It’s not about the bike rider

60 minutes

Just a short post to say with all the talk of Lance Armstrong’s former team mates singing to the media and the ongoing investigation, one thing to remember is that this isn’t the trial of Lance Armstrong. Instead it’s an investigation into a potential misuse of public funds in the US.

Obviously Lance Armstrong is very prominent, he is a celebrity whose name goes well beyond the sport of cycling and few know about Johan Bruyneel or Bart Knaggs. But this isn’t about Armstrong, or rather it’s got the potential to involve a much wider cast of characters.

Allow me to run with the idea that US TV channel CBS has got wind of George Hincapie’s statements to US authorities. An athlete that confesses to the use of banned substances or methods is liable for a full two-year ban. Many a team would sack a rider if they get sanctioned for doping. In other words, Hincapie might be doing his last race in California right now.

Similarly if the heat is on Lance Armstrong right now, what about team manager Johan Bruyneel? I’m certainly wondering about the future of the Radioshack team, just how long would a sponsor want to be associated with what might turn out to be a very bad news story?

In addition there’s plenty more to consider, from the future of some officials at the UCI and even the possibilities for the charity projects and foundations borrowing Lance Armstrong’s name and image, not to mention other businesses here.

I’ll stress that tonight’s 60 Minutes show is just a TV show. We’ll see what the investigation turns up. But for all the column inches devoted to a now retired rider, however famous, there are potential consequences for active team managers, for wholly innocent riders who happen to be with Radioshack and perhaps for some officials, if not for the sport of pro cycling as a whole.

15 thoughts on “It’s not about the bike rider”

  1. Life somtimes has the very bad habit of cathcing up with you. But hey, you can still run a professional cycling leage from jail and letting the choir boys take care of the spotlight on the dance floor.

  2. I’d been waiting for the what-did-Bruyneel-know-and-when-did-he-know-it question. He probably won’t have RadioShack after this season. Taylor Phinney even pointed to that issue when he signed with BMC for this season.

    Professionally, nothing good can come of getting involved. Obedience to the omertà lets unrepentant dopers like Riccò quickly return to the top of the sport, but doing so much as confessing to an (obvious) hematocrit-related nickname will get you suspended from directing your own team. Some reward for coming clean.

  3. Like your site, and check in every day, but I have to I disagree with your summary that it’s just “an investigation into a potential misuse of public funds in the US” – I understand that it’s a lot more than that…

    Sure, there’s the company and sponsorship fraud to be looked into, such as the selling of Trek bikes to launder the sponsorship dollars and convert them into a doping slush fund, but there’s also at least:
    # the tax evasion (and showing other riders how to effect this properly as well);
    # the money laundering;
    # the ‘payments’ to the governing body to cover up positive test returns;
    # the use of illegal substances appropriated from clinical trials;
    # the transportation of illegal substances across international borders;
    # not to mention selling millions of books describing the ‘fairy tail’ (or the lies, as we may be told);
    # the bullying and dispensing of any employees who discover the truth;
    # the publicly discrediting and suing people who dared to speak the truth;
    # the doping to prepare for and win all seven of his Tours;
    # the lying under oath to win multi-million dollar lawsuits (SCA etc. – you’ve seen the video testimony he gave to SCA lawyers?)…

    I haven’t even touched upon how people affected by cancer might feel if they discover that their idol was in fact a fraud.

  4. Martin, while your laundry list of accusations is all part of the whole story, I don’t believe they are all part of the federal investigation. While they may all help tell the story prosecutors are trying to sell, some of these are not crimes in the US.

    I don’t understand why so many people are making a big deal out of the “selling of bikes” accusation. Teams often get extra equipment from sponsors for the very purpose of turning them into cash. This is because offering extra items you manufacture is a lot cheaper than offering additional cash.

    Champs, as for punishing riders for admitting doping, this is why I have long stated that there needs to be some sort of “truth & reconciliation” committee and amnesty program, otherwise, what is the incentive to cooperate? The zero tolerance hard line drawn by WADA & the UCI may seem noble, but all it does is foster silence.

