USPS Conspiracy Loose Ends

There are still unexploded bombs from World War Two. Every now and then one is discovered buried deep in the ground, often during construction work. Residents are evacuated, a security cordon is put in place, a military bomb squad arrives to defuse the defunct device and within a day or two construction work resumes.

Cycling has its buried bombs too. An axis of deceit carpet-bombed European roads, bridges and mountain passes with syringes and vials some of which are only blowing up today. Yesterday’s explosive stories about Lance Armstrong and others involved in the squad that went from US Postal to Radioshack was just one example. Only headlines and text got sometimes warped by the shock. Here’s a quick look at a few of the issues.

The news bomb about the pending charges for Lance Armstrong and others involved in the squad that went from US Postal to Radioshack resonated beyond the cycling media. France’s most watched news show covered the topic, Britain’s BBC ran the story in their news bulletins and in the US the story was broken by the Washington Post, pumped up by the Wall Street Journal and the main TV channels relayed the news. It went further than L’Equipe and

As I put on here yesterday it’s not about Lance Armstrong. His celebrity means the mainstream media runs his name but he’s just one of six facing charges.

No charges?
One of the most important things to note is that nobody has been charged. This fooled me yesterday too. Rather USADA has written to those involved to state it is “opening a formal action”. The six have time to make a written response and then the matter will be given to USADA’s Anti-Doping Review Board which will consider the proposals from USADA and any responses received in return and then decide whether to charge the six. Now the charges seem likely but on a procedural point USADA has only started the process and has yet to decide whether to put the case to an abitration panel. This might be a formality but it means for now the case is not in full swing. Those involved have been notified not charged.

Armstrong is out of the upcoming Nice Ironman triathlon because this is run by a profit-making company, WTC, with its rules. If he was still cycling then he would not be suspended.

Statute of limitations
Can USADA go back to events beyond eight years? Yes, as a past precedent exists. Where false statements have been given in the past this can reset the clock, as agreed in USADA vs Hellebuyck where the Belgo-American marathon runner was eventually busted for EPO. Also USADA suggests several of the events relating to the cycling case have happened in more recent years.

Can Radioshack be excluded from the Tour de France?
Yes and no. French radio has reported that ASO are reviewing whether to let Radioshack compete given the scandal. A review is normal and I think the team are safe.

Tour organisers ASO follow the UCI rules for the race but participation in the race is also the subject of their own rules, largely because the UCI deals with sporting rules whilst ASO extends this to wider behaviour. For example if a rider punches another rider then they can be excluded by the UCI rules. If a rider were to, say, punch a hotel worker in the evening during the race then ASO can act. Here’s my translation of ASO’s rule:

ASO holds essential the preservation of its image, its reputation and of its race. ASO reserves the express right to refuse the participation – or to exclude – from the event, a team or one of its members of which the presence would be likely to harm the image of ASO and/or the race.

The rule goes on to specify how this happens, notably whether it is because of one or more members of the team. Also the team has 24 hours to appeal and can go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for an expedited hearing to settle the matter. This happened in 2009 when ASO tried to block Tom Boonen from racing, his team went to the CAS and won.

As things stand right now Radioshack’s potential problems are Johan Bruyneel and Dr Pedro Celaya. To exclude the whole team would be a collective punishment for riders and other staff who are not part of the USADA case. In addition, as noted above even Bruyneel and Celaya have yet to be convicted, yet alone charged. It gets tricky here, can you exclude someone because they’re under investigation? My take is that the presence of Bruyneel would be bad for the team’s image, half the media’s questions would be about him so ASO might not want him there for their own image and let’s remember ASO and the UCI conspired to eject Alexandr Kolobnev from the race last summer, dumping the rulebook overboard for the sake of image. Plus the team and his sponsors would prefer the focus on the racing too so everyone has an interest in Bruyneel staying at home. But beyond the PR aspect of this, those involved still have the right to continue with their work.

