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.


No surprise: Armstrong doesn't talk with USADA

Lance Armstrong declined Wednesday to tell what he knows about doping in cycling to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Because here is the critical part. USADA would have had him talk under oath.

So, really, who is surprised?

Armstrong faces potential criminal and civil exposure. No way he was going to talk -- at least not while the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth could be used against him.

Intriguingly, Armstrong -- who sought in his televised interview with Oprah Winfrey to appear at least a little bit humble, a little bit contrite -- seemed through his lawyer, Tim Herman, to revert Wednesday right back to the sort of language that had for years come to characterize his position in dealing with the anti-doping authorities, the press and virtually anyone who challenged him.

Herman's statement started off by saying:

"Lance is willing to cooperate fully and has been very clear: He will be the first man through the door, and once inside will answer every question, at an international tribunal formed to comprehensively address pro cycling, an almost exclusively European sport."

Lance willing to cooperate fully? That would appear so commendable, right?

If only it didn't also seem so disingenuous.

For years, Armstrong kept his doping and bullying secret. Now, though, he would now be willing to tell all? Conveniently, he would be doing so at an international tribunal, likely offshore, where the reach of American law would not extend -- and those comments presumably would not be used against him in the same way as if they were made, under oath, back home.

In that way he would be the "first man through the door" and answering "every question"?

Just one further issue.

There is no such international tribunal. None exists. Maybe one will one day or maybe one won't.

It's hard to know, given the complex relationships among cycling's governing body, the UCI -- for which Armstrong has said he currently has little love, given the way it dropped him last fall -- along with the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee.

So, again, what was this about?

And why the reference to cycling being a European sport? Why bring that up? Simply to play to what remains of Lance's American audience? Or -- to whom?

"We remain hopeful," the statement goes on to say, "that an international effort will be mounted, and we will do everything we can to facilitate that result. In the meantime, for several reasons, Lance will not participate in USADA's efforts to selectively conduct American prosecutions that only demonize selected individuals while failing to address the 95% of the sport over which USADA has no jurisdiction."

Demonize? Selected individuals?

To whom could those words be referring? Lance, obviously, right?

USADA's aim, of course, is full disclosure. It wants to know what he knows. That's just common sense. Wouldn't Armstrong stand to know as much as anyone about how to dope, and get away with it?

Plus, if ever there was a time to get him to talk, now would be it. Armstrong has finally been unveiled as a serial cheater. He has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.

Moreover, WADA told Armstrong that coming in to talk to USADA was the appropriate thing to do if, as USADA chief executive Travis Tygart put it in a statement of his own Wednesday, "he ever wanted to be part of the solution."

Now, though, look at it from Armstrong's point of view. What did he have to gain from talking with USADA?

In October, in making public the scope and extent of Armstrong's cheating, calling it the "most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program the sport has ever seen," USADA imposed on Armstrong a lifetime ban.

Armstrong, 41, wants to run in sanctioned triathlons. Cooperation with USADA might -- that's might -- get that life ban reduced to an eight-year ban. That means he'd be almost 50.

For someone used to being in control, used to dictating the terms of how the deal is going to go down, it's hardly surprising Armstrong decided in the end not to talk.

"At this time," Tygart said in his statement, "we are moving forward with our investigation without him and we will continue to work closely with WADA and other appropriate and responsible international authorities …"

That's not surprising, either. This matter is a long, long way from over.


Lance Armstrong accused of "pervasive pattern of doping"

The case launched Wednesday by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency against Lance Armstrong is notable not just because it's Lance Armstrong, and because, well -- finally. It promises to highlight the role of the entourage in elite cycling and, by extension, Olympic and international sport.

It could well crack the code of silence in cycling, once and for all. Testimony under oath can be a powerful thing.

Moreover, assuming this case against Armstrong moves as far as a hearing, and if that hearing is public, the opportunity would at long present itself to test evidence in cross-examination for all to see. Armstrong is an immensely polarizing figure. Those who see Armstrong as hero, as well as those who allege he had to have been taking something to win and keep winning, would get the chance to see evidence put to the test.

Process may not seem sexy. But process is critically important, to Armstrong and, as well, to USADA, the quasi-governmental organization that oversees the anti-doping campaign in Olympic sports in the United States. That is the American way.

As is this: Armstrong is innocent until proven otherwise.

This, too: USADA surely would not have brought a case against a figure of Armstrong's stature unless it had confidence it could deliver. There are budgets and reputations at stake amid what is likely to be an enormous variety of pressures.

