Leaked UCI Documents

According to leaked memos seen by Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad Lance Armstrong tested positive four times in the 1999 Tour de France. Sounds dramatic, no?

Only if parts of the media are reporting this as news (here, here or here) it turns out the UCI mentioned all of this last year in a press release. But whilst news of Armstrong’s positive test is stale as a baguette baked months ago, there’s some fresh insight because the memos appear to show the UCI positioning itself to explain past actions. Rather than analysing what went wrong the memos appear to be trying to present excuses for significant lapses in the UCI’s anti-doping procedures.

The same with the leaked information about Armstrong’s 2001 Tour de Suisse EPO tests. Whilst the media (ici) says there was no “cover-up” of a positive test there are still big questions that have yet to be answered.

With the four positive tests the substance in question was a corticosteroid. Back in 1999 corticosteroids were allowed for therapeutic reasons when applied locally, for example a rider could apply a cortisone cream to a saddle sore. But its abuse was banned, for example injecting corticosteroids into muscle tissue to relieve sore legs is doping.

July 1999
During the 1999 Tour de France we know Armstrong tested positive but this was explained by the use of a saddle sore cream and note from the team doctor was provided to explain this. It still caused a stir at the time but opinions were divided, to give an example on British writer said some French papers were running “a spiteful media campaign” which shows many were willing to give Armstrong the benefit of the doubt.

But the reason for the media division was a rule at the time shows there was no room for consideration. Here’s the rulebook from 1999:

As highlighted in red when the rider takes a test they have to state if they’ve used any substances for legitimate medical use. When Armstrong went to the anti-doping control he didn’t mention anything. As the rules say “if any such substance is found by the laboratory, the test result shall be considered positive and the rider shall be sanctioned.”

Armstrong tested positive four times but the UCI didn’t stop him. The memo – you can read it clearly here – says “As fare [sic] as I am aware only the result of 4 July has become public in the press, not the three other results” which is odd because of the UCI press release we’ve already covered.

Ad lib
The leaked UCI memos show the thinking at the time:

…the UCI anti-doping commission dealt with the case in a reasonable way and that it was convinced in good faith to have acted correctly. It is plausible that it was only a skin cream indeed.

But the idea of reason, interpretation and good faith didn’t come into it, there was no rule saying you can drop sections of the rulebook if they’re inconvenient. The rules were black and white.

Of course we can see the grey. The UCI wanted to wish this away as it’s 1999 and one year ago the Festina affair had almost stopped the Tour de France. Could the sport risk ejecting a rider from the race? All because someone messed up the paperwork? This would take the sport from tragedy to farce.

What’s most interesting with these leaked documents is that the UCI is persisting with the ad lib justification in 2013. We now know the US Postal team was doping with cortisone, Armstrong admitted this in the Oprah Winfrey interview. So the legal advice is still trying to explain what happened in a contextual basis. Rather than saying “sheesh, we were taken for fools” and asking how it can be prevented, the text we’ve seen suggests a range of ex post justifications. This is then perpetuated with the UCI press release out today which cites Article 43 and says it was ok to ignore it, citing “other evidence” and paths that lie well beyond the black and white text of the rule.

There’s plenty of speculation in the leaked memo, for example “Most probably Del Moral gave the skin cream to LA without issuing any medical prescription” but little introspection: the legal advice keeps trying to second-guess the actions of others rather than ask why the UCI was being , to put it kindly, so open in the interpretations of its rules.

The 2001 Tour de Suisse
There were no covered up positive tests in the 2001 Tour of Switzerland. But the leaked results form from the Lausanne lab reveal a high score and we get to see the accompany notes, notably they say there was a “strong suspicion of recombinant erythropoietin”, also known as EPO. In other words it’s official that there was no positive but that there were strong suspicions.

Now if you’re thinking “but we know Armstrong used EPO” then you’re right. But the leak gives us the paper proof that the UCI knew the test was suspicious. Given they had a rider with such suspicious numbers, the question what did they do next? Ideally they should have been watching the suspicious rider much more closely and testing more often. How many more times was Armstrong tested as a result?

