Spot the Difference

Look closely at the two screengrabs from La Gazzetta dello Sport and see what’s different. Sure see one is more pink, the font is different and the picture changes. But the headlines about Michele Ferrari and a €30 million web of suspect payments and pro cyclist contracts are the same. So what is the big difference? Time.

The first image is from 2012 and the second is from Thursday. Having read both stories they’re almost the same, only the 2014 version has just a bit more detail on the payments and drops more names. Why has the same story come back again?

In English: It’s not just La Gazzetta, you can see the summary English version on cyclingnews in 2012 and again this week.

The story is back because the police investigation seems to have come to an end and the file has been given to the Italian Olympic Committee for review and potential prosecution. The legal case is not over because the claims of tax evasion and other non-sporting matters will presumably continue.

The big question for me is what did the UCI do in 2012? It too would have seen the headlines and did it decide to act, perhaps call in those named and get them to sign sworn depositions? Or did it just sit back and wait for the Italian police to carry on in the hope the file might one day arrive.

Timing matters and all this came out at the same time as the USADA report into Lance Armstrong, in fact some of it was linked. Perhaps the UCI was blown of course by the USADA report, especially given the presidential implication of the governing body after it had invested so much capital trying to stop the US agency and commandeer the files.

As it happens a chunk of the police file was already delivered to the UCI in 2012 as some of the Padova investigation was included in the USADA file. Interpol brokered a meeting between the FBI and the Nucleo Antisofisticazione e Sanità (NAS), an Italian police force dedicated to health measures and an Italian state prosecutor from Padova called Benedetto Roberti. Once again here’s an excerpt of it:

And once again you’ve probably seen the image above on this blog before. It’s from the accounts of part of the Ferrari empire and implicates Alexandr Vinokourov. As we saw with Fränk Schleck, wiring money to a doctor of dope is not a crime nor a breach of the rules and crucially nor is it proof of doping. But it should be ringing alarm bells, especially when Vinokourov is trying to get his team to pass an ethics test to get a licence. In fact Brian Cookson says this should be looked at by the UCI’s Licence Commission in an interview with

Cyclingnews: The Padova inquiry reveals what we could call ‘financial doping,’ with riders perhaps attempting to avoid paying tax by having image rights paid into accounts in Switzerland and then using that black money as slush funds to pay people like Ferrari for doping. Is that something the UCI should be looking at as well? That’s about ethics and contracts too…

Brian Cookson: Absolutely. This is one of the reasons why we’ve established the Licence Commission and why they have those criteria…

Only the Licence Commission was operational in 2012 and didn’t follow this up. Maybe we’ll never know why the case wasn’t followed up in 2012. The Padova news wasn’t a two line piece or tucked away on a blog, it was a major story in the Italian media. It also started well before the USADA report came out and in the summer of 2012 journalist Eugenio Capodacqua, the scourge of dopers on the Italian peninsula, got hold of the story and printed it his La Republica column. When confronted, Pozzato admitted to working with Ferrari but said he was only paying for training schedules. Another one.

Team Katusha

Déjà vu, again
If most of today’s news about Ferrari, Astana and other teams really emerged in 2012, let’s not stop there. Yesterday Astana was given a warning its new licence for 2015 could hang by a thread, any new troubles and the team is out. We’ve been here before too, only with a different team. The current troubles of Astana mirror the Katusha team’s past difficulty in getting a licence. On 18 November 2011 the Katusha team was given a “severe warning” that “the team would be likely to have its license withdrawn in the event of a new doping case”. Those are the words of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (the PDF verdict Katusha’s licence appeal from 2013 has since been taken down) and in April 2012 later Dennis Galimzyanov was rumbled for EPO. The result? Katusha kept its licence during 2012 and it was only in the application for 2013 that saw the team denied a place which it won back.

Some of the news is new, for example La Gazzetta printed the claim Vinokourov was in talks with Stefano Ferrari to train 10-12 riders. But today’s story about the money, tax dodging and suspect contracts? It’s almost identical to 2012, we get more details and refinements – yesterday’s claim that but the fundamental story is the same. History repeats itself and there’s been an element of farce over the Astana licence. At times it feels like the sport can’t escape the past, this week’s headlines cover a police enquiry covering 2010 and 2011, will we learn about any 2014 investigations in 2020?

It’s too much to expect the UCI to have gotten to the bottom of everything in 2012 but had strict warnings been given to the team on the basis of the documented details in print and the USADA report then the Iglinskiy brothers might have been the final straw and there’d be no licence.