"We do not choose whether or not we do our job based on outside pressures, intimidation or for any reason other than the evidence," USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said in a statement.  "Our duty on behalf of clean athletes and those that value the integrity of sport is to fairly and thoroughly evaluate all the evidence available and when there is credible evidence of doping, take action under the established rules."

Much of the media will want this to be about soundbites and first impressions and an instant rush to judgment. It can't be. We don't yet know what we don't know.

The 15-page USADA "notice letter" describes -- but does not name -- "more than 10 … cyclists as well as cycling team employees." That is a substantial number of witnesses. Further, it declares that "numerous riders, team personnel and others will testify based on personal knowledge acquired either through observing Armstrong dope or through Armstrong's admissions of doping to them" that Armstrong used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone from before 1998 through 2005, and that he previously used EPO, testosterone and human growth hormone through 1996.

It further alleges Armstrong's doping will be "evidenced by the data from blood collections obtained by the UCI," cycling's international federation, taken from Armstrong, in 2009 and 2010, numbers  "fully consistent with blood manipulation including EPO use and/or blood transfusions."

The letter, dated Tuesday, alleges that Armstrong and five others engaged in a conspiracy, a "pervasive pattern of doping," that started in 1998.

Named along with Armstrong were: team manager Johan Bruyneel, the team director; Dr. Pedro Celaya, a team doctor; Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral, a team doctor; Dr. Michele Ferrari, an Italian physician well-known in cycling circles described here as a "consulting doctor"; Jose Pepe Marti, a team trainer.

To read that notice letter is to understand immediately that the evidence at hand is not everything. It is, as the letter says, a "portion" of what USADA has. Further, it is apparently not evidence that USADA just scooped up in the wake of the federal investigation that ended in February, when the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles announced abruptly that it would not -- after a nearly two-year criminal probe -- charge Armstrong or other members of his riding teams.

Armstrong rode for the U.S. Postal Service and then Discovery Channel teams from 1998-2005. In 2009 he rode for the Astana Cycling team. In 2010-11, he rode for the RadioShack team.

Again: this case would appear to be built without whatever USADA might, or might not, have in hand from the Feds. One wonders whether there is more, and whether it might ever emerge.

Armstrong is of course a seven-time winner of the Tour de France, from 1999-2005. He retired from cycling in early 2011 and took up triathlon, which he had done before turning to cycling. The letter Wednesday means he is immediately banned from competing in triathlon. USADA is not empowered to bring criminal charges.

Armstrong, who has repeatedly maintained he is innocent of any wrongdoing, issued a statement Wednesday that said, in part, "I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one."

To pass so many drug tests, though, means virtually nothing. Marion Jones, the U.S. sprinter, passed more than 160 drug tests. She ultimately was revealed as a chronic drug cheat who would give back the five Olympic medals she won in Sydney in 2000.

This is, among other reasons, why the process element is so important.

Floyd Landis protested mightily when he was charged. Indeed, he even wrote a 2007 book, "Positively False," in which he said, on pages 196 and 197, "I did not use performance-enhancing drugs in the 2006 Tour de France or any other time in my career."

Evidence at a 2007 arbitration panel hearing proved that wrong.

Subsequently -- in May, 2010 -- Landis sent e-mails to cycling officials admitting that he was a serial doper. He has since accused Armstrong.

Armstrong, as his competitors and others who have encountered him know, can be fantastically combative. He has done great things for cancer survivors and along the way he has made powerful friends, some in Washington. Some of those friends doubtlessly will wonder why he is being subject to these accusations.

Indeed, you could see him working the angles Wednesday in that statement. It starts this way: "I have been notified that USADA, an organization largely funded by taxpayer dollars but governed only by self-written rules, intends to again dredge up discredited allegations dating back more than 16 years to prevent me from competing as a triathlete and try and strip me of the seven Tour de France victories I earned."

It goes on to say that these are the "very same charges and the same witnesses" the Justice Department "chose not to pursue" -- though no one outside the Department knows why -- and, a few words later, alleges that USADA's "malice, its methods, its star-chamber practices, and its decision to punish first and adjudicate later all are at odds with our ideals of fairness and fair play."

Reality check: if the conduct USADA alleges can be proven, under oath, then Armstrong and the others should be held accountable. That's our ideal of fairness and fair play.

That's process, and it should play itself out, and no amount of pressure -- financial, emotional or otherwise -- from Armstrong or his friends, no matter how high up in Washington or elsewhere, should deter that. That's fairness and fair play, too.

But to start, there's this: Armstrong is innocent until proven otherwise.