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