36 thoughts on “Spot the Difference”

  1. The piece by Brian Cookson in Cyclingnews is interesting and, for me at least, informative. He is clearly personally frustrated by the time scales involved with investigation of doping cases and obviously hamstrung by the current UCI rules and regulations. What a lot of commentators and posters on this site and others are failing to understand is that he must work within the current framework in order to pursue teams and individuals accused of doping and other offences. Whatever his personal views it’s not possible for him to exclude teams unless the UCIs own codes and the broader laws, often of several countries, allow him to do so. They simply appeal and are reinstated. I would hope, therefore, that he is making strenuous efforts to tighten the UCI rule book to impose greater sanctions where appropriate.
    The other related factor is the role of ex-dopers within current team set ups. Unless regulations are put in place to remove them from managerial positions within the organisations there will inevitably be a period of time before they drift away from the sport through retirements, for example. Doping is so deeply embedded in cycling that it may take a generation, at least, before these people leave the sport.

    On the positive side all of this hand-wringing and washing of dirty laundry in the public eye is in stark contrast to the continued use of PEDs in other sports which appear to continue to turn a blind eye for the time being.

  2. The point Steve alluded to is an interesting and was covered in a blog by Al Hinds (SBS) ( where do you draw the line. Michael Clarke the Australian Cricket captain had 4 injections in his back to play on, god knows what was in them (Cortisone I suspect) scores a ton and is celebrated for doing so.

    Here in Australia the double standards in play are a joke, you have Essendon players being caught for PED’s yet the media paints it as a ASADA going on a witchhunt for their football players and the Rugby League is the same, yet Cycling is lambasted!

    • Certainly cycling has more stringent ideas. Take cortisone as an injection like a cricket player mentioned above and you have to have take two off according to UCI guidelines, French riders and all MPCC members have to sit out for eight days under their rules. We’ve seen the MPCC rest riders for low cortisol levels, which happens after most cortisone (ab)use. But in other sports like the case above but also tennis, soccer and more it’s normal to take these things in order to compete. Such is the cultural difference, in cycling it’s doping and scandalous but in other sports it can be brave to soldier on.

      • Though the more stringent rules are partly as a result of cycling’s past: painkilling and vitamin injections being normalised, and acting as a “gateway” to full-blown doping, in a way that doesn’t seem as prevalent in the eye-hand (or eye-foot) co-ordination sports. So cycling has had to take a harder line on things like cortisone injections as part of a general crackdown on injecting substances into the body.

        • A pity that other sports with as bad a current problem as cycling has had in the past (as far as some of us are concerned) havent taken a similar view.

          Yes, wrestling / weightlifting / athletics / biathlon / NFL etc, I’m looking at you

        • “Painkilling and vitamin injections being normalised, and acting as a “gateway” to full-blown doping”. Perfectly applies to football (soccer)’ s past (and present). Widespread use and abuse leading to seious health consequences.

          Not to speak of NBA or tennis, where “normalised” has an even creepier meaning: “we won’t check” (EPO in NBA, for instance, with a general politics of tests reduced only to the first couple of years as a pro) or “whatever forbidden practice while you’re at home recovering from an injury” (where *home* is whatever country allows a grey zone regarding said practices; a quite recent Nadal interview was just about that).

          • Gabriele’s right.

            How many times have we seen tennis players being given cortisone injections mid-match so that they can continue?

            And please let’s not go down the line of ‘some sports are less risky because they’re more hand-eye co-ordination-based’

  3. I agree with most of what you wrote except the idea that things might get better if/when the dopers and ex-dopers leave the sport. If the rules continue to be set up to let cheaters squeeze through on technicalities and UCI fears losing at CAS, the next generation soon learns it’s business-as-usual. Cookson’s certainly still got chances to fix things as he’s only been in the job for a year, but unless someone can break this cycle the latest mess will be just another Festina or Puerto scandal – negative news on pro cycling followed by lots of excuses, denials and pledges to fix everything, until the next big scandal. You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over but somehow expecting a different result. People interested in SPORT simply stop caring when it appears time after time, pro cycling is more about who has the best doping program than who is the best cyclist.
    If pro cycling can’t somehow break the “best doper wins” mentality, the future is bleak.

  4. As I understand it, the UCI refer things to the Licence Commission to review. So if Pat didn’t do that back in 2012 when GdS ran with the stories, its not the Licence Commission who will go and kick off investigations under their own steam. The people on the Licence Commission are independent but I don’t believe they are full-time on cycling-related matters, and I don’t believe they have a brief – and almost definitely not the time – to commence investigations on their own whim. I think I’m right in saying that?

    So the question is, why didnt Pat refer? I’ll be unusually generous and suggest that his focus was totally on how to try to prevent the USADA report with going the full term. And let’s face it, nothing happened in the UCI unless Pat decided it would.

    • Yes, it’s for the UCI to refer events/information to the Licence Commission. It’s like the Katusha case, the LC said Katusha’s licence was at risk in the 2012 season but the UCI didn’t refer the Galimzyanov case to the LC so the licence was safe all season.

