever reason, the riders of the modern era are allowing themselves to become the lab rats of corrupt doctors. In their defence, Bellocq, Fuentes and Ferrari would argue that the demands of the sport are such that during stage races the riders are making themselves ill… what harm a little medicine… what harm is there in topping up depleted levels… especially under the supervision of medical experts such as themselves? All for a fee, of course. The riders believe them to the tune of handing over tens of thousands of dollars for their PEDs each year.

    The UCI, if it doesn’t exactly condone the whole sordid business, does seem to be quite happy to turn a blind eye when it comes to certain riders… all for a fee… allegedly. Their ambiguous stance results in the ugly ‘Why me?’ posturing of those found guilty… and the omerta of the rest.

  • George

    So are radio shack going to do the right thing and withdraw Armstrong from the competition? In 2006 basso ulrich etc were all withdrawn due to implication in opperation puerto . Ballan is currently suspended due to involvement in another case. I know innocent until proven guilty is normal in law but cycling has rightly suspended riders or withdrawn them from competition until the drama has cleared . Unfair perhaps but let’s have some consistancy either reinstate everyother rider currently implicated in a drugs case or take out Armstrong before the tour. Otherwise there could be the biggest cloud ever over the tour .

  • Ken Evans

    Pat McQuaid’s apparent lack of interest in these allegations,
    is not impressive, and he has made a mess of the 2012 Olympic events,
    I think a replacement would be highly desireable.

    Seeya Pat !

  • BlackSheep

    Landis raises some valid questions, which if investigated independently may uncover the truth.
    If you trace the “line” backwards, Landis is a minor “detail” of a well established plan,
    that existed before and afterwards, with the connected players spread far and wide.

  • John Calliott

    You mention the whereabouts system. I was at the WADA website yesterday and saw that as of last year, the whereabouts went from 24/7 to a top athlete specifying where he will be for one specific hour a day. If that’s the case with the UCI as well, a rider could go elsewhere when the hour was up, micro-dose, and know they could go without a test for 23 hours if they want and not risk a positive.

  • dave

    Just can’t help thinking why this remorse from Landis, if he had put his hands up years ago he would not be insolvent and not credible given all his protests and ramblings and as part of his putting his hands up when he was caught and naming names a cancer would have been caught or at least investigated, hopefully thoroughly enough to deter those involved from further abuse.
    It always seemed incredible that whatever team Armstrong rode for all peaked at exactly the right moment and unless injured finished the Tour with an intact team.
    Then when riders left to go other teams were found to have doped, also look at a trail to Mr 60% teams of disgraced riders.