UCI Witness Appeal

CAN YOU HELP? From 1998-2013 a series of anti-doping offences were committed. Did you see or hear anything? If so, contact the UCI.

The UCI announced that its Lausanne-based Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) is now seeking witness testimony from people in the cycling world. Here’s hoping it works but the incentives to come forward look slimmer than Michael Rasmussen from July 2007. All the same the CIRC is an attempt to understand and even document the past.

18 months ago I wrote any “truth and reconciliation” process was facing more than a headwind. The CIRC isn’t truth and reconciliation but the same two arguments apply:

  • the CIRC is subordinate to national laws. Any testimony, even if given in confidence could be requested by various national agencies, perhaps even under a subpoeana and be used against the witness
  • Switzerland is famous for its mountains and cheese but also known for its assisted dying clinics. The UCI appears to be getting into this business by proposing that past dopers travel to Switzerland and commit career suicide. Anyone who has got away with doping has little incentive to come forward now. This was a theoretical argument 18 months ago but see the Stuart O’Grady case for a practical example of how news from long ago can become very topical

Reduced bans
Given these twin hurdles, there has to be an incentive. The press release states “the CIRC will have the authority to propose reduced sanctions” but once again this is not new, it’s already in the WADA Code. The only novelty seems to be that WADA is recognising the CIRC as a body able to initiate the process when it’s normally the role of a governing body or a national anti-doping agency.

The WADA Code has always said anyone offering “substantial assistance” can get a reduced ban but crucially 10.5.3 of the Code states this only applies if someone else is convicted: it’s not enough to give up a ton of information and get a reduced ban, the individuals named then have to be prosecuted. So the CIRC’s not really empowered here to relieve anyone, it is merely executing the WADA Code. Anyone with a ban today or tomorrow and useful anti-doping info can call the UCI, IAAF, ATP, USADA or anyone else and expect the same treatment, a reduced ban in return for a plea bargain.

As an aside, as much as this is independent, the UCI is putting out the press releases and Brian Cookson was on hand to present the commission at a media event today. Independent? Presumably here after the UCI cuts the umbilical cord.

Looking forward
The CIRC has several practical difficulties. But it’s very well resourced and impeccably staffed. Which raises hopes it can get good work done. As much as we might take it for an inquisition it is also an attempt to compile a history of the past in cycling, the real story behind so many of the falsified results over the years. It won’t correct the past but it could document some of the events and collecting testimony, even in secret, can add to a greater understanding. The CIRC won’t stop so we might as well hope it delivers.

In the spirit of helping the CIRC, why wait for the phone to ring? Instead it’s time to start cold-calling. Here are some suggestions although the list could go on much longer:

  • Lance Armstrong said he’d be “first through the door” with a UCI commission
  • Squinzi: Verbruggen threatened to disqualify Mapei
  • Hajo Seppelt, the German journalist who flushed out the news of Alberto Contador’s positive test when normally the UCI rushes ahead with publishing even positive A-samples
  • Igor Makarov to see if he’ll share any of his gumshoe dossier
  • Dr Geert Leinders who’s reputation precedes him; he might feel happy explaining his time at Rabobank in private
  • Laurent Jalabert as his French senate hearing was so poor and perhaps he’ll be more at ease in a private hearing too
  • Executives from pharmaceutical companies to enquire whether they knew that large sales in places like Italy was correlated with sports abuse rather than clinical need
  • Anyone who’s written a book on the subject from Tyler Hamilton to Christophe Bassons and David Millar, they’ve confessed in public but could cooperate more in private away from libel lawyers
  • Travis Tygart with the hope he can un-redact some names from the US Postal Conspiracy files on the USADA website
  • Alexandr Vinokourov, the USADA files showed he was caught wiring money to Michele Ferrari but has yet to be held to account for this

Let’s wish the CIRC well, it needs it. Today’s public appeal for testimony could see the panel drumming their fingers and staring at the phone as they wait for it to ring given the incentives to participate seem inferior to the potential costs. Let’s hope they’re not just waiting for the phone to ring as a witness appeal is often the police signal they have no leads to go on. Google should generate plenty of ideas.

There’s nothing wrong in attempting to understand the past, especially with outsiders taking a fresh look at things. The UCI has nothing to lose but cash… even if several million Swiss francs is an expensive way to write the story of how an undetectable drug called EPO offered huge advantages started to be used by some, prompting an arms race compelling others to take part or lose out permanently; and how this scenario was repeated with blood transfusions when an EPO test arrived. But all this could be documented, turning a hypothesis into a chain of events, a draft of history. I suspect the conclusions will come with recommendations on controlling team staff and rider entourages to ensure a healthier environment.

All fine stuff but hopefully a PR-savvy UCI will also be updating us on its own efforts to tackle present day problems like cortisone or Tramadol abuse, blood “microdosing” and more because today’s issues are as important as the old ones.

41 thoughts on “UCI Witness Appeal”

    • Leinders has got his time in court coming up.

