Posts Tagged ‘lance armstrong’

Give Them Enough Rope

November 1, 2012

Words: Matt Seaton Photos: Paolo Ciaberta

From Rouleur issue 35, coming soon

In 1990, former Irish professional cyclist Paul Kimmage published Rough Ride, his memoir of racing in the pro peloton. In it, he gave a detailed account of a sport in which doping was endemic.

In 1991, Hein Verbruggen became president of the UCI, a post he held until stepping down in 2005. He remains its honorary president.

In late April and early May 2010, Floyd Landis admitted doping throughout his career in a series of e-mails sent to the head of USA Cycling and others. The story was broken by the Wall Street Journal. In those e-mails, Landis alleged that his former team-mate Lance Armstrong paid the UCI to hush up a positive test in 2001; Landis said that Armstrong himself had told him this. The UCI denied the story, saying that no rider had tested positive in the Tour de Suisse that year.

In late May 2010, at the Giro d’Italia, UCI president Pat McQuaid gave a press conference where he appeared to regret the UCI having accepted Armstrong’s donation. At that time McQuaid said there had been a single payment in 2005 of $100,000, which he denied was a bribe: “We didn’t think there’s a conflict of interest.”

At a subsequent press conference, in July, he affirmed that, in fact, the UCI had also received a personal cheque from Armstrong for $25,000 in 2002, which was used to pay for dope testing in junior races. The further sum of $100,000 came from Armstrong’s management company in 2005, at the point at which the American had announced his first retirement, and only after a reminder from the UCI. That amount was used to pay for a Sysmex blood testing machine.

McQuaid said that he did not know why it had taken Armstrong “so long to eventually pay up”. Nor did he shed light on who had contacted Armstrong to chase up the payment.

In July 2010, Landis repeated his story in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. In November 2010, Paul Kimmage interviewed Floyd Landis. Their seven hour conversation became the basis for a Sunday Times article but the full transcript was published in early 2011 by the US website nyvelocity.

In it, Landis says that Lance Armstrong forced him to apologise to then UCI president Hein Verbruggen. The reason? A statement that Landis had made to the press over a contractual dispute he’d had prior to joining US Postal. Landis alleges that part of Armstrong’s persuasion that it was necessary to cowtow to the UCI was the revelation the Texan had tested positive at the Tour de Suisse in 2001 but that the governing body had suppressed the information.

In May 2012, Tyler Hamilton told CBS’ 60 Minutes that Armstrong had shared the same story with him. In September 2012, he repeated the allegation in detail in his book The Secret Race. According to Hamilton’s co-author, Dan Coyle: “What happened next was a call was made from cycling’s body, UCI, that this test should go no further, this matter should end here. There was a meeting between Armstrong, his coach and the lab and then there was also a $125,000 donation from Armstrong to the UCI.’’ Armstrong’s lawyer Tim Herman responded by saying that Armstrong and his directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel had “no recollection” of any such meeting. The UCI has denied any cover up and any connection between Armstrong’s suspect test and the anti-doping donations.

The now famous Usada report released in October 2012 contains the same account, backed by sworn affidavits from Hamilton and Landis. Usada also has testimony from the director of the Swiss laboratory, Dr Martial Saugy, who said that the UCI had confirmed to him that one of several suspicious test results for EPO use belonged to Lance Armstrong. Saugy also confirmed that, in 2002, he did meet with Armstrong and Bruyneel to discuss the implications of the Tour de Suisse suspect samples.

The Usada report also notes that: “Pat McQuaid, the current president of UCI, has acknowledged that Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel visited the UCI headquarters in Aigle in May 2002 and offered at least $100,000 to help the development of cycling.”

In a Swiss court in April 2011, the UCI launched defamation proceedings against Landis over the 2001/2002 bribe allegation. In October 2012, just days before the Usada report was released, the court found in favour of the UCI by default; Landis denied having been served the papers and did not appear to defend himself. Landis’ lawyer has said that the Swiss court’s ruling has no jurisdiction over the American.

There is precedent for the UCI’s action here: in 2008, the UCI sued the former head of Wada, Richard Pound, after critical remarks he had made about the UCI’s failure to tackle doping in cycling; the case was settled in 2009, without a retraction by Pound and with no damages paid.

In December 2011, the UCI started a defamation suit against Paul Kimmage. Kimmage said he did not receive notification of the action until January 2012 – coincidentally after he had been laid off by his employer, the Sunday Times, in a round of cost cutting measures.