So who won the Tour de France?
Lance Armstrong. But if the case goes to arbitration and Lance Armstrong is found to have committed an anti-doping violation then the rules state he must be disqualified of any results obtained. This is procedural, a consequence of the rulebook. There’s lots of chatter on social media about who might recover the “win”, cyclingtips has a good graphic from Bicycling Magazine in his item yesterday. We’ve seen the same happen already, only the other day Jan Ullrich was eventually convicted for doping and his results are stripped.

The future of cycling's past?

But there’s no winner. Most of the potential candidates who shared the podium were arch-dopers filled to the gills with blood the consistency of ketchup, it is absurd to award them the win. But that is what the rules say should happen and so we must support this, even if it feels like something out of a Kafka story. I want to see the rules upheld because flouting them created this mess but nobody will cheer for the new winner.

Why are they picking on Lance?
They’re not. Armstrong is named last on the list of six, one name amongst others. Besides USADA can’t chase after Italians or Germans, the US in USADA is for United States. Also note the idea of going after things from way back is not new. The Swiss and CAS eventually caught up with Jan Ullrich, a peer of Armstrong although they nailed him rather than the now-exposed organised doping system within the T-Mobile team.

How come some riders have testified, shouldn’t they be prosecuted?
We don’t know the identity of the 10 riders who have testified to USADA although I gather the list will probably spill on to the internet soon. British journalist Brendan Gallagher wrote a good piece asking why we’re listening to these witnesses instead of punishing them. It’s a valid question but invites three responses.

  • First the idea of a plea bargain is not new. Wikipedia says that 90% of criminal cases in the US are settled by plea bargaining rather than trial. Use of this technique by USADA seems routine in this light.
  • Second USADA is bringing a conspiracy case so this is about those allegedly involved in decisions to use banned substances and the trafficking of them, the riders lower down the chain didn’t have the same executive choices.
  • Finally it could indeed be a vengeful plot to get at Armstrong, Ferrari, Bruyneel and others. But I think the three reasons above also have merit.

They say truth is the first casualty of war and when a news bombshell like this explodes headlines ditch the nuance. It’s understandable but I thought it worth revisiting some of the issues here to explore things in greater detail. For now nobody is charged, we only have allegations and Radioshack’s riders should focus on the Tour de France.

The greater lesson here is that the past keeps coming back to bite us. Old stories might get buried under pages of newsprint but this one just keeps going on and on. However USADA’s action looks like the last of the matter although I suspect the “did he, didn’t he” debate with Armstrong will continue to rumble on internet forums and beyond.

A hearing is likely in November. The Tour de France is in two week’s time and here’s hoping we can get back to discussing today’s races as well as the issues facing the sport.

44 thoughts on “USPS Conspiracy Loose Ends”

  1. There are still races? I thought we were digging through the spaghetti that is doping history should we change the winners of The Tour from the early years for being on heroin. They should make it as a seperate sport so it doesn’t clash as much with actual real time races. It’s good to see that an outlet is bringing clarity to this mess rather than point fingers, thank you.

  2. An axis of deceit carpet-bombed European roads, bridges and mountain passes with syringes and vials some of which are only blowing up today. – One of the best of your many good lines.

  3. Excellent piece but you say “……Why are they picking on Lance? …They’re not. Armstrong is named last on the list of six, one name amongst others. Besides USADA can’t chase after Italians or Germans, the US in USADA is for United States”.

    So how come USADA can chase Ferrari who is Italian or indeed any of the first 5 names on the list who are anything but US citizens?

    • Like Kevin says, they USADA can run this. We saw CONI ban Valverde because it got the information during the course of its investigation into the Italians involved in Operation Puerto in Spain. But if it did go to a sanction, the US authorities would have to inform their counterparts in other countries for them to implement and enforce the bans.

      • So having “unconvered the issue” they could have gone after the non US riders involved on Postal/Disco (as well as other US riders).

        Surely not targetting “using” team mates as part of any alleged systemic doping conspiracy (to get Lance on the podium) as seems to be alleged does mean that Lance has been singled out as a rider (unless there are other “please explains” out there which have yet to be leaked)?

  4. Why we’re listening to these witnesses instead of punishing them?
    Because, at one point in history, the priority is to know the maximum amount of truth, not to punish the maximum number of sinners.