    • Another possible reason for the UCI inaction in 2012 is that they were waiting for the police investigation to run its course, so that they had clearer evidence to work with than simply newspaper reports? In addition, while we may not like it as cycling fans, if the two different investigations need to be prioritised, clearly the criminal investigation has to come first without any danger of the sporting one cutting across or prejudicing it.

      • See my earlier reply to your other comment. Clearly a sports case is secondary to a criminal/judicial investigation. But the UCI needs to reflect on whether sitting and waiting for events to unfold is right, I’d suggest trying to get some answers at least.

  5. Sorry INRNG, I’m a bit confused

    You say that the UCI gave Katusha a severe warning in 2011. In that case, what were the grounds for CAS giving the UCI a smackdown over the Katusha licence appeal in 2013 for NOT having given Katusha previous warning?

    • The team adopted more stringent internal anti-doping measures, drafted charters, joined the MPCC and more. In short they reacted to the positive case with improvements and so the CAS said this was the right response and the loss of the licence was disproportionate.

      • In which case, the final para of your conclusion may be more than a little bit hopeful.

        Say the UCI gives Astana strict warnings in 2012. Then Astana ticks all the administrative boxes, Iglinsky brothers get caught, UCI withdraws licence, Astana appeals to CAS, CAS says loss of licence is disproportionate.

        What’s the difference here to the Katusha scenario? The Iglinskys? Nothing to do with the team, they acted independently, they’re stupid, our doctors didn’t give them anything, we sacked them immediately – you’ve heard all those reasons from Vino and Nibali constantly for the last few weeks.

  6. UCI needs to good pro-bono lawyers because at the end of the day, they’ve been burned at the CAS once already (which I’m sure cost them dearly) and are reluctant to go again until they have an airtight case. It sounds incredibly similar to what’s happened at the 2002 winter Olympics in regards to positives in biathlon.
    ‘Catlin and Rogge suspected that the first three athletes who tested positive for darbepoetin would challenge those cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. They would question the science, the paperwork and the procedures. For Catlin and the I.O.C., it would require putting together three complex, but airtight, legal cases. Preparing two extra cases, Catlin said, seemed untenable.’

  7. RULES of the sport, which everyone agree to play by before they get a license and LAWS which (should, at least) govern everyone’s civil behavior and carry punishments like imprisonment or serious fines for infractions, are (last time I checked) two different things. For example the rules prevent one from using a motorcycle in bicycle races, but riding a motorcycle itself is not against the law. If the sanctioning body fears applying its own RULES and instead waits for LAW enforcement to deal with cheats, then the sanctioning body is rather redundant, eh? If rider X is in prison for a few years for violating doping laws, he or she is pretty much not going to be doing any bike races, no matter what the UCI says or does. The folks in Aigle sitting on their hands while the sport swirls around the toilet bowl because they fear losing at CAS is a sad situation, no matter if it’s McQuaid or Cookson at the helm.

    • Laws or Rules, neither exists within the Licence commission to handle such a situation. Mentioned in yesterday’s inrng piece…
      ‘Rule 1.1.006 does ban those with prior convictions. But only those given full two year bans since 2011 are involved’
      So they’re trying to institute where they can but you can’t grandfather a law in that will kick out probably 99% of those in team management now because then they will never come forward for CIRC which is desperately needed in order to underline the past and create a base for a future.

      • p.s. this is part of why the USADA’s ‘reasoned decision’ was so groundbreaking. It was a body of evidence (with hopefully a good chain of custody) collected from a criminal persecution which was then applied in the sporting context which can’t be refuted as baseless. This is also why Padua and the failed Operation Puerto prosecutions are so insanely important. Puerto obviously failed because of government cover up at the highest levels to protect Spanish football and tennis. Padua is yet to be finalized, probably it’s strongest point is that they haven’t tried to go after football.

  8. When I read article 11 of the WADA code, which is the section relating to team sports, I see rules that if they applied to the WorldTour could have given UCI the power to deal with Astana.

    Sadly, despite cycling being a team sport, article 11 doesn’t apply to it, due to the way the definitions in the code are defined.

    I would urge UCI to lobby for this section of the code to be applied to the World Tour and indeed all season long “Events” that they run. It seems this give them all of the power to act the way Brian Cookson plainly wishes he could.

  9. It would be interesting to know how much Nibali’s presence on the team has been taken into account in the recent proceedings as I can’t imagine anyone at the UCI wanting to ban a team that has the current Tour winner on its roster. You’ve really got to question his judgement in deciding to join Astana. Presumably the money was the major factor but even so he’s naive at best to think or hope everything is above board in a team with such dodgy associations. As others have noted, guilt by association is a common accusation in cycling.

