Judgement Day

Today sees the UCI hold a press conference to present its verdict on USADA’s reasoned decision. It’s a monumental day as we could see the results of the Tour de France from 1999-2005 overturned, the final pen stroke that strips Armstrong of his wins and maybe his status and dignity too. It’s true, the Tour de France never quite ends on the Champs Elysées, instead the result will be announced in the conference room of a Swiss hotel.

Until the conference begins all we know is that the press conference happens at lunchtime in Geneva, Switzerland and we will have UCI President Pat McQuaid, Chief Doctor Mario Zorzoli and Francesca Rossi the anti-doping official who sadly only appears on set-piece occasions. Ahead of this I wanted to think about the issues for consideration and things to look for and I’ve written a few down.

First let’s cover the basics of why this is happening:

  • USADA’s reasoned decision covers the Lance Armstrong case and if it shone a light on the practices within the US Postal/Discovery team the verdict is about Armstrong
  • The others involved in the conspiracy case have either already been banned or await arbitration hearings
  • The UCI has to validate or reject the reasoned decision regarding Armstrong
  • Note the verdict is not binary, the UCI doesn’t have to accept or reject the 201 page decision in its entirety, instead it can accept some points and reject others
  • If the UCI rejects the decision or points within it then it must take this to Court of Arbitration for Sport
  • The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is also reviewing the decision and will give its opinion shortly too

Probable Outcomes
The UCI can often surprise. But I think they will accept USADA’s decision to award Lance Armstrong a lifetime ban and delete his wins since 1998 because of the extensive sworn testimony and supporting evidence. After all, as The Boulder Report says “if it were appealing to CAS, why not just issue a press release rather than hold a press conference where they’d likely be crucified?” and I’d add why bring the scientists like Zorzoli and Rossi along if you intend to announce a decision on legal issues like jurisdiction and the rulebook?

I suspect they will refute allegations of cover-ups and deploy the medico-science staff to explain how, if Armstrong returned suspicious samples in EPO tests from 2001, this was distinct from an actual positive test where the threshold is higher. They are also likely to present a defensive case to explain why they were not able to catch the cheats but this is tricky because they won’t like to admit the system failed so comprehensively.

But this is just speculation, we’re trying to extrapolate the fact they’ve booked a conference and read info based on the panel of attendees. By contrast some things are certain. During summer USADA and the UCI played email tennis, arguing backwards and forwards about jurisdiction, at times joined by their doubles partners WADA and Armstrong’s lawyers. So the UCI could still try to keep up its challenge although now a verdict has been made public by USADA this would be a technical exercise in time-wasting that could somehow sink the UCI’s reputation just that bit more. We could also see the UCI seek to challenge the statute of limitations deployed by USADA but a CAS ruling has accepted that national agencies can invoke their national laws so the UCI again look bad for no obvious reason.

Journalist Richard Moore has speculated that they could try to appeal the reduced bans given to those who confessed and came forward to USADA and not to undo them but to extend them. This could let the UCI seem tough on doping but reduced bans are allowed under the WADA Code in return for “substantial assistance” so the CAS would have to debate whether confessions by, say, Zabriskie or Hincapie were substantial in assisting with the prosecution of Armstrong.

So Who Wins The Tour de France?
The rules are crystal clear that if someone is caught  then the runner-up is awarded the result. Only as we know, the large majority of overall contenders in the Tour de France and other races were on serious doping programmes. Therefore to award the Tour de France to another feels like we’re giving the race to someone who simply managed to avoid detection. Some are minded to leave the results blank, even Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme has said this.

But I’m wary of retrospective rules, especially because if we change the rules for 1999-2005, let’s not kid ourselves the winners in, say, 1998 or 2006 were clean. Half of today’s problems stem from the UCI bending the rules to suit. Maybe it could stick to its rulebook and leave us to impose our prejudices? Those who get promoted to the Tour winner can hardly dine out on the news, don’t expect them to have the champagne on ice. In fact they will just feel more heat as the media asks whether they too used more EPO than a ward of chemo patients. Still here’s the list of runner-up riders:

1999 Alex Zülle
2000 Jan Ullrich
2001 Jan Ullrich
2002 Joseba Beloki
2003 Jan Ullrich
2004 Andreas Klöden
2005 Ivan Basso

Beware of promises from the UCI
Each time we’ve had a scandal in the past – and there have been many – the UCI says we need to look to the future and boasts cycling leads the way with anti-doping measures. Only it’s not worked. Bring in an EPO test and riders switch to blood doping. Introduce a stealth test for plasticizers and riders have switched to veterinary blood blood bags with different chemical composition or even glass bottles.

