USADA Ban Bruyneel and Expose Contador

550 days have passed since the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) issued Lance Armstrong with a lifetime ban. But the case was never just about Armstrong, it was the “US Postal Conspiracy” and involved a range of characters.

Johan Bruyneel’s name appeared 129 times in the USADA reasoned decision and a ban always looked inevitable but the case went to arbitration and was delayed until a hearing last December and today the verdict is out. Bruyneel gets a 10 year ban while former US Postal/Discovery team staff Pedro Celaya and Jose “Pepe” Martí each get an eight year ban.

In a sense this marks the end of the road for the US Postal case although not the end of the story. Plus the USADA report reveals Martí was working for Team Saxo-Tinkoff which could prove awkward for the Danish team and Alberto Contador.

“there are certain elements of my career that I wish had been different”

That’s a line from Johan Bruyneel’s blog today. This is the only hint of regret but it’s oblique even within the context of a piece about a doping sanction. It could relate to anything, from wishing for a cleaner sport right down to harbouring the regret about a meal choice he made one day. Maybe he regrets not taking more steps to avoid being caught?

If regret and apology are near-invisible, the bulk of the message is about the judgement he believes to be unfair. Bruyneel disputes the jurisdiction saying since he’s a Belgian living in London the US agency shouldn’t rule over him; he didn’t even show up for the hearing. The UCI under Pat McQuaid’s presidency tried a similar argument but WADA reminded us of Article 15.3 which allows a recognised Anti-Doping Agency to pursue a case. Remember it was the Swiss agency that gave Germany’s Jan Ullrich a ban, that Italy’s CONI caught Spaniard Alejandro Valverde to justice, French anti-doping agency the AFLD banned German resident Stefan Schumacher et cetera.

Call the CAS?
Bruyneel could take this to the Court of Arbitration for Justice (CAS) but it would be a big ask especially as he “only” got 10 years; a reduction is unlikely.As for jurisdiction he knowingly signed up to these rules before and with one or two exceptions – Pakistan cricket – USADA’s jurisdiction over the matter is accepted. I suspect the idea of an appeal is alluring as it offers him a lever of control during a downfall over which he has none. But why appeal? A ban seems almost pointless. Bruyneel is out of the sport and wasn’t coming back, there are too many burned bridges. I suppose the ban matters for image, whether trying to enjoy lucrative corporate speaking engagements or just trying to explain it all to the kids.

There is a recurring theme to many who have been caught, they express a feeling of injustice. We can’t imagine buying EPO in bulk or ferrying pouches of blood around Europe but for years many in pro cycling couldn’t imagine anything else. So to get caught is to feel a victim because they’ve been punished while others have not. Here’s another line from Bruyneel today:

a very small minority of us has been used as scapegoats for an entire generation

Bruyneel’s got a point when he gets a 10 year ban while Bjarne Riis gets applause for cashing out of his team and several other managers from the past continue today. But if Bruyneel is a scapegoat, he joins a sizeable herd of caprine culprits. Manolo Saiz provided the model for Bruyneel to copy is now persona non grata. Jan Ullrich’s “Rudicio” Pévenage is gone. Festina’s Bruno Roussel is a real estate agent. Hans-Michael Holczer is teaching maths again. Plus if Bruyneel feels the system was rotten hopefully he’ll work with the UCI’s Commission for Independent Reform to discreetly provide a more comprehensive picture.

Questions for Contador
But enough of the past. As Bruyneel fades into the distance others are are right in plain view. Take Alberto Contador who’s already a prime contender for this summer’s Tour de France because if Bruyneel has been banned, so has Jose “Pepe” Martí. Alberto Contador had worked with Martí at Discovery and Astana and when it was said he wanted Martí to follow him to Saxo.

A year later in 2011 Floyd Landis told German TV channel ARD that Martí was “nothing more than a known drug-trafficker“. Contador’s spokesman responded with a statement to Spanish paper AS to distance his rider from Martí ( translation, my emphasis):

Alberto knew Martí when he was at Discovery. As he was then a coach at the team, he was in charge of training. He also fulfilled that role at Astana as he moved into the Kazakh set-up after the North American team folded… …This year, the only people responsible for Alberto’s calendar and preparation are the members of the Saxo Bank team and Bjarne Riis. What he says about Martí is false“.