    • Maybe you’re being naive… When he moved to Astana, the team possibly was quite at peace with the UCI, as the story above related may suggest. He just cannot see a couple of years or so in the future. What is happening to Astana now happened to other teams before, in more or less slightly different ways. Few places would have been “safe” if you look at the matter from an unbiased point of view.

  10. I wonder how Nibali is thinking right now. If Astana is truly drinking at the last saloon, then his upcoming 2015 Tour appearance is at risk, and he’s at the mercy of one more team offender. But unlike Froome during the 2013 Tour where he was so adamently defensive about anyone on his team doping because it might impugn his win, Nibali doesn’t seem too concerned that his 2014 win might be tainted, and reputation smeared like soft turd on the wall. He just blows off the cheaters as “idiots” that have nothing to do with him. I’m confused: who’s is the normal response for a Tour champion? Also, the Padova investigation (yes, it’s only a news article) list of riders is predominantly Italian. Should Nibali be concerned, or not?

    • What is the ‘normal’ response for a clean winner who reputation is being tainted?

      Very good question. We haven’t had too much opportunity to see, as the cheats have protested greatly and practiced faux indignation so many times (never mind lawsuits and Fairness Funds).

      Me? I think I’d be angry. But then Wiggins lost his temper and got angry and sweary and massively criticized for it. Froome stayed cool enough and was still doubted.

      Nibali ‘seems’ to be burying his head in the sand and churning out the the tranquillo refrain. But who knows what’s really going on inside his head…

      • “What is the ‘normal’ response for a clean winner who reputation is being tainted?”

        Probably the same as a dirty winner’s: indignation, denial, pointing out that they’ve passed every test, etc. That’s one of the problems, the cheats have used up the clean winners’ vocabulary for them.

  11. Considering also what Nick commented in a previous post about third-party control, and after reading Cookson’s interview, I must say that if decisions were taken in good faith and if in Cookson’s interview there’s some part of true and not just PR, the UCI for once maybe did *the right thing* (or the *less wrong*). Let’s wait and see how it goes, but what Nick pointed out is indeed interesting, even if it’s rather easy to make it void.

  12. It’s really easy to 2nd guess Nibali’s presence on the team now that the excrement has really hit the public fan, but Astana now has a license to race. Barring another doping positive they team will be fine and his paychecks will likely clear the bank. I have no doubt Vino assured him the team had “turned the corner” and was now going to be a model of decorum while dangling that fat contract in front of Vincenzo. With the writing-on-the-wall at Cannondale where else was he going to go for a contract matching his abilities and aspirations? Especially when they let him bring an Italian contingent along to go with the Italians already there, including bringing his favored trainer as soon as he could get out of his current contract? I’m sure he’s pretty annoyed with the current situation but public whining about it or making threats isn’t going to do any good.

  13. And while we’re on the topic of suspicions about Astana, what can we gather from Vino’s 2012 Olympics gold winning performance–in which he kicked the a** of every top level World Tour pro by literally coming out of retirement? Two things: (1) Vino, in which case, Astana also, knows how to mask doping against current testing methods; and (2) the man has absolute contempt for cycling’s integrity, and the rules of all cycling and sports governing bodies. He must be laughing inside as Cookson and the licensing commission are confined to the rule of law and the prescripts of the UCI regulations, while he he gets away with it in plain sight of the world. Each person is different in his or her moral make-up. Some people can’t live with themselves after committing a crime, while for others, it doesn’t phase them at all. Look at Lance, he would have taken it to the grave, if not for the whistleblowers. I look forward to that day of reckoning for Vino and his Astana crew.

    • And (3) you may just not be gathering correctly much of the dynamics of one-day races like the Olympics, as your compendium of that same race illustrates pretty well.

      [I’m not saying your point (1) and (2) shall not be proven true, one day, neither that I consider them absurd; I’m just pointing out that now we’ve got no element to assert that nor the contrary – especially when we come to point (1) – and certainly not the Olympics race, which proves nothing apart from Vinokourov’s class and a good number of cycling fans being poor losers; the latter, could be quite unpleasant and in sharp contrast with the main tradition of the sport, but we can’t forget that, at the end of the day, it’s perfectly fitting with some specific historical moments, like the Saronni-Moser rivalry, hence totally appropriate to foster the sport’s folklore]

  14. As a general rule, licencing and regulatory bodies are required to NOT pursue any action whilst a police investigation is under way. In the case of the UCI, this means their only option was to pass any evidence on to the police and sit on their hands until that legal avenue has been closed. It’s often far from satisfactory for laymen – but common.
    Therefore, if the UCI did nothing of substance in 2012 this is likely a result of legal process. Although being the UCI, incompetence / lack of desire can’t be ruled out!

Comments are closed.