The Lance Armstrong doping investigation forced cycling’s stakeholders to take a hard look at its sport. The resulting testimonies and documents revealed years of damage and possible corruption.
Eleven of Armstrong’s former team-mates testified to his doping regime and admitted they used banned drugs as well. Those who are still riding received a six month ban. Levi Leipheimer lost his job with OmegaPharma. Michael Barry had already retired in September, but his testimony and the US agency’s case shook team Sky’s pillars.
Sky prides itself on zero-tolerance, from general manager down to team domestique. It called a round of individual meetings. Race Coach Bobby Julich and Sports Director Steven De Jongh admitted they doped when they raced nearly 15 years ago and quit the team. Former Armstrong team-mate and senior sports director, Sean Yates also quit, but he cited health problems.
Matt White allegedly featured in the Agency’s report as Rider-9 and admitted to doping when in Armstrong’s team. He lost his job as national coach and was put under suspension by Orica-GreenEDGE. Cycling Australia’s vice-president Stephen Hodge took the moral highroad resigned down after admitting to his past. Dutch sponsor, Rabobank decided it had enough and pulled the financial plug after 17 years in the game.
It is not all doom and gloom, because scandal is forcing changes that may make cycling stronger and better than it ever was. The sports governing body, the Union Cycliste International (UCI) said on Friday it agreed to the creation of an independent commission. It said its responsibility will be to look into allegations of corruption within the UCI and to find ways to prevent dopers from returning at any level. It explained the commission will start to take shape next week and will work on a June 1 deadline to publish its findings and recommendations.
The UCI giving the green light to an independent commission may not be enough. The International Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP) called a vote, where the members unanimously backed efforts for an independent review of the anti-doping programme. The group, led by Jonathan Vaughters, wants to a review of how the UCI manages and implements the controls, with the participation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
“Things could be clarified by looking at things independently and getting recommendations about how we can avoid any problems going forward,” Vaughters said last week at the Tour de France presentation. “It needs to be looked at objectively from outside the sport to determine what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong, and to decide what actions would be correct.”
The European newspapers took it a step further on Saturday by listing eight points in a joint manifesto. The Times of London, L’Equipe, La Gazzetta dello Sport, Het Nieuwsblad and Le Soir wrote that they are “alarmed and deeply concerned by the grave situation facing this sport — and potentially all sports — in the aftermath of the Lance Armstrong affair.” They added that the affair highlighted how “deeply dysfunctional” cycling has become and the UCI’s “impotence and complicity.” They further expressed their concerns with the Padua investigation nearing its end and the Operación Puerto trials beginning in January.
“It is impossible to continue with the same structure, the same rules and the same leaders,” they wrote. They recommended the following points to the governing bodies, sponsors, teams, organisers and athletes:
1. That the UCI recognises its responsibilities in the Armstrong case.
2. The creation, under the responsibility of WADA, of a neutral and independent commission to investigate the role and responsibility of the UCI in the Armstrong case and the fight against doping in general; to report errors, abuses and possible complicity.
3. That the organisation of controls at the biggest races is directly by WADA and the national anti-doping agencies.
4. That the suspensions for serious doping cases are more severe and that teams pledge to terminate contracts and not sign for a further two years any athletes suspended for more than six months.
5. The restoration of the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ that allowed the temporary suspension of riders involved in a doping investigation.
6. A stronger involvement and accountability of the title sponsors of teams.
7. The reform of the WorldTour, its points system and licensing, which remains closed and opaque. We propose that the licences are no longer awarded to the managers but to the sponsors.
8. The organisation of a major ‘cycling summit’ before the start of the 2013 season in order to define the new organization and new rules.
The UCI has yet to react, but it will have its chance on Friday when it announces which body will nominate the members of its proposed commission. It could move on points 3, 4 and 7, a way of offering an olive branch sooner rather than later because December 10, when it meets with team representatives and the major race organisers, seems too far away.
From manifesto to action
The head of the Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA), Gianni Bugno backed the AIGCP’s proposal for an independent review last week. He also gave his OK to the manifesto’s proposal, at least as a starting point to discussions.
“Let’s come together and talk about it. [The manifesto’s ideas] are all talking points. This is a good starting point and we can work from there,” CPA President Gianni Bugno told Cycling Tips. “One might say they are strange ideas, but let’s talk about them – let’s talk. The more we talk about it, the more chances we have to come up with a solution.”