    • Good point Bundle. As usual, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

      What really interests me is the breakdown of the traditional “Omerta”. Never before have 10 people involved with the pro peloton spoken out on the record like this, Anonymous or not. In the past, reactions have been similar to Chris Horner’s.

      • I’m not going into in depth opinions and details here but what’s trully remarkable (IF this is eventually proved) is that, given the numbers of people involved in any such coverup, how this has stayed “underwraps” (using the term advisably) for quite so long…

        • Human nature repeating itself Ad infinitum. Coverups and obfuscation can greatly protract a time period until the so-called “facts” are revealed. This is a successful tactic as a majority will declare “too much time has passed just forget about it.” One notable example is the Pentagon Papers. Albeit, far from a sporting example, but an example nonetheless of decades passing before the subterfuge floats to the surface.

    • If the message you want to send out is that the “Hitler defence” is fine then go right ahead – just don’t expect any “they are all doing it” culture to be stamped out any time soon. How do you think the Bassons and Simeonis of this world feel about acceptance of sheep like personal morality?

      Any uncovering here appears to have flowed more from fear of “prison time” and/or immunity offerred in the context of the Feds aborted investigation (and to Landis’ and Hamilton’s personal circumstances which may have triggered that investigation) than to immunity offered by USADA in going after Lance (and the non riding part of the team).

      • Cyclung is a sport, a game. As in any game, cheating is conceivable and happens every day. Cheating must be policed and sanctioned during the game, as effectively as possible. But cheating is certainly not genocide, no crime against humanity.

  5. Ever since this came out I have wondered whether or not it’s a coincidence that George Hincapie announced his retirement the day before this came out. If the investigation is based on the testimony of Lances colleagues, George has to be one of them. I really respect George a lot for his accomplishments in his long career, but he was there during the height of the EPO years and I have to assume it was likely that he (like so many others) participated. I would respect him even more if after his retirement he were to talk openly about what went on, what choices he made, and why, even if he doesn’t talk about anyone other than himself.

  6. Thank you Inrng for bringing clear, concise, true information on this story. In the middle of all the “cycling is the new golf” types tearing up their pink Rapha polos, it’s quite refreshing.

  7. While I agree that doping is against the rules, and I think Lance more than likely doped, and I am not a huge Lance fan, I think we need to step back and ask ourselves does this do more harm than good. Lance’s charity sponsors a development team, is more or less responsible for RadioShack, a company that has no European stores, being involved in cycling, and has links to multiple, multiple cyclists who are extremely well respected. I fail to see how convicting Lance for things he did in the past cleans up cycling today (which should be the goal of a doping agency). Additionally, this is not a normal doping case. As noted above, this is a mainstream current event due to Lance being involved. In America, there are probably more people who know who Lance is than know where the Tour de France is held. And, contrary to what some journalists have written, Livestrong, and Lance have helped and been an inspiration to many people. All of that is nullified if he is convicted. No matter what, the vast majority of people who follow cycling will never have there opinion changed about Lance. It is those that do not follow cycling, but look up to Lance for reasons auxiliary to his cycling success that will be affected. As bad as it sounds, I think that convicting Lance does a lot of harm, to both the cycling and non cycling world, while only vindicating those fans who somehow feel they were personally slighted and lied to by Lance.

    • I know what you mean. But USADA isn’t there to take a view on the viability of a particular sport. This might cause damage but if you set up a WADA Code and give national agencies a mission they’ll try to pursue it. Are all sports treated equally? Who knows but few sports have had a doping problem as big as pro cycling.

    • Because 5 of the 6 accused are still active in professional cycling and need to be investigated if there is reasonable evidence against them. Sweeping it under the carpet is not an option. Most children are distraught when they find out Father Christmas is not real but they get over it.

      • Okay then go after them. Ban Johan for life. Tell me how stripping Lance of his TDF titles cleans up cycling? I completely agree that dopers should be punished, but this seems like a case where they’ve missed before so they’re coming up with something else. You can’t look at this in the cycling vacuum. And while convicting Lance does a lot of damage to the sport (and some have suggested damages the reputability of the UCI), it does an enormous amount of damage outside of cycling. As Ironman once said, sometimes it is the right time to do the wrong thing.