As the UCI has stated many times there is no relationship between the testing of Mr Armstrong and the two donations he made to the UCI. As indicated above, as there was no positive test there was no test to conceal and no need for an incentive to attempt to have a test concealed.

That’s from a UCI press release issued in the wake of the USADA report six months ago. Since the UCI brings up incentives, note if there was no positive the UCI was still in a powerful position with the strongly suspicious note. Anyway, did the UCI move to test the rider more? There’s also the unresolveed issue of people connected to the US Postal team visiting the lab to discuss the test data with lab manager Martial Saugy.

Cui bono
After ad lib and ex post, now the Latin idea of cui bono or who gains? In some senses the leaked legal advice presented here reads like a public relations smokescreen rather than an analysis of the sporting law. If the UCI didn’t uphold its own rules in the past, a decade later it seems the efforts to justify this continue. Similarly with the leaked paperwork from 2011 we see proof of the high score and suspicion on paperwork. Who gains from making us think about how the UCI interpreted this?

If you think this is about 1999 and Armstrong, think again. Just because a test is new doesn’t mean old habits should be tolerated and if we can see the obvious reasons why the UCI let Armstrong ride on, it remains a breach of the UCI’s own rules. Who signed off on this sidestep of Article 43 and are they still, perhaps in an honorary role, still at the UCI? And just how does today’s generous adaptation of Article 43 stand up?

The most interesting thing is not what the UCI did in 1999, it’s how it continues to justify it today and resorts to the obfuscation of blaming others and reshaping the rules with the most liberal of interpretations. Apply Oprahvision hindsight and we can see the UCI was bending the rules for all the wrong reasons. It’s still struggling to confront this today as today’s media release shows.

There’s the role of the media too. Back in the day only a few journalists cared for Article 43. Even today dedicated cycling journalists are getting confused by the stories, claiming “news” of four positive tests when they were previously announced shows just how hard it is to keep up, especially as the past slips further and further away. The aborted Independent Commission was going to be so valuable but it wasn’t working, proved expensive and was getting inconvenient for some. Progress towards some kind of “truth and reconciliation” concept seems slow. For now we’re back to leaks, suspicion and confusion. Just like the old days.

23 thoughts on “Leaked UCI Documents”

  1. It seems that if this did go to an unbiased commission or court of some kind then there will be a lot of these messy UCI statements and memos presented, all contradicting each other and the other pieces of evidence. The UCI will then actually have to give their final position on these questions and the answers will have to stand up to cross examination, which it seems they won’t.

    They have given so many different ‘excuses’ over the years that they’ll have to either admit they repeatedly got a lot stuff very wrong or they repeatedly lied. I can’t really see them doing either in a hurry.

    Which would mean for us to get a meaningful TRC or whatever it’s got to be externally imposed on the UCI, and who is going to do that? WADA don’t have the money or by the looks of it the clout, the IOC look to be almost as corrupt, the national organisations are too busy looking after their own interests (and those of the bigwigs that run them) and most big sponsors seem to either just leave or keep their mouths shut, and who can blame them for not wanting to get caught up in this shit-storm? Have I missed another group with the will and power to do anything?

    So that just leaves the fans and a few individuals working in cycling (who actually want some truth to come out and things to change) to somehow apply enough pressure on these bodies to force the UCI big-shots to engage with a commission they know would essentially mean committing hara-kiri, or at the very least a bit of public self-flagellation.

    • “…most big sponsors seem to either just leave or keep their mouths shut, and who can blame them for not wanting to get caught up in this shit-storm?”

      We have never have heard what a sponsor really thinks about these situations – beyond a carefully worded press release dated one day after a rider tests positive. You have to think though that some huge sponsors, like Nike, have a pulse on what truly is happening behind closed doors. For some companies increased brand recognition probably outweighs the brand negativity generated by a deceitful rider.

      It would be interesting to organize and combine the voices of the sponsors to set the expectations on the governing bodies responsible for testing in the pro-peleton; and give them voting privileges on the board of directors – or hiring/firing power. You have to think the sponsors could really drive a lot of changes because of the money involved and the implications without.

      • Sponsors don’t want to spend much time reforming a sport when they could just drop money on tennis, sailing or golf. The loudest voice… is the lack of sponsors: look at the number of teams dependent on a wealthy patron or political power for financial support.

