UCI's belated preemptive strike

Cycling's international governing body, which goes by the acronym UCI, "did not protect" Lance Armstrong as he cheated his way to the seven Tour de France titles that have since been stripped from him, a new file prepared by the federation asserts. "Every decision by the UCI concerning Armstrong -- and indeed every other rider -- was taken in compliance with the known facts and with the science available at the time," says the file, sent out Monday to national cycling federation presidents, describing the UCI as a "pioneer" in the anti-doping campaign and "at the forefront" of "many new technical advances."

In an accompanying letter, UCI president Pat McQuaid declares, "For the past 20 years, the UCI has done everything possible in tackling the scourge of doping in sport."

The exuberance of these declarations, and the timing of the file, must be understood in context. McQuaid is in a reelection campaign, and most of the Olympic world, including the International Olympic Committee executive board, will be gathering in two weeks in St. Petersburg, Russia, for what's called the SportAccord convention.

Pardon the oxymoron but this is, in essence, a belated preemptive strike.

Belated, of course, because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's so-called "Reasoned Decision," which lays out the case against Armstrong in breathtaking fashion, came out last October.

Then, in January, came Armstrong's televised confession with Oprah Winfrey.

Now, for a variety of reasons, it's in McQuaid's interest in particular for UCI to appear transparent.

He says in the cover letter that UCI "remains committed" to an "independent audit' of UCI's "behavior and practices" during "the Armstrong years.  Armstrong won seven straight Tours de France, 1999-2005, retired, then raced again in the Tour in 2009 and 2010.

Further, McQuad says in the letter, "I can also confirm that the UCI has agreed to release all test data in our possession concerning Armstrong to both WADA," the World Anti-Doping Agency, "and USADA."

And, he says, UCI is discussing with WADA "a process that will allow a full examination of doping in the peloton in the past so that we can learn all the lessons that need to be [learned.]"

The 14-page file itself covers a range of topics that by now are familiar elements of the Armstrong tale, traversing the 1999 test for corticosteroids at the Tour de France to and through Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis and Armstrong's two donations to UCI.

"Many of the allegations leveled at the UCI have been comprehensively answered and debunked," the file says on page one.

The issue, of course, is whether this file -- in its bid to relay the truth -- tells the whole story. As the file circulated Monday around the world, there were those who found plenty to question.

Travis Tygart, the chief executive officer of USADA, called it "simply another political move full of self-serving excuses and rationalizations and not the decisive action UCI promised the world over seven months ago now."

Tygart called the file "a 14-page letter with no evidence," issued "in response to more than a decade of a corrupt culture of drug use," and  labeled it " nothing short of shameful."

As an example of whether the file merely relays events but also fixes them in the big picture, consider the matter of Armstrong's 2001 Tour of Switzerland tests.

Armstrong was tested five times in that race. Three of those five samples were tested for EPO, the blood-booster erythropoietin. All were negative. Two, though, came back with notes from the lab as "strong suspicion" for EPO with numerical readings of 75.1 and 70.0; a positive reading was 80.0.

It is therefore "clear and irrefutable," the file says, that the UCI did not conceal anything.


At the same time, as other UCI documents have also made clear, Dr. Leon Schattenberg, a member of the UCI anti-doping commission, told Armstrong and then-U.S. Postal Service team leader Johan Bruyneel of the suspicious test results a few days later, at the 2001 Tour de France.

This was a "normal" UCI policy at the time, "done so that the rider, if he was indeed doping, would stop doing so and the other competitors would be protected," according to UCI documents.

Armstrong "asserted strongly" that it was "completely impossible" for him to have produced a suspicious test as he "categorically denied doping," and went on to question the EPO test itself, as those documents relate.

The entire 2001 Swiss affair galls UCI critics.

They ask: if you were serious about doping, if you were genuinely a "pioneer," what would you do about a competitor -- indeed, the sport's star rider -- who was "strongly suspicious"? Would you essentially give him a field course about how the latest new test works and how close he was to flunking it -- and thus about how, if he were smart, he had better get back in line?

Or would you, knowing he was "suspicious," wait to actually catch him?

Moreover, wouldn't you want to submit the other two tests at the time for EPO? Or test them later -- as was allowed under the rules -- for EPO? And then, later, when you had reason to know, or at least to believe, that numerous witnesses were testifying to Armstrong's use of EPO, wouldn't you provide that evidence to USADA during its investigation, particularly after repeated requests?

Then there is the matter of Hamilton.

On page 11 of Monday's file, it notes that in 2004 Hamilton was caught blood doping and "concocted a story about a vanishing twin brother," adding, "Had Hamilton not been caught by the UCI, he would never have eventually confessed and then testified against Armstrong."

OK -- except that Hamilton fought the matter for years. A confession was a long time in the making. So was testimony against Armstrong. And then, as the USADA "Reasoned Decision" makes plain, when Hamilton had offered his cooperation to U.S. law enforcement officials, Armstrong told him, "I'm going to make your life a living … f-ing … hell."

The file sent out Monday says it was UCI that in 2006 found out that Landis had tested positive for banned testosterone. "If that had not happened," the file says, "Landis would never have eventually testified against Armstrong."

Except, again, that ignores the ferocity with which Landis fought the charges, indeed the book he wrote denying culpability, the hundreds of thousands of dollars that USADA -- not UCI -- spent prosecuting the case and more. UCI would not even give USADA Landis' test data, which assuredly would have been helpful in the prosecution of the case.

It is perhaps worth recalling that in October, 2012, within a couple weeks after the Reason Decision was issued, McQuaid seemed full of scorn for Landis and Hamilton for providing evidence to USADA about the doping system in place at the U.S. Postal team:

"Landis started it. He was in a bottomless hole and he said the only way out of it was to bring the sport down. That's what he intended doing and what he intends doing but he won't achieve it.

"Another thing that annoys me is that Landis and Hamilton are being made out to be heroes. They are as far from heroes as night and day. They are not heroes, they are scumbags. All they have done is damage the sport."

As for the two donations Armstrong made to the UCI -- the file asserts there is "no relationship" between testing and the money. From the UCI's perspective: Armstrong never tested positive; there was no test to conceal; therefore, how could there be any incentive to conceal any test?

The file adds detail to the donations.

It has long been known that there were two donations, one of $25,000, the other of $100,000.

The $25,000 came in May, 2002. It was used to finance testing in the junior (17-18 year-old) and under-23 (19-22 year-old) ranks, the file says.

Armstrong offered the $100,000 in the first half of 2005, to be used to buy a new Sysmex blood analyzer, which counts reticulocytes, or new blood cells. Such cells can serve as markers for blood doping; an athlete who is using EPO or who is blood transfusing typically would not be producing new blood cells in the normal way.

The UCI bought the machine in July, 2005, paying for it with its own money. That's because, the file says, Armstrong hadn't yet made good on his offer and the machine was "urgently needed for the fight against doping." Armstrong was "reminded of his promise later in 2005 and again in 2006," eventually sending the money in January 2007, a year and a half after he had retired, the file notes.

"With the benefit of hindsight, in particular given his subsequent confessions, it is clear that Armstrong deceived his sport, as well as the UCI, and that it would have been wiser not to have accepted these donations from him."

Which is the issue critics have in the first instance with the donations themselves, right?

"Nevertheless," the file goes on to assert," the donations had no influence on the UCI's testing of Armstrong," nor on any anti-doping entity.