So there you go, a public declaration that Martí wasn’t working with the team or Contador dated 15 August 2011. Only today’s USADA statement also says the following (my emphasis):

Martí worked with the USPS and Discovery Channel Cycling Teams during the period from 1999 through 2007 and thereafter worked with the Astana Cycling Team. Most recently, Martí worked with one or more riders on Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team until after USADA’s case was initiated.

Note the USADA case was initiated in June 2012. USADA appears to be contradicting statements from Contador and the Saxo team that Martí was not working for the team. Was Martí working in secret or maybe USADA have got it all wrong. Who is telling the truth? *

We’ll never be done with the past but a lot of the procedural matters relating to the US Postal conspiracy case are reaching their conclusion. If you’re tired of all this then you’ll get some relief now as more and more of this fades into the past. But it’s important to catch team managers, in fact it often matters more than the riders because the managers are supposed to be in charge.

But one folder that just won’t close belongs to Alberto Contador and Bjarne Riis. They have real questions to answer regarding any links to Jose Martí given it was denied back in 2011 only for USADA to state today he was working for the team. This isn’t a “smoking gun” but if, and it’s conditional, USADA have it right they do expose Contador and Riis to some embarrassment.

  • UPDATE: USADA have changed their statement. It read “Most recently, Martí had worked for the Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team” this morning but 12 hours later pixel time it had been changed  to say “Martí worked with one or more riders on Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team”. This suggests Martí might have been working privately with riders rather than by the team

53 thoughts on “USADA Ban Bruyneel and Expose Contador”

  1. An important attribute of a scapegoat is that it is essentially blameless. Bruyneel is not. It sounds like more slippery words and logic-chopping, backed with an incomplete and very half-hearted mea culpa, all much like LA. It’s a pity.

  2. Bruyneel’s guilt was self evident, and the sanction if anything is a little light. On the question that both Armstrong and Bruyneel have raised about others being equally culpable but having escaped any sanction, one has to have a little sympathy – but not too much !

    USADA have done an excellent job and put many other national doping authorities to shame. Where the current situation will lead will be interesting to see. There are many people with much to hide, and pressure will only increase if people like Bruyneel finally accept that the omarta system they were so keen to maintain, has left them holding the baby.

  3. Re jurisdiction, a German court recently reached an interesting decision.

    The Munich court said that at the time the athletes‘ agreements with ISU and DESG were entered into, a structural disbalance (strukturelles Ungleichgewicht) existed between Pechstein and the sport federations, who formed a monopoly. Pechstein did not enter into the agreement voluntarily, but only because she had no choice. Had she not signed the agreements, she would not have been able to enter competitions and hence, unable to pursue her career as a professional athlete.

    On that basis, the court found that it had jurisdiction to hear the damages claims, and the defendants could not invoke the arbitration clauses. However, the court held that it could not revisit and review the legality of the ban. As it was bound by the CAS findings that the ban was legal, the damages Claims were unfounded.

  4. Given that the “ban” is more ceremonial than punitive, what about fines? Bruyneel made a lot of money from all this and not penalizing him financially seems inequitable. However, I don’t know if the organizations concerned can levy fines or not.

    • A NADO like USADA do not have the authority to demand payment for sanction. Their only power is to issue sanctions based on the sports federation rules 99.99% of the time as directed by the sports federation. A NADO has no authority to open cases on samples they did not order. It is a nice, big hole in the anti-doping net.

      Inrrng, what’s never discussed is the role both the national federation and UCI itself plays in the doping. And we know the UCI has gone to great lengths to hide positives. Many do not recall the UCI’s attempt to hide Contador’s clenbuterol positive.

  5. I’m surprised that people are suprised by this. Ever since Contador’s sanctioning for clenbuterol, it was not that sanction in itself, but the ‘rats trying to save the ship’ who would throw him under the bus for another ‘reasonable decision’ and a second conviction which would spell the end of his career. It’s insanely hard to believe any of his performances on ONCE, Discovery, or Astana were ever clean.