Third party, point 3
The UCI already checked off points 1 and 2 when it agreed to a commission on Friday. However, President Pat McQuaid said it is unable to agree to point 3. McQuaid explained the UCI follows the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC), which puts the onus on the governing body to control. WADA says in article 20.3.1 that the International Federations’ responsibility is to “adopt and implement anti-doping policies and rules.”
“I’d prefer a third party [taking over]. It’s not up to the teams, the organisers, the UCI, but it’s somebody that everybody agrees to. Let them [a third party] make the rules, and we will live by them,” BMC Racing’s general manager, Jim Ochowicz told Cycling Tips.
“That’s my view,” Bob Stapleton, former general manager of team HTC-Highroad, said of having a third party controlling anti-doping tests. “With rigorous testing and massive consequences for cheating, like career-over consequences. I think that moving forward in that direction makes a lot of sense to me.”
Get tough, points 4 to 6
The manifesto called for harsher suspensions when dopers are caught and for the teams to force the change, even the sponsors.
“I think suspensions should be firm and without appeal,” Ochowicz said. “The minute your positive your out. This appealing takes too long, it’s too drawn out and the results are always the same.”
“We can’t go ahead like it is now,” bicycle manufacturer, Ernesto Colnago told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. “We need an overall change. We need to find intelligent people who love cycling and who can guide it forward. The first point could be to ban riders permanently if they test positive, without any reductions and without a second chance.”
The gentlemen’s agreement, point 5, was tried before in Operación Puerto’s aftermath when the AIGCP agreed that the 18 top teams would not sign a doper for four years. Liquigas turned its nose up that agreement when it signed Ivan Basso in 2008
“True, I broke the pact for one rider,” Liquigas General Manger Roberto Amadio told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “He demonstrated his credibility as a man and a rider. He was an exception, because since then we haven’t hired riders with a scent of doping.”
“The sponsors will act if they need to, Rabobank just did that,” Ochowicz added. However, he said that for the most part the team’s managers should account for what is going on in their team. “A sponsor has financial responsibilities, but they are not providing [advice] on how to run a sports organisation.”
Clarification, points 7 and 8
The WorldTour ranking, first with the ProTour, replaced the World Cup series after 2004 and caused confusion right away. For rankings, many insiders now turn to website CQRankings.com and ignore the UCI system. However, there have been calls for a better system to ease pressure on the riders and to clarify how team licences are awarded.
Several major players have been calling for a new cycling league to create better financial rewards for the teams, but also to take away the points race. Michael Barry, who testified in the US agency’s case, said that the pressure of racing for UCI points and a renewed contract pushes some riders to dope. As Stapleton said, “The points system is death of developing young riders, the death of team work and the clearest path for cheating.”
The WorldTour points and licensing system, according to the manifesto, “remains closed and opaque.” Just this week, the UCI listed the top 15 teams based its sporting criterion. Those teams will likely receive a 2013 WorldTour licence and five others, ranked 16 to 20th, must fight for the remaining three spots – but none of them has a clue how the rankings were established.
The UCI seems to be using is own trigonometry and calculus, and not sharing the formulas. Ochowicz explained it could be made clearer. “There needs to rankings for individuals, teams and nations, I get that,” he said, “but I don’t understand how the ranking works at the end of the year.”
Giving sponsors licence rights, Ochowicz added, is not the way forward. “The bottom line is that the sponsors come and go, no sponsor is there forever. What’s the average life span of a title sponsor? The director is still here, for 20 or 30 years … a lot longer than the sponsor is going to be around.”
It’s go time
The manifesto calls for “major cycling summit” before next season to define the new path forward. If the UCI fails to respond on Friday with new ideas, Vaughters may act on the manifesto by calling another AIGCP meeting.
“When you’re going through a dark tunnel, the best way is to keep going. If you try to back up, it doesn’t work,” Vaughters said last week. “Cycling needs to come to a point where truthfulness can be accepted and we need to find out what went wrong, what went right, and use an independent commission to examine that.”
Stapleton echoed his words. “This is what makes the painful and very public death of one of sport’s great icons provocative. It is not so much about what happened; it’s all about what the hell are you going to do about it? If the outcome is a bunch of guys gets suspended and the sport rolls around in turmoil for a couple of more years, then that’s pathetic. It’s all about taking some chances and making this as a chance to make some fundamental changes.”
Sky acted on a team level, the AIGCP proposed a commission, the newspapers wrote a manifesto and the experts weighed in. It is now over to the UCI to heed the calls and sit down with the stakeholders to make fundamental changes.