If there’s to be change, the UCI has to drop the old script and admit the polar opposite: the UCI must look to the past to learn as many lessons as possible and also recognise that all the anti-doping tests in the world can’t catch the cheats, they are just one tool to help rather than impregnable shield. Similarly watch out for the UCI calling for four year bans because maybe these help us forget the cheats but they probably only act as marginal deterrent. It’s detection, stupid.

The Sysmex espresso machine

Questions For The UCI
If the governing body is holding court today it is also a chance to put some questions to them. It’ll be interesting to see what they say but hopefully they do some Q&A with the media. As an academic exercise, here are some of the questions I would put:

  • Did they receive the unedited version of USADA’s reasoned decision? As other names are mentioned in the document with their identity blacked out, is the UCI seeking to investigate these people?
  • Similarly some names were not edited, for example information from Italy reveals large payments by Andrey Kasheckin and Alexander Vinokorov? Has the UCI began in investigation into this or instructed the Kazakhs to look into this?
  • It seems the UCI received $25,000 + $100,000 in donations from Lance Armstrong and companies connected with him. Is this the total sum received by the UCI and its officials?
  • If the UCI took $125,000 and bought a Sysmex analysis machine for $88,000 where did the other $37,000 go?
  • Have other riders made donations to the UCI and its officials?
  • As Martial Saugy claims, when Armstrong’s samples from 2001 and 2002 suggested possible EPO use did the UCI contact Armstrong about this? Did they follow up on this with more extensive and aggressive testing?
  • It’s judgement day for Lance Armstrong today but this reflects on the sport as a whole. Given we know the sport was full of systemic doping across several teams both before and after the Festina affair, would the UCI consider an independent investigation into this system problem to learn what went wrong for so long?
  • Each time we’ve seen scandals the UCI promises cutting edge anti-doping tests and expresses faith in a new generation of riders. What can the UCI do to suggest it can turn things around?

If you have any more questions, feel free to ad them below in the comments before the press conference starts.

Stages in the Tour de France begin with a neutral procession called the départ fictif and now it turns out even the finish can be fictional with the result taking more than a decade to be decided. We’ll finally get the UCI’s opinion on the USADA judgement and no matter what happens it will be controversial. Either numerous results from the sport are rewritten or the UCI risks an open war with WADA if it gets picky over jurisdiction, launching an appeal than could drag on into 2013 and beyond. Either way we can expect the UCI to defend itself.

Be careful when the UCI asks people to look the future because in the coming weeks we get the verdict on Frank Schleck and a hearing for Carlos Barredo. There are two criminal investigations in Italy – Padova and Mantova – and there is more to come in Spain with the Operation Puerto trial. In other words Lance Armstrong might be high profile history but big names in the sport today are still caught. Any move to the future has to learn from the past and embrace new methods that go well beyond the collection of urine and blood samples.

As much as we might want them, today’s not the day for sweeping reforms so don’t get your hopes up for massive change. Don’t expect Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid to offer apology and resignations either. Things move slowly in Aigle. However the UCI is often behind the news and has to get ahead as questions on how to fix the sport and reform its governing body grow louder every day. How the UCI performs today will go a long way to setting the tone for the next few months and beyond.

67 thoughts on “Judgement Day”

  1. The UCI has a very difficult task in front of it. Missteps could kill the sport in the heart of the broad public. It is already coughing up blood. If the past is any guide I don’t hold out much hope and expect a whitewash.

  2. I would add: In light of the systematic doping that occurred under Hein Verbrugen’s presidency do you think that he should now step down and distance himself from the sport, independent of an investigation which may or may not occur?

  3. The best thing to happen tomorrow is for the UCI to 1. go with the USADAs decision and ban Lance for life and take the wins away (no replacement winners for is Tours either), 2. acknowledge its role in the failures related to anti-doping prevention, enforcement, and leadership, and 3. announce that their the role in cycling will be reviewed and that a change at the helm will happen.