    It’s a pity because I believe that he’s been clean since his 2012 Vuelta return and it’s an absolute pleasure to watch him race. Without him, last year’s Tour would’ve been unwatchable.

  6. Brilliant piece as ever. It should remind us of the fact that doping is ongoing in the sport, right now at this very moment.
    Btw, I think its persona non grata — not non gratis. But I could be wrong.

    • Gratis means ‘free’. Grata means ‘welcome’. The first has the same roots as the word ‘grace’ (so ‘as a kindness’, or free) but the second is also Latin, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same root (unwelcome = without grace, perhaps?).

  7. Are there monetary demands against Johan coming from the sponsors or other parties involved? Does someone know about this? In case Johan is now free from financial threats we can expect a “I’ll tell you everything about it” book from him for the next Christmas season. I can’t see any other way for him to make money out of this mess.

    I’m not holding my breath just yet though..

  8. Hmm… Guilt by association: Let’s see worked for Bjarne Riis, worked for Johan Bruyneel, banned for Xipamide, admitted payments to Eufemiano Fuentes, decline in performance after being caught.

    That’s not Contador but instead Frank Schleck. Why does this article focus on Contador when he has little to do with today’s announcement about Bruyneel.

    Contador has done well in 2014 and I expect he is under close scrutiny. However, since the Lance scandal hit the fan and everyone is trying to look clean, neither Schleck has ridden well at all.

    • The focus is on Bruyneel. But I do mention the denial from Contador’s side about working with Marti after 2010. USADA is saying in today’s announcement Marti was linked to the team in 2012, you’ll see the quote and link above. Also to repeat the above, I’m not saying it’s a smoking gun, just that it needs some explanation. Either USADA have it wrong or the denial was bogus, I can’t see much in between.

    • To add to what inrng posted above for the sake of clarity, the Schleck’s left Riis following the conclusion of the 2010 season (or before, depending on how one views the 2010 Vuelta debacle!), which is why they were not mentioned in relation to Marti.

  9. Bruyneel might be banned from a sport he could never return to but good riddance. Even when he’s caught he can’t bring himself to make an apology. Worse, he resorts to lashing out at the system because it caught him running a doping ring.

  10. “He has no proof. It’s just our word against his, and we like our word. We like where we stand.”

    One of my ‘favourite’ Bruyneel quotes…makes me happy to think that he is bang to rights and gone. Hopefully for good.

  11. “Bruyneel disputes the jurisdiction saying since he’s a Belgian living in London the US agency shouldn’t rule over him; he didn’t even show up for the hearing.”

    Which does raise an interesting point: where is the Belgian anti-doping committee in all this? Willy Voet: Belgian, Rudy Pévenage: Belgian, Johan Bruyneel: Belgian. It comes out that Tom Steels tested positive in the 1998 Tour de France while riding for Mapei-GB, one of the stronger teams of the EPO-era. Steels now works for OPQS, under his then DS Patrick Lefevre. Lefevre says: “I support Tom, he can stay”, and that’s it. No further questions asked by either press or authorities. What about Tom Boonen, the former US Postal, current OPQS rider who at one time had a serious substance abuse problem, just like Franck Vandenbroucke who even died because of it? They did give a big fine to Leif Hoste, but nobody seems to have come up with the idea to ask him if he could tell what he knows to reduce the sentence.

    • I think to ask the question is to answer it – ‘ze zien het gewoon door de vingers’, they simply turn a blind eye. Lefevre is a sly figure with his cat-ate-the-canary grin, to be polite.

      • So I searched Google News for articles on the Bruyneel conviction, and because I’m Dutch a lot of Flemish results turn up. This is how I stumbled on this interview with Merckx in Het Nieuwsblad:

        Quote: “De UCI verdedigt de renners ook nauwelijks met haar beleid: iedereen is vogelvrij verklaard. Als je ziet wat de ATP als organisatie doet om tennisspelers te beschermen: als je positief bent, word je geschorst, maar voor de buitenwereld ben je zogezegd geblesseerd.” (“The UCI’s policies do hardly anything to protect the riders; everybody has been declared an outlaw. If you see what the ATP as an organisation does to protect tennis players: if you test positive, you receive a ban, but to the outside world it is communicated that you are injured.”) And he says this like the ATP policy is a good thing. If Merckx’s opinion reflects that of more powerful people within Belgian cycling, then “het oude wielrennen” still reigns supreme there.