  5. Martin, I meant that this isn’t a matter of Armstrong being on trial for doping. Obviously any allegations surrounding this generate a lot of headlines but the investigations, as you sugggest, seem to involve a lot more.

    T-R: I’m not sure about the idea of an amnesty. Why would anyone come forward if they’d gotten away with something for a long time. For sure the hard line approach encourages many to stay silence but those who have made a name for themselves might prefer to sit silent rather than admit they cheated. If anything some cycling fans might say “ok, so you were doing the same as many other riders, big surprise” but the wider public, corporate sponsors and others might eat them alive.

  6. A “truth & reconciliation” or amnesty process is contingent on riders (and others) telling the truth and admitting to past behavior. The risk of being named by colleagues is the incentive to come forward and participate (and punishment after the end of the “amnesty” deadline is the disincentive to say quiet.) However, of the major stakeholders in pro cycling, which ones have a strong interest in uncovering bad behavior in the past? The UCI has no incentive to expose prior laxity or failures, the teams jeopardize their existence if they disappoint or drive away sponsors, and the sponsors don’t spend money to get negative attention. And of the riders, the only ones who seem driven to confess are those who have already been caught. Passionate fans seem to want the truth, but fans don’t have a seat at the table, or money at stake.

  7. I like what you did with the name of the blog.

    One could argue the very existence of the professional sport is at stake:

    The biggest name in the sport from the last ten years is about to be branded a cheat with a label that will stick (possibly).

    The biggest active name in the sport from the last ten years is about to be branded a cheat with a label that will stick (possibly).

    (I love a bit of hyperbole)

  8. Now it’s clear why bruyneel is at the giro instead of the ToC despite the latter being a much higher priority for the team and sponsor. Hiding in the dolomites to avoid doping questions. Not a good sign for continuation of the team in it’s current form if the team director cant attend the most important race of the year.

  9. CBS news doesn’t have the best reputation for honest and/or ethical reporting.

    Recall CBS star reporter Dan Rather was pushed out for aggressively promoting and reporting “smoking gun” evidence that former President George Bush relied on political favors in using National Guard service to evade military service.

    That “evidence” was later revealed to be forged, and there were good reasons that Dan Rather knew, or should have known, the documents were fake. At the very least, Rather was very non-critical of the fake documents, for his own partisan purposes.

  10. Tom, I don’t think its especially wise to get into U.S. politics here, but I want to point out for the benefit of readers overseas that the Dan Rather case is NOT a cut-and-dried case of bad reporting, as you make it out to be. It was not conclusively established one way or another whether the documents are forged; the commission that investigated the story did not consider the issue. The documents were not authenticated, and couldn’t be authenticated; that was the issue. Dan Rather continues to maintain that he was unaware that the documents were not authenticated, and that the underlying story is essentially true in any case. Whether Rather’s reporting of the story was “aggressively promoted” by him is a subjective issue. Rather, and lots of other people, see the firing of the story’s producer, and his eventual departure from CBS as being politically motivated by an intimidated PR department, rather than an appropriate and measured response to a journalistic misstep.

    So, that’s the other side. But consider, also, that even if the version of events that you present is 100% accurate and does not view the Killian documents issue with any particular political lens (though I think that we both know that we each have a politically-influenced view of things), then it resulted in the responsible parties being fired – exactly what a responsible news organization should do.

    In short, if you’re trying to suggest that CBS is an untrustworthy news organization because of the Killian documents controversy, and that this “60 Minutes” report should therefore not be taken seriously, there are serious objections to be made both your chosen evidence and your conclusion. CBS remains a reputable news organization; if you’re going to claim otherwise, more evidence is needed.

    That’s all I have to say about that.

  11. I watched the show and I am missing one crucial information: what happened during Mr Hamilton’s CSC era: Did he doped also under Riis supervision? Did Bjarne Riis know and encouraged doping it the similar matter as US Postal/Discovery management?

  12. Miso Kuropka: that’s a point I made via Twitter as well the other day. If Hamilton really wants to come clean then it’d be good if he explains everything about CSC, Phonak, and even what happened with the US team in the Olympics too as whilst he won the medal, he escaped a doping ban after a technicality with the B-sample for the time trial.

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