  4. I agree that the UCI will definitely defend itself during this press conference, but it is going to be a little sticky since the anti-doping job has been pretty well botched for the last 10 to 15 years. I suspect they will uphold all the bans because the last thing they (should) want is for this mess to go on another bunch of months in a CAS case where corroborating evidence of 1999 EPO positives are added to testimony after testimony of a doping infested peloton. This would just cause the UCI to be dragged through the mud for longer. With that said though, it’s McQuaid we’re talking about and who knows what ridiculousness he might come up with.

  5. I would add the more specific question: In the light of the fact that the UCI’s previous policies of ‘look to the future’ and ‘we will test more’ have resulted in Lance Armstrong getting away with ‘the most organised doping regime the sport has ever seen’ as well as rumours of UCI complicity would the UCI accept that it should cede its anti-doping responsibilities to an independent organisation?

    • Yes, it’s frustrating that this seems like a relatively straightforward thing to achieve. I just can’t see any argument against it. Lose a massive conflict of interests just like that.

  6. Once again the question arises- who investigates the UCI? It seems more frequent that questions come about regarding the UCI and their improprieties but they seem to answer only to themselves. Quite a cozy organization! Its time for McQuaid to accept responsibility for failing cycling and step aside.

    • This point is made regularly – but WHO is going to get these guys out of power?
      All of these organizations, from the IOC on down, are good ol boys clubs. You can sleep safe at night knowing that they will do anything to hang on to power, and that they have done everything possible to ensure that the system benefits their hold on power.

  7. My question: if Lance ran such a large doping enterprise, how is it possible
    That he has never been tested positive? He is afterall the most tested athlete that
    I know of. If there were cover-ups, those in the UCI need to
    Take the fall for it.

    • Andre – Read the report. Lance has not been tested as many times as he claims so you are repeating what you have heard. He had advanced warning of tests (so he was able to beat them) and in some cases the testers where called off. It also appears that he had the protection of the big guns at UCI so some of the tests may have been covered or tempered with to eliminate a positive (not sure about this at this point but it is possible). And for a long time he used EPO when there was no test for it.

    • Because the sad truth is that the tests simply aren’t very effective at catching dopers. Passing tests proves very little. (Failing one proves a lot – but passing them doesn’t).

  8. UCI will inevitably underwhelm in their response.

    Historically their actions can be summed up as giving favours to the special riders, oligarchs and special interest corporations.

    Lance is a visible example of one such special rider, for oligarchs just look to the east, as far east as you like, and for corporations, consider the simple thing like technical regulations for road bikes, specifically when it comes to rule regarding fairings, then have a close look at their billionaire Swiss pals BMC’s TMR01 frame.

    UCI seems to be all about bending the rules to suit whatever objective brings in the most money. Thus with that in mind, expect the usual from the press conference.

  9. The worst thing one can accuse a governing body of is, not corruption but, incompetence and the UCI are showing evidence of both.

    The first rule of crisis management is to get all the bad news out in one to avoid this exact situation of having a drip drip drip of bad news over a period of weeks and months. Something that seems to have completely passed by the senior management of the UCI comfortable as they are in their well decorated ivory towers in geneva.

    Sponsors are now leaving the sport in droves and there is a crisis running right the way throught the sport in funding.

    I believe that the UCI has massively underestimated the impact of this crisis and will try to do the minimum necessary in this conference and we will all be shaking our heads at the end at the sheer gaul of them in not addressing any of the obvious issues that are prevalent at the moment in cycling

  10. You make it sound like UCI has some decisive power in accepting or rejecting the USADA report. It doesn’t. Only the CAS, and (in extremis) the federal court system of Switzerland have the power to over-turn the USADA decision. UCI can have its opinions on the report, but they are not decisive – the UCI can only decide whether or not to appeal to CAS.

    • Yes, you’re right. I did say “If the UCI rejects the decision or points within it then it must take this to Court of Arbitration for Sport” above.

      But it is a big day because it marks the moment when everything is changed by removing the results and validating USADA’s decision instead of going to the CAS and the story dragging on and on.