Kimmage and McQuaid go back a long way. In 1985 – some 20 years before he became UCI president – Pat McQuaid was team manager for the Irish squad at the amateur road race World Championships. Kimmage finished sixth that year, behind Maurizio Fondriest. Kimmage says McQuaid has treated him as persona non grata ever since the publication of Rough Ride. But when it comes to the present lawsuit, Kimmage is in no doubt: “Verbruggen is driving this.”

As has been noted by Kimmage’s former Sunday Times colleague David Walsh, himself a longtime crusader against Lance Armstrong’s dope-cheating, the UCI is not suing any publication or media outlet that has aired the allegation – not the Wall Street Journal, nor L’Équipe, nor Bantam Press (Hamilton’s publisher), nor CBS Television, nor any website. Instead, it has chosen to go after an individual journalist who is now unemployed and has no institutional backing.

Asked about the Kimmage case in a recent interview, Dick Pound commented: “Verbruggen and Armstrong and so on have resorted to the institution of legal proceedings. Not so much to collect money, but to stifle any dissent or opposition.”

In September 2012, a legal defence fund for Paul Kimmage was set up by the nyvelocity and cyclismas websites. Within weeks, it had raised over $60,000 through individual donations from grassroots cyclists and cycling fans. Kimmage says that the fundraising effort is not about him: “For the majority of people who’ve contributed to this fund, it’s a total vote against the UCI.” Kimmage was due to appear on 12 December 2012, at Vevey in Switzerland, close to the UCI headquarters in Aigle. Usada witness and Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters has indicated his support for Kimmage. And in a recent interview with the Guardian’s Donald Macrae, Tyler Hamilton was asked about the UCI lawsuit.

“It’s mind-boggling,” he said. “I just hope journalists keep asking the tough questions and we stick up for Paul Kimmage and others fighting for a clean sport.”

The timing of the Usada report’s release has raised the stakes enormously. What began as a petty vendetta for the sake of Verbruggen’s vanity has now put the spotlight directly on the governance of the sport and the UCI’s role in overseeing the sport’s dirty decades of systemic doping pioneered by Lance Armstrong during Verbruggen’s tenure.

On Monday 22 October, McQuaid convened a press conference at which he announced that the UCI recognised the Usada Decision on Armstrong. If you read the small print of the UCI report, you discovered how grudgingly that recognition was given. When challenged about the Kimmage case, McQuaid claimed it had nothing to do with the Armstrong revelations, was simply a private issue of defending his and his predecessor’s reputation from defamation, and would proceed as planned.

By Friday, facing a tide of criticism and protest, he’d been forced to reverse this position. The UCI announced the formation of an independent commission into the UCI’s role in the Armstrong doping history – and that the UCI’s legal action (and, necessarily, Verbruggen’s and McQuaid’s) against Kimmage was being suspended.

Even before this preliminary humiliation, McQuaid must have been bitterly regretting ever going along with Hein’s folly. And now, if Kimmage is never required to defend the action, it will probably be because the positions of the UCI president and vice-president have become untenable.

In any case, Kimmage is now mobilised – with a host of supporters and financing behind him. Regardless of the defamation case’s suspension, he has promised to “unleash hell” on his UCI persecutors. And he will not now rest until the reforms he has always argued are necessary have come.

Matt Seaton is editor of Comment is Free America for the Guardian


October 6, 2011

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Wig Worland

Hutchinson makes some of the finest racing tyres on the market and have done so for a very long time. Anquetil, Bobet, Armstrong; all Tour de France winners, all riding on French rubber. We went to Montargis, south of Paris, to find out about warp and weft, TPI and other mysterious tyre terminology…

I am not the kind of cyclist who thinks too deeply about what sits beneath me. An inquisitive mind for all things mechanical is a wonderful thing. I just don’t possess one. If a bike works, is not too heavy and isn’t ugly, that’s good enough for me. Imagine the lack of enthusiasm approaching my first Rouleur equipment feature, something I have successfully swerved thus far. What can be said about tyres? (I must at this point give special mention to the Editor who managed a thoroughly enjoyable feature about spokes… from Switzerland). But the whole day was absolutely gripping.

Warp and weft! There’s two words you don’t hear often, unless working in the clothes trade. The warp is the lengthwise yarn held in tension on a frame, while the weft is woven between at a right angle. Samuel demonstrates with a small section of base layer the strength the material has in one direction, then turns it round and simply rips it apart with ease. The clever bit comes by turning the material 45 degrees where the combination of strength and elasticity reaches its optimum.

The tyre-related acronym even I knew about before visiting Montargis was TPI, or threads per inch. The more, the better, giving a thinner and more flexible tyre carcass. “In the beginning it was 33,” says Samuel, “with big yarn, then doubled to 66, then doubled again – 127.” Hold on a minute…

“But in reality it is not that. It is 100. I don’t why.”