        • Maybe the lack of REAL sponsors is because cycling’s marketing value is overrated, teams cost too much, top riders earns too much.
          I’m not saying this, but maybe it is true.

          Obviously there are quite a number of teams which are “nonprofit”: Katyusha, Astana, BMC.

          But many others teams are sponsored by companies led (owned) by cycling fans. So their sponsoring is not purely business driven.

  2. I think the problem is that the UCI is full of the same people as it was then. Hein Verbruggen is still there and Pat McQuaid was President of the UCI Road Commission from 1998 onwards. They can’t accuse themselves, they’re still trying to defend their record.

    • I believe there was an Inrng post about the difficulties in getting McQuaid to leave office, but this is getting ridiculous. I don’t know how the guy can show his face within 5 km of anything having to do with cycling.

      It’s one thing to do a wrong, it’s a complete other thing to do a wrong and not fess up to it.

  3. One has to now wonder who else has benefited from what appears to be such a cover-up? Which former…and current…riders? Perhaps some who were once on a team with LA?

    I also just don’t get how, based on what is in the present day media release, you can have a rider come up suspicious at two separate times and NOT put more effort into investigating them. Unless, of course, you have something to hide and personal interests to protect.

  4. INRNG. A spot on review of just some of the problems the sport faces. Without major change at the top, the past and present situation will continue. Jallafan is correct to point out how difficult/impossible getting the required change is going to be. Those who clamour for due process, and I for one support this point of view, need first to understand the dire and questionable environment in which this process at present takes place.
    Only possible advice to everyone is unfortunately to remain cynical about those who should receive our admiration. What a sad state of affairs.

  5. It seems the only good thing LA has done for cycling was not take the case to arbitration.. I cannot imagine what would happen if this dragged on further…

  6. Reading the UCI’s statement yesterday it’s like they’ve not left 1999. Why can’t they just admit the whole saddle cream thing was a mess?

    Also what was the number of tests Armstrong got in 2001?

  7. Yep, spot-on analysis, again! The UCI has only ever been interested in PR and looked to promote itself and its commercial interests. Bad news was something to be hidden, not tackled.

    I guess there were some extenuating circumstances (post Festina), which would impact on 1999 behaviour, but, the positioning now is just not acceptible.

  8. Some of you keep going to the rule book like the rules mean something. As this case shows, the rules mean nothing until the UCI needs one to explain themselves. Not even plausibly explain themselves either.

    The bigger frustration in all of this is no one is bothering to follow-up on the Armstrong comeback samples being red-hot positive.

    Somehow, the UCI is permitted to define the rules of discourse and again, they’ve moved the argument away from the damning 2009 samples to some safer long-ago point in time. It’s like some of you guys like being lied to.

  9. The thing about the touted TRC, is that at least the ex-riders who confess will at least be able to gain some empathy from the public. The UCI will get buried beyond belief because they won’t be able to invoke concepts like the ‘quest for glory’ or the ‘hard-suffering life of a pro’. They’ll just look like a sordid, sweating bunch of despicable, gout-ridden ogres. Pat McQuaid is an ogre. You should see him eat. It’s disgusting.

  10. All I can remember is hearing proponents saying – “he never tested positive!”
    Fading echoes now…

    Can’t these wealthy patrons form an association to brow beat the UCI into actually doing their job? It’s affecting their investments if the sport continues to look/be extremely dirty.

  11. As INRNG points out, the charged atmosphere of the past persists even today, and it is still clouding the UCI’s judgement. A seemingly obvious sanction in 1999 has been reasoned away for 14 years. We speculate about motivations, while cycling’s governing body is silent about the true lessons that these facts can teach.

    Say what you want, but in 1999, I was content with the decision to let him continue given the minimal facts I knew at the time (television media), and my desire to see the next chapter of the fairy tale unfold. But I also was not a governing body that adopted a “rule of evidence” expressly stipulating a sanction for failure to comply!

    Two lessons I have learned in the past 14 years are 1) to suspend my willful suspension of disbelief and 2) to become better informed about the other athletes in the sport so I don’t put all of my eggs in one basket, so to speak.

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