      • Yeah, I guess I’m being a bit pedantic about the notion of the UCI being able to validate the report. 🙂

        It’s a big day indeed. At least, it could be, if the UCI appeals OR if the UCI announces things that will finally mark the start of UCI taking reform of Pro cycling anti-doping seriously. However, as you and others have pointed out, probably they’ll do the least they can get away with it, and the conference will be more about excuses and pushing the finger of blame away from the UCI than reform. ☹

      • These folks have no shame. I’d bet they’ll cite this acceptance of USADA’s action as proof of their anti-doping efforts…forgetting (and hoping the Kimmage court does too) all about their recent claims that USADA had no jurisdiction. Haven’t you ever talked to anyone like this? They tell you something that is pure BS, you call them on it and they turn it around, trying to make YOU think you were the one who said it. These asshats didn’t get to the top of their dung heap by being honest and forthright!

  11. You say: “watch out for the UCI calling for four year bans because maybe these help us forget the cheats but they probably only act as marginal deterrent. It’s detection, stupid.”
    To really simplify drug taking in cycling, it could be reduced to- the probability of receiving the punishment and the size of punishment *is less than* the probability of getting the reward and its size.
    So the system incentivises drug-taking.

    On your comment, I’d suggest that a 4 year ban (the punishment) with the detection (probability of receiving the punishment) would go a long way to tipping the balance into disincentivising cheating.
    The current 2 yr ban is surmountable- it’s a long training break and the dopers nearly always return to a contract. A 4 yr ban lets the body and racing mind deteriorate. Director sportifs would ask “who are you?” Retirement and a new profession must be considered. A 4 yr ban would be an excellent lever tweak to the system.

    (Excellent blog INRNG; your articles are always thought-provoking).

    • I agree, an increase in the ban can help but most riders are not being caught.

      Plus if we run with logic, if we raise the cost of a ban then perversely we encourage the cheats to spend even more money not to get caught too?

      • “if we raise the cost of a ban (4 yr ban) then perversely we encourage the cheats to spend even more money not to get caught too?”
        … And when they do get caught, a 4 yr ban would increase the cost of the legal battles with the UCI, as the doper spends all their winnings on legal fees to save their career. You’re right- a really thorny issue.

  12. Another excellent blog inring.

    We know other teams/riders are still continuing with their old habits. Caught, unrepentent dopers are still in management roles, suspect medics are still involved at the top level, the number of UCI tests has declined in the past few years, results at one grand tour are still questionable, The UCI still has oversight of their own testing programme, etc. etc.

    My question would be what, if anything, does the UCI propose to do about these concerns.

    It would be wonderful to see the two clowns resign, I know it won’t happen, but a further worry would be who takes their place.

  13. I sadly do not have the time to read the legions of opinions and information relating to all the points of potential argument that the UCI might make today. As a road side fan since 1984, I hope that someone at the UCI realizes that it is the appearance all this gives to the general public that is important. The truth of the detail, who did what and when, is irrelevant, they(UCI) have to hold their hand up, say clearly that they must bear a heavy burden of responsibility and make huge brave and courageous changes to the way they run the sport. Independent testing with the latest techniques and investigational powers and massive penalties are required. Make the penalty for being caught so unthinkably bad that no one even considers doping.

    If the public, the non cycling public continue to feel that professional cycle sport is all about doping, then companies/sponsors will pull out of the sport in droves. They cannot bury this, say it is all different now, they HAVE to get the past out, wash the dirty linen in public and be so strong in dealing with it, that others sports gasp and admire our courage. The public will see this, I believe, and be prepared to say ” they really have turned over a new leaf, new people in charge, guilty by association people have gone etc”. A lot of the peleton has been very quiet, I think they can not see, that just saying “this was ages ago, nothing to do with us” is not enough. How bold would the UCI be, if they were faced with a strike by all the riders, with continued disruption until real change occurs.

    I also hope that the Tour de France guys at ASO, have the courage, if the UCI aren’t strong enough, to make special arrangements for the tour, because if there is one brand that is most damaged by all this, it is the Tour.

    I am so upset about this , stealing a few minutes at work to write this, so the grammar is po0r and the argument unstructured. I want to give a huge thank you and a hug to Walsh, Krimmage, leMond, Landis and Hamilton ( and to many others not mentioned ). You have the moral courage to match the courage of clean riders dragging themselves up the big climbs.

    So from a fan, please stop the rot in the sport I love. I bet the UCI will never read all the stuff we are all saying.