      In contrast nothing is happening with regards to all the other doctors with histories and who are still working for pro teams.

  1. Thank you Inrng, a comprehensive overview. I tend to agree with your conclusion’s.

    Although the past clearly needs to be revealed for the future to have a chance, this enquiry appears an expensive way to uncovering the obvious. It is somewhat difficult to imagine older dopers changing their tune too much, even less those presently engaged in ‘old habits’. I do hope there is some concentration on present team owners, managers, director sportive’s, medical staff, the UCI and all those people involved in the doping chain. I would suggest adding bottom feeders to your list, they might provide a useful source of information – they have less to lose.

    Despite my reservations I wish the commission every success in its endeavours and look forward to the conclusions.

  2. They stopped a lot of us making money cycling as a pro the clean way and they still making money on books and we are working.
    Armstrong will come out of this marking more money

  3. Finn. It’s true that many of the real victims were those, both amateur and professional, who will never know their true athletic or monetary value. They can however take some satisfaction from making the correct moral decision. I am afraid it will always be the way when you are competing with crooks and thieves, and make no mistake bike racing in the period in question, and for some time before, was run by many such people at all levels.

    It’s now unfortunately a little late in the day to correct this gross injustice, but hopefully riders in future will never be left asking such impossible questions.

  4. Two things, firstly the reference to Bassons makes him sound like a doper like the other two.

    Secondly, just what is going on with Vino? How come nothing has happened to him considering he’s still in cycling? It feels really odd especially as quite a few websites/bloggers love him

    • Hopefully everyone knows Christophe Bassons kept it clean all the time.

      As for Vino, I’ve asked the same. The UCI has said it’s watching because there are ongoing cases in Italy looking at certain individuals, their tax and international flows of money. It’s ongoing but how long the UCI should wait is worth asking.

      • Vino’s Gold Medal in the Road Race at the 2012 Olympics didn’t sit well with me at all. And that’s not JUST because I’m a grumpy Brit disappointed with the shit show from the team!

        • You’re not alone there mate. Plenty of Aussie fans wondering how Veino was even on the start line for the multitude of transgressions (doping, buying wins, etc).

  5. It’s not just the well-known names that can provide useful information. Every team has scores of backroom staff who will have seen things, heard things etc and don’t have palmares/sporting hero reputations to protect. If the commission can get information from them – and get the word out that they have the information without saying which riders etc it implicates – it could create a snowball effect with riders/managers etc trying to escape from the oncoming train or mitigate oncoming bans by giving evidence themselves.

      • Someone told me they had looked at the people on teams (DR’s, doctors, etc.) and come up with at least 40 who had doped, oversaw doping, or otherwise made consistently bad career choices and been with team after team who doped. Starting with Matt White and Neil Stephens at OGE, it’s pretty easy to work your way up to at least 20+ while sitting at the cafe post-ride.

        Question is, would any cycling website or publication make this list public?

        I doubt it, they’d be too nervous at biting the hand that feeds them. After all, most cycling webmasters, journalists & editors are cultivating friendships with the teams and riders. It’s all very easy to talk about the Omerta amongst the riders, but I am sure it exists within the journo’s as well.

      • Dude, I enjoy your work but just be careful; if you start your sentences with “For sure…” you will sound like an F1 driver. Its mandatory for them.

  6. The CIRC should accepts anonymous statements if they want to know what happened (way) back then. As it stands now, as you made clear, there’s little incentive for anyone involved to step up to the CIRC.

  7. INRNG, you might want to read Will Fotheringham’s write up of the CIRC presser. It seems that Marty ‘did not rule out approaching key individuals’….

      • Certainly agree with you there.

        And really the question is, if we were in the position of having being involved in doping in the past, but had:

        1) left the sport
        2) still in the sport (DS, back room, still riding, whatever)

        …how many of us would involve ourselves and risk our reputations, livelihoods etc? Very very few, I suspect. Take the risk of being outed and it being corroborated, rather than out oneself.

        I know which gamble I’d take.

  8. Let’s not forget they are supposed to investigate whether officials and personnel within the UCI were complicit or not with doping along with allegations of corruption. I believe this will be more valuable in restoring credibility than learning about what we essentially already know (riders doped).

      • I think it’ll help the media and commentators, especially outside the sport, see the sport is willing to investigate itself rather than the old “we’re leading the way on anti-doping” line.

        Plus Cookson has to do this, it became part of his election ticket. It should all have been done by now with the old Independent Commission started by the UCI and then abandoned in early 2013.

        • I believe wholeheartedly that anyone who has broken a rule of the sport should be found out and face the consequences. Dopers and their enablers suck. And I do not believe Anyone should be given a break.

          But, it’s a fairly accurate generalization to say that most of Cookson’s campaign supporters are dirty and or dishonest themselves; Plant, USAC, Makarov, Fuller, etc. That should raise a few flags.

          The only way to have a new, fully believable, clean sport is to assure everyone that, beyond any doubt, the new administration is beyond reproach. It isn’t.

