New Zealand champion Olivia Ray dropped by team with USADA investigation underway

Human Powered Health quietly dropped Ray, while troubling allegations of domestic violence, doping and deception have emerged.

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New Zealand national road champion Olivia Ray has been released by her Human Powered Health team following code of conduct violations, according to sources close to the team.

Ray was quietly removed from the list of riders on the Human Powered Health website this week, and she no longer appears on the UCI’s list of riders registered to Human Powered Health. Multiple requests for comment from the team throughout this week have gone unanswered.

CyclingTips understands that the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has opened an investigation into Ray; USADA declined to comment due to an “ongoing case”. As of Friday, Cycling New Zealand had not been notified of any investigation or suspension.  

The 23-year-old Auckland native is the current New Zealand women’s road race champion, having taken the victory in tempestuous conditions last month. Ray has also held multiple national titles in criteriums and on the track. 

Ray joined the US-based women’s team Human Powered Health – then known as Rally Cycling – in 2021, and was one of three riders retained for 2022 as the team made a jump up to WorldTeam level. According to ProCyclingStats, she was slated for upcoming race starts at the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Brabantse Pijl.

Those plans have, obviously, now changed. 

The backstory

Ray has been based in the US since mid 2017, where she studied and raced while on scholarship at a college in Georgia, honing her strength as a criterium rider on the vibrant US crit scene. Since signing with Rally (now Human Powered Health) in late 2020, she has raced with the team twice at UCI level – the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, and the Joe Martin Stage Race, both last year – although she raced multiple crits throughout 2021. In articles for her team’s website, Ray spoke about the virtues of body positivity: “I think we get stuck on an ideal image, the holy grail of a particular body type,” she said.

Ray’s most prominent win to date came in late October 2021, when the young New Zealander rocketed to victory as the winner of the Into the Lion’s Den Crit – the most lucrative in the US – which netted her US$15,000. 

The aftermath proved more newsworthy than the win, however. When Ray questioned the delayed payment of the prize money in early December, an ugly spat erupted in which members of the L39ION of Los Angeles team of event organiser, Justin Williams, publicly shut down her concerns. [Williams has confirmed that prize money has since been paid out.] Ray apologised for her comments on social media, while there was speculation that she had been forced into backing down.

In the wake of that event, Ray’s Instagram and Facebook accounts fell inactive. As of this week, they have both been shut down, along with her Strava profile. VeloNews reports that she did not attend a January team training camp in Portugal.

A turbulent time

That Lion’s Den Crit drama appears to have fallen in the midst of a particularly volatile period in Ray’s life.

Court documents for a January 11, 2022 family violence hearing in the Superior Court of Gwinnett County, Georgia, show that Ray was called as a witness in support of her boyfriend, Jackson Huntley Nash – also a cyclist, racing for teams on the USA Crits circuit. 

Nash was attempting to secure a protective order against a former girlfriend of his, Madeline Pearce – another cyclist, who was at the time a close friend of Ray’s – on the basis that Pearce was stalking him. [The judge found a “complete lack of evidence with respect to any stalking in nature.”]

A large part of the case centered around Pearce’s apparent attempts to help Ray escape from an abusive relationship with Nash [Nash denies any abuse]. On December 9 – during the same week that the controversy around the Lion’s Den payment was at its most intense – Ray reached out to a domestic violence hotline, according to court documents.

On December 15, Pearce helped Ray pack to leave Nash’s house whilst he was out, and Ray also filed a police report. Two days later, Ray sent her a message saying that “you saved my life multiple times. I’m sorry it’s got you caught up into it.”  

On December 17, Pearce filed a SafeSport complaint against Nash. Ray followed suit a day or two later, alleging that he had strangled her and had left her with bruises on her legs and hip.

By January, however, Ray had reconciled with Nash and in her witness testimony against Pearce, Ray recanted, claiming that she had been “coerced” her into making the complaints.

Ray claimed that her call to the domestic violence hotline was “false”, that she had lied in both her police report and SafeSport report, and that Nash was “the sweetest guy I’ve ever met.”

[The judge noted, in her closing remarks, that she found Ray’s testimony to be “troublesome” – ”I don’t believe she made that up. She’s obviously filed a police report and took the necessary steps to protect her safety, ” the judge said.] 

Also uncovered in the Nash vs Pearce case were photos taken by Pearce on December 15 which apparently showed the presence of anastrozole, clenbuterol, testosterone, and syringes in the bedroom Nash and Ray shared at that time. Nash denied using anastrozole (although admitted he had a prescription) and said that he had “never heard of” clenbuterol; he declined to respond at risk of self-incrimination about whether there were syringes in his house. Nash has not been sanctioned by USADA. 

According to Pearce, after Ray had fled his house Nash had called and given Ray an ultimatum “that she was to respond to him within 15 minutes, otherwise, he was going to file a report against her”. Nash admitted in court to calling Ray “the biggest piece of shit I’ve ever met” and threatened to “find every single old text I have of yours and then fucking kill myself after I get the tip off.”

Text messages that were purportedly between Ray and Nash – screenshots of which have been viewed by CyclingTips – appeared to show a discussion on how to avoid detection for performance-enhancing substances. The two discussed timing the use of Anavar – an anabolic steroid – so that it would not be detectable in time for a blood test at a January training camp. The texts also appeared to refer to substance side effects and clenbuterol: “for clen, jitters get easier, sleep is easier too.”

When Ray forwarded these incriminating messages to Pearce at the time of the breakdown of her relationship with Nash, she annotated the message – “this is what he has”.  

Shades of grey

Ray at the 2022 New Zealand National Road Championships.

As a professional athlete, Olivia Ray is required to abide by both team standards and the sport’s anti-doping rules. But there are some particularly troubling details about this case that add shades of grey to what is, in the eyes of sporting bodies, black and white. 

Based on Ray’s testimony in the court case involving her boyfriend, Nash, she appears to have either lied on the stand or lied in reports to SafeSport and the police. That case also casts doubt on Ray’s autonomy, and raises serious questions as to whether she was – or remains – in an abusive, coercive relationship and the victim of domestic violence. 

Troubling, too, are suggestions in the court case that Human Powered Health knew details about Ray’s situation as far back as December last year. Pearce claimed that Ray’s director had advised her to file a police report against Nash; Nash claimed that Ray’s team had threatened to fire her because of an anti-doping investigation.

Months later, the team quietly dropped Ray from its roster and failed to respond to requests for comment. 

In the wreckage lies the cycling career of a 23 year old woman. There is some finality in that, perhaps, but questions remain. 

Caley Fretz contributed reporting.

Resources
-USA: National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1800 799 7233
-NZ: It’s Not OK at 0800 456 450
-Australia: 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732

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