    • I think that the best hope for reforming the sport is if all of the major tours (threaten to) host their tours independently of the UCI and, in particular, with an independent testing regime. The UCI is not going going to do this by themselves, I fear, so some external pressure will be necessary…

  14. Hi, do you recall if Schleck was ever paid the winner’s prize for the 2010 Tour and if Contador gave his back? Thanks!
    Also, from ’99 to ’05 what was the bonus for a stage win, and the bonus for a day in yellow jersey?Looked all over the tdf.fr site and could only find the current values for those bonuses.

    • The CAS was supposed to rule on Contador’s fine but I’ve searched for this but not found it. Perhaps you need to call them? I’ve heard nothing has been repaid, after all the money is given out to to team mates and spent, it is impossible to recover. The UCI has tried in the past but it’s been hit and miss. As for the prize money, I don’t have this to hand either, sorry.

  15. question : with the fall out from the USADA report and the large amount of current doping related investigations , is it not time for the UCI to let doping controls and investigations got to an independent body and the UCI concentrates to promotion of the Sport ?

  16. My additional question would revolve around [Michael Ashenden’s?] revelations regarding suspicious blood values being handled by the UCI first and then it being reliant on them to pass the case up to the Expert panel. This is open to abuse and corruption. The UCI should not be handling any of this.

  17. If the UCI ask for repayments of prize monies, based upon Mr Armstrong, then it is simplistic – the money moved from the UCI bank account to Mr Armstrong’s account should be return, with interest incurred since the win. For team winnings, how does this work? Would the UCI want returned money from the individual rider, or from the Proteam? – in which case, both USPS and Discovery have since exited the sport.

  18. You would ask the UCI if other riders made donations to them. I’d like to know that as well. Also, it seems that allowing riders to donate to the UCI is just asking for corruption, but I suppose it’s legal. Is it? Does the UCI have to list who donates to them?

    • I mean, does the UCI have to make who donates to them public, but I guess not since we don’t know what other riders gave them money. Still, I’d really like to see them address this, betting they won’t.

  19. I’d also like to see the UCI address these questions:

    Why did the UCI refuse to allow USADA to independently investigate the allegations of corruption within the UCI.

    Will the UCI let any independent body investigate these allegations and allow access to the files, emails and other correspondence that it refused to submit to USADA?

    Why have these allegations not already been independently investigated and published?

  20. “They [the drug cheats] have never apologised to the UCI as far as I know” Pat McQuaid

    What hubris, what arrogance, what delusion. Cyclists forced to take drugs to ride in his sport are the ones who need the apology.

    “I came in to fix things and I still intend to fix things” Pat McQuaid

    This sport won’t change.

  21. In some ways the outcome of the press conference was the worst result possible. By accepting the report and stripping Armstrong the UCI have relieved the pressure on them. If they had elected to fight the report, on whatever grounds, the resulting humiliation and fallout could well have brought about real change.

  22. Will the UCI still use their “selection criteria” for awarding Pro tour licences, and do the UCI think US Postal (or even Astana today) would pass the “ethical” criteria the UCI have?

    • If the UCI heavily weighted the mythical ‘ethical’ component of the licence criteria (and published the criteria), teams might pay more attention to what their riders are up to. Is Cycling a ‘team’ sport or not? If a positive genuinely threatened the WorldTour status that might be a step forward.
      Inner Ring, can you shed any light on the criteria?

      Also, in the press conference the issue of the payment and the suspicious test seemed to cause the most angst with McQuaid. The Lab head said that the practice is to call the rider in to the UCI. McQuaid spoke of Hamilton coming in, but the most important bit went begging.

      Was Lance called in? On what date? And what date was the payment made? Between this and Padua there’s a lot more to come.

  23. So, how does it work if the “win” falls to another convicted doper (Ullrich)? Does it just keep getting passed along until it finds someone who hasn’t been caught doping?

  24. According to the press release the UCI seems content to both criticise the content of the reasoned decision and accept it’s findings?

    Is this a new political stance called ‘bothism’, where you take both possible sides so you can cover all positions.

    Greatly disappointed about the lack of acknowledgement of conflicts of interest, but that wasn’t likely to happen really was it?

  25. I wish the UCI would take all the monies repaid to them by dopers having to repay prize money and give it to WADA to help clean up the sport.

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