          Wasting a pile of money on an inquiry that was a failed model 20 years ago is not the answer.

      • While I would love to believe that digging deep into the past of riders, teams, and their staff would have tremendous effect, I seriously doubt there will be sufficient cooperation to do so. Such an investigation will rely mainly on testimony, and there is lack of incentive and lack of broad reaching immunity to voluntarily do so. We also will end up facing statutes of limitations, and might continue to get confessions to doping which miraculously stopped just prior to these statures.

        In the end, we already know that riders doped, many assisted by their teams. We also know that riders cheat because it works. Competitors look for advantages (or to at least get to a similar plane); this takes on many faces from equipment to training methodology, diet, and to doping. It is a battle that can be fought, but not 100% won. This doesn’t mean that sport shouldn’t try, but I believe the goals and expectations need to be managed.

        Whereas a thorough investigation into governance, personnel, and policy can rely on broader types of evidence such as computer records, banking records, communications, etc., as well as testimony from non-athletes/non-team personnel.

        Just because the UCI President has changed does not mean the rest of the staff or officers have. Identifying problems, cleaning house, and improving policy within the governing body, and learning what isn’t currently known should be more powerful than confirming what is already known. Credibility must be established at the top and worked down.

  9. With going back 15 years , it appears we will not have to consider the ” Festina Affair “? Good going for those that were responsible for that traversty and many others before ?

    As i have no investment in the ” careers ” created by thee ” EPO era” , i have to ask once again , ” WHAT IS BEING HIDDEN “? We ALL know that EPO became available in the late 1970s , so the start of MAJOR Doping issues , that carried through into the early 2000s , was then ! Just about every result from the mid 1980s has been questioned in one way or another .

    IF UCI are going to squander money , they may as well do a thorough job , sweep up ALL the garbage , innuendo & rumour ? We already know of Pantani , Virenque , JaJa , O’Grady , White , Stephens & the USADA beanspillers , but with resignations & retirements elsewhere , because of their experiences in their Cycling careers , either the UCI are complicit or inept , in refusing to investigate the quagmire , in which they started their Careers ?

    Anyone reading my comments in Blogs & Forums , will have seen a variety of ” Petitions ” to enable disclosure on the Quiet , bet O ‘Grady , now wishes that he had availed himself of those suggested resources ?

    What is NOW on offer , will be seen as a FAILURE , in the next years !

    • Think O’Grady was the only Aussie of that era doping…?

      There’ll be some big names come crashing down if this thing has legs, then again those big names have got businesses, careers, even the odd Gran Fondo based on their ‘name’ so can’t see them fessing up now.

  10. Your suggestion for CIRC to interview pharma-bosses is great and exactly what’s important in my opinion. It’s just a shame it will never happen.

    To quote my favorite tv show, The Wire:
    “You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money… and you don’t know where the fuck is going to take you.” – Detective Lester Freamon.

  11. How about this:

    I’ll post up an email address; anyone who has committed a crime or witnessed a crime being committed can email me with their full name, address and telephone number, please describe the crime(s) to the best of your ability, including dates and time of day with the full name and contact info of any accomplices. Special consideration will go to snitches with petty resentments. This inquiry will be completely independent, except that I have hired the Inquisition panel and I’m paying for it.

    I will try not to judge you too harshly, but remember, your federal and local laws take precedent over my opinions.

    I am especially interested in any information implicating my nemesis, Pat, the pinata, McQuaid, because as soon as everyone realizes that I am an incompetent, corrupt fraud and Makarov’s dossier is empty, he’s going to want his old job back. I really need some dirt on him, no matter how thin and no matter how many times you’ve perjured yourself in the past.

    McQuaid, despite his shortcomings, gave us the bio-passport and whereabouts rules. (and, did you really expect him to be Sepp Blatter or Bernie Ecclestone?)

    Cookson gives us a toothless CIRCus sideshow.

  12. EPO was arguably available prior to this, via blood transfusions (where they started to study/understand the role of EPO in producing rbc’s). In November 1984 Amgen applied for their patent for recombinant EPO (as we know the drug) and it was granted in 87.

    So, as a product it was possibly available from 84, as it was being tested in a lab, but I think cycling tends to regard 1990 as the genesis of the EPO generation? Certainly Conconi and his understudy Ferrari were still favouring transfusions in the 80s. Italian Court documents show it was 93 when Conconi was administering EPO to Carrera as part of his funded study into the drug, which seemed to be cutting-edge in Italy.

    I would guesstimate, that it was probably 93 that EPO really toook off in cycling and it only took about 1 or 2 seasons to be the norm.

    • A notable number of Dutch and Belgian cyclists were dying in their sleep due to cardiovascular issues in 90 & 91. This included amateurs. It is widely believed this was due to taking too much EPO , and their blood becoming too thick.

  13. CHF3m down the sewer. You need about 150eur to buy enough (auto)biographies to have a complete picture. They should look for people who somehow resisted to enhance and still managed to make a living as pros. Because to me that turns out to be some kind of phenomena

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