        • Yes I would agree that if Lance is found guilty of doping then it is damaging for the image of cycling, for the UCI, for teams and sponsors, and for fans. I was at the Tour for 3 of Lance’s wins, I thought he was clean at the time, but not now. However the sport also has to move on and demonstrate that it is prepared to clean up. Professional cycling has had ‘institutionalised’ doping going back many, many years. I am just reading Bjarne Riis’s biography, the exposure and acceptance of doping in the peleton is shocking, and I expect Bjarne has not revealed as much as he could have done.

          Other sports are not exempt, match fixing in cricket, lots of doping in Athletics (East Germany, Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Flo-Jo, etc).

          If we want the clean riders to win then the cheats must know they will be caught and banned. This includes the ‘sports doctors’, managers, soigneurs, and other hangers on as well. Part of the problem is the structure of the sport with short contracts, pushy directors wanting results at any cost, shady coaches, poor team structures and training regimes with riders often fending for themselves.

          The UCI comes out worst of all from all of this but in the long run this investigation is for the best.

  8. I completely agree. I do think there is a very big problem with the UCI. However, Lance aside, I think the publicity of big time doping scandals have changed the overall culture of the peleton. Berto is a good example of how things are changing. As much as the powers that be wanted to sweep it under the rug, they had to do something. In my opinion that’s why it was handled so poorly, as it happened during a potential paradigm shift. I think where the last generation of pro cyclists saw doping as a part of being a pro, brining doping out in the open has started to change how cyclists, particularly young cyclists, view doping.

    • There is a HUGE problem with the UCI. Apart from their constitution being completely discriminatory against non-European nations, they are the most inept, conflicted sporting administration in the world. As for Lance… I never liked him, but do think he’s being victimized and can’t really see the point.

  9. 2 things that people are not talking about that LA is at risk for…

    The big big deal in all of this that will ruin LA is the potential for him to have to forfeit the HUGE bonus paid to him for winning the TDF by the insurance company that Tailwind set up for LA. We are talking 25 million plus. This policy was like a ‘hole in one’ policy that the insurance company tried to fight which LA testified that he did not dope. So the second risk besides losing his fortune is perjury charges since he testified under oath before.

    His reputation is already toast. He only cares about $, girls, and himself. This is why he denies doping. Lastly, Chris Horner completely sold himself out defending LA in order in my opinion to get on TDF team.

  10. Horner’s got a gimpy leg and Lance has been perfecting dopage since the late 80’s. We all know this, they all know this, can we all go and get some miles in now?? FOOLS!!

  11. Just a few quick comments.

    1. Thanks for your enormous passion and respect of this topic.

    2. I remember the non-doping but enormously talented and highly motivated riders which were misplaced by some of the alleged and some of the caught dopers of that era. Those who made wise moral choices are not worrying about attorneys and public relations this last week. Sad that they did not have the opportunity to fully reach their potential because of what was occurring in those times. Sadder still that the cycling public at large could never get to know them; indeed in this way, everyone was cheated. Very glad that I was able to know them by association and be touched by their lives. Many of them are mentioned in my little blog. I just saw one of them at a lesser international race- still working hard in the sport – now attempting to influence young talents toward greatness as citizens as well as cyclists.

    3. Being a good guy in one aspect of life doesn’t absolve one from wrong doing in another area of life. If monies were donated to good causes due to celebrity, celebrity attained through immoral or unethical means; those same monies could still have been donated to good causes. It’s not as if Livestrong is the only charity that supports cancer research; I wonder where it rates in successful disbursement of funds for that cause? Perhaps that same excitement could have been generated by other persons into other organizations more effectively pursuing that cause. Bad men are persuasive; good men are influential; great men leave a long legacy.

    4. Growth in the sport is often equated with its success. We’ve probably all dated the hype, but we marry well when we espouse the steady.

    5. Noblesse oblige. With privilege comes responsibility. One cannot pursue fame and fortune with an iron will at all costs and expect not to pay the price. Perhaps now the reckoning has begun.

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