Lance Armstrong was no ordinary cyclist, nor was he any ordinary doper.
His was a business model that changed the face of professional cycling, perfecting techniques of doping, media management, and being the vehicle by which cycling administrators globalised the sport. It is no wonder some still go a long way to defend him or simply muddy the waters.
In 1999 when Armstrong miraculously, or incredibly – in the fullest sense of the word – was first on the road in the Tour de France, it was heralded as the Tour of Redemption, a new clean start for pro cycling following the previous year’s Festina Affair which saw a number of riders arrested for doping by the French police. Among the Festina riders arrested was former Australian national road team and current Orica Greenedge director, Neil Stephens.
Hence, it was with a sense of deja vu that I listened to Cycling Australia’s President Klaus Mueller claim on ABC24 that “the scene has changed enormously.” In answer to the question as to whether the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s uncontested findings that Armstrong had doped and engaged in a conspiracy with others cast doubt on the performance of post Armstrong cyclists, Mueller responded:
… I think the recent winners I think we can have enormous confidence that they have done it on merit rather than cheating … there was a collective sigh of relief … the cycling community really felt very good about Cadel Evans winning and there was a general feeling that and almost an absolute confidence that that had been achieved on merit ….”
The problem for some sceptics is that not only has Cadel Evans himself at times used one member of the Armstrong conspiracy, the Italian Dr Michele Ferrari, for career and ‘training’ advice, but at least on two occasions – such as when winning the 2009 World Championships and the 2011 Tour de France – Evans has refused to agree with suggestions by journalists that his victory was a victory for clean cycling.
However, Cadel is not the story here, rather it is Armstrong and the mantras and actions of those that administer cycling. With respect to the case against Armstrong, Mueller – who is also a Melbourne barrister – was at pains to stress the “uncertainty” surrounding the USADA case against the Texan. The problem for the sceptics, or even the rational, was that the script Mueller seemed to be reading from was the same one that the powers that be in world cycling have been using since 1999 in their defence of Armstrong. Mueller bemoaned “how politicised the process has been,” a reference in line with those who view the case against Armstrong as a “witch hunt.” What Mueller ignores of course is that it has been Armstrong and former Clinton advisor Mark Fabiani who have politicised the case and exerted political pressure on the U.S. Federal Prosecutors office to drop the criminal case which went well beyond the doping allegations. In more recent times, Armstrong’s Livestrong cancer business has attempted to lobby politicians to cut funding to USADA.
Mueller’s case was further backed by his claim that the
jurisdiction of USADA is very unclear and uncertain … that leaves everyone with a question as to the outcome … uncertainty … I am not sure it has any jurisdiction … certainly UCI has that jurisdiction … they should decide.”
Unfortunately, here again Mueller was reading from the script of Armstrong and his allies within the International Cycling Union (UCI). The UCI, who it has been alleged have covered up positive doping tests and accepted payments from Armstrong attempted to claim in July that they and not USADA had jurisdiction in the case. USADA of course rejected the attack on their jurisdiction. The French Anti Doping Agency has also claimed that people within the UCI and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) regularly tipped off Armstrong in advance of doping controls in order to allow him to take measures to beat the testers. But even if Mueller was still “unclear and uncertain” about the question of jurisdiction, the plain words of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADA Code) and a letter from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Director General, himself a barrister, should have helped resolve the matter once and for all. Howman was clear on the meaning of the rules that applied and that WADA did not agree
…with the public comments made by UCI and we therefore respond in a public manner. … With respect to your statements that the UCI has results management authority in connection with the USPS Cases you have misinterpreted the Code.”
Mueller’s thinly-disguised case for the defence then raised the chestnut of “concern over process” and the “lack of transparency” and that the charges against Armstrong were not sufficient for him to “answer the case” against him. Along with Howman’s letter to the UCI – which stated that never before has the UCI complained about the lack of due process in relation to USADA proceedings – there are here two obvious aspects ignored by Mueller. The first is that only last week a US Federal Court judge dismissed Armstrong’s challenges regarding due process as being “without merit.” In case Mueller missed it, even the Herald Sun reported the story. Secondly, the “concern over process” and the “lack of transparency” was based upon the fact that USADA had not detailed the names of the witnesses and incidents in its original letter charging Armstrong. USADA had made it clear that this was because of fear that Armstrong would try to pressure and intimidate its witnesses before the hearing of the case against him. This of course was not a fear without foundation, as Armstrong has previously threatened his former teammate Tyler Hamilton for cooperating with the stalled criminal investigation. Armstrong, of course, has a long history of strong arm-tactics, one of the most famous being his chasing down of the Italian rider Filippo Simeoni in the 2004 Tour de France after Simeoni had testified in an Italian court case against Armstrong’s co-conspirator Dr Ferrari. It is also important to note that the same rules that apply to USADA with respect to due process, procedural fairness, or natural justice, apply to Cycling Australia and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA). But never has Mueller or any other Cycling Australia official raised doubt about any perceived failures to afford natural justice in that process.
In conclusion Mueller brought us back to the age-old mantra which, as already noted in passing, has its roots in the 1999 Tour of Redemption, that is that cycling has been “enormously proactive in fighting the curse of doping in the last 7 years, if not longer …”. Mueller cited the example of the introduction of the Biological Passport, a system which analyses the longitudinal blood profiles of cyclists in order to detect a probability of the likelihood of doping as an example of this proactivity. The Biological Passport was discussed at length in our report on doping in Australian cycling and at the New Pathways for Pro Cycling Conference held in Geelong to coincide with the 2010 World Championships. Prior to that conference, I had already foreshadowed the problem of the cancer in cycling and Deakin University had offered itself as a space to pursue a way forward, an offer which Cycling Australia and the UCI refused to take up.
What the “collective sigh of relief” over Cadel’s win also ignores is that the testing for the much-vaunted Biological Passport was put on hold for the period leading up to the 2011 Tour de France and that one of its main proponents and developers, Michael Ashenden, resigned from the UCI Biological Passport committee because of deficiencies in the process. Mueller also ignores the links between people within his own organisation and Armstrong and his co-conspirators, and the fact that Cycling Australia has been an active participant in South Australia’s Tour Down Under, which has seen more than $6 million paid to Armstrong for his three appearances in Adelaide, not to mention the money paid to licence the Livestrong name for the cancer research centre at Flinders University.
Is it any wonder then that the sceptics still have some trouble swallowing the words of those who administer the sport of cycling? In the end, Mueller’s veiled defence of Armstrong raises the problem highlighted by David Howman in the conclusion of his letter to UCIPresident Pat McQuaid:
By adopting its current position UCI is sadly destroying the credibility it has slowly been regaining in the past years in the fight against doping.”
Old networks and alliances don’t appear to die easily.
Martin Hardie teaches law at Deakin University. He has worked as a cycling journalist in Spain and contributes on an occasional basis to El Pais newspaper. He has also co-authored the report “I Wish I Was Twenty One Now – Beyond Doping in the Australian Peloton” which is available in print and on Amazon kindle. He organised the New Pathways for Pro Cycling Conference in Geelong to be held in September of 2012. He is included in the WADA Social Science Research Directory and has been invited by USADA to speak at their symposium on Deterring Athletes from Using Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Atlanta, Georgia, USA in October 2012.