        • To see how tennis folks watch drug use in their sport, google ‘tennis has a steroid problem’

          Sometimes those guys are a bit too paranoid for me to take seriously but it seems likely that tennis gov.bodies do hush up positive results and protect top players from embarrassment.
          The site isn’t as active as it used to be, but there is plenty of archive reading if anyone is interested.

  12. Bruyneel engaged in a systematic and organised doping program as a professional and again as a team director for years, and now he’s whining about “Jurisdiction” and “Hypocrisy”?

    Let’s be clear Johan. You were the Manager and DS of an American registered team. Don’t start complaining when USADA sanctions you.

  13. Same old s__t, different day. These guys are like those caught speeding. Sure, others went over the speed limit too, but how does that make you not guilty Mr. Bruyneel. Now it’s time to give the money back. If Landis wins his suit, will The Belgian have to pay up? If he and the rest of the cheats get to keep their ill-gotten gains, there’s not much incentive to play fair in the future.

  14. If Johan feels so hard done by, and I can’t understand this, why doesn’t he snitch on everyone else he knows about? Why doesn’t he crash the house of cards? Why doesn’t he martyr himself and do some good for the sport? Surely he would then save some public face?

    No, they all just sit there and cry foul and do nothing. Because there are those still in the sport that could lose their livelihoods. In reality, they should, as those livelihoods have been earned dishonestly through deception.

  15. It seems that it is most probable that the Contador was doped from 2007 to 2009 (based on his associates, team managers, fellow riders, rivals etc).. what happens if he is ever found guilty? Lifetime ban after the 2 years he has already received?

    • I think yes, a lifetime ban would be the most likely outcome – based on career like you mention, it would be surprising to me if he hasn’t doped besides the Clenbuterol conviction (the mechanics of which, of course, were disputed) . Of interest is why he’s yet to have been “dropped in it” – it makes me suspect that the culture of Omerta is alive and well. Perhaps it will all come out when he’s retired, as that seems to be the way.

      • well at least we can hope this time that the UCI aren’t complicit in the whole affair.
        The penny has hopefully dropped that the long-term benefits of clean and fair competition outweigh the short-term gain of protecting the status quo, and ‘looking after’ the star riders…

      • Just ask Michael Ashenden about what else was in Connies system that week, an you’ll know what a piece of work this good catholic really is. The reason they went hard to prosecute him was the EPO samples he had Just because he was below the booking thresh-hold didnt mean they didnt know he was using it.
        I say .001mg/mol on EPO, make it public. Not when its over .070 like it has been. The gel read shows it there, it’s just that they IOC set a safety margin early on that they have been too afraid to change to a more realistic level.

        • If you choose that route, you have to be sure that the choice of a limit of 0.001 mg/mol is scientifically valid beyond question, which means honoring the known variance. You can do bad science just to root out doping. That’s just as bad.

  16. Just as important as Contador, might be the Schleck sisters riding for CSC come Saxo. We can see a definite shift in those boys abilities over the last 7 years. I want to know who was on the CSC pay role prior to Marti ( who did he replace there). someone who move to Leopard?

    And for me, the great year Spanish cycling is having this year. Today, VVD looked like he just got out of bed, yawning as he finished the MurderWee. Someone has a great program.

    We need a Program Pogrom, Hopefully the ICAC thing takes the USADA bundle and runs with it.

  17. Might be in Contador’s interests to come clean now. I’m sure Bruyneel’s book will adopt a ‘let no-one live’ policy. It will all come out eventually, if Contador comes clean now he can say he did it cos LA gave him a swirly on the team bus and bullied him into it. I’d believe it.

  18. After all this time reading you, this is the first article I don’t care for. I think your headline (on how USADA have exposed Contador) is sensationalist and worthy of the other cycling sites I stopped reading to avoid this type of journalism. One bad apple won’t ruin it for me but I am definitely surprised.

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