Content that if Samuel doesn’t know, it’s probably not worth knowing, we move onto the most labour intensive part of the tyre making process, rows of deft-fingered women bringing carcass, beading and tread together with meticulous high-speed dexterity. Then to huge heavy presses for final shaping and stretching, the finished articles emerging steaming to be cooled on racks.

This is the point where I am struck by how many pairs of hands have worked on each and every one of these tyres. I expected some kind of mass production, automated line, without having really thought it through. The reality is, yes, it’s a production line, but with a necessarily hands-on approach that is very much old school manufacturing at its finest. I vow never, ever, to complain about the cost of a pair of tyres again.

Extract taken from Rouleur 26, coming soon


June 2, 2011

by Matt Seaton

I walk under ladders. I cross the paths of black cats. I pay no heed to Friday 13ths. I’ve broken plenty of mirrors. I have no “knock on wood” fear that speaking of ill-fortune will bring it to pass. I am not only not superstitious, but philosophically I don’t believe in superstition. I believe in reason, and superstition is a symptom of contagion by the enemy, unreason. If religion, as Marx said, is the opium of the masses, then superstition, with its inchoate, pre-deist phantasmagoria of fears and omens, is the cheapest, most adulterated form of street-corner smack.

But when I’m packing my kit to go to a bike race, do I have to have my pair of lucky socks? Of course, I do. Who doesn’t? You can’t ask a racing cyclist to ride without his lucky socks. You might as well take away his bidon and forbid him from changing gear. And are my lucky socks lucky, you ask; how do you know they’re lucky? Well, it’s true that I don’t have any scientific proof positive. But I have such a strong feeling about them that it’s simply unthinkable to test whether not wearing my lucky socks would bring me bad luck.

So I am superstitious, after all. It’s true: in this one discrete corner of my life, I am. I believe devoutly that a pair of black and white polyester Assos socks, with a slim red line of trim, and a hole in one toe, bring me luck when I race. What kind of luck I couldn’t tell you. Do they help me get results? Do they help me make a break? Or do they just keep me rubber-side down and out of trouble? Do my lucky socks have a positive or a negative capability: promotion of good fortune or protection from bad luck? Can’t say. But what I’ll do when they finally wear out, I do not know. I will probably have to find another favourite pair, keep them next to each other in the drawer and hope that the lucky power transmigrates.

I am not alone in this matter of cyclists’ superstition. In the professional peloton, it is rife. In Catholic countries, the overlap with genuine religious observance is commonplace, as riders ritually make the sign of the cross over their chests before clipping in and starting a stage. Many riders hate to wear a dossard numbered 13. If they must, it is customary to wear it upside down, to fool the evil spirits who monitor these things – a practice apparently tolerated by race commissaires. In a few cases, a rider’s aversion to 13 is more entrenched. Viatcheslav Ekimov, erstwhile super-domestique for Lance Armstrong, simply refused to wear the number, or even stay in a hotel room numbered 13. In 1993, Belgian Lotto rider Peter De Clercq would not board a plane for a transfer on Friday 13th. Such sentiments are not just allowed, but are so normal in the pro peloton and even respected that the race director gave him special dispensation to travel by car instead.

Extract from the upcoming Rouleur issue 24. Matt Seaton is Editor of the Guardian’s Comment is Free America


May 26, 2011

Ivan Basso, Giro d’Italia 2010 by Guy Andrews


Many would have us believe that everyone deserves a second chance, and of course in principal they are quite correct. However, in giving them that second chance, the people responsible for the wellbeing of the professional sport in Italy play Russian Roulette with the livelihoods of those employed within it, and close to it. The likelihood is that the majority of cyclists are now competing without recourse to doping products. If this is the case then they, and the hundreds employed behind the scenes, their sponsors and those building the bikes on which they ride, deserve better than the Giro’s current largesse. Modern doping techniques are not only deeply injurious to the credibility of the sport but, much more importantly, to the cyclists themselves. That Italian riders, those operating within an expensively sponsored team structure at the top end of the sport here, continue to be caught cheating whilst racing abroad is the most damning of all the sport’s truths. The Giro, the great standard bearer, is well beyond the point at which it can afford to keep handing out second chances; what it needs, and what the public demands, is that it starts making examples. The future wellbeing of the sport here depends on it.

Many argue, with no little reason, that doping is as old as the sport itself. Some would still have us believe that cyclists at the highest level are compelled, presumably by some indelible genetic imprint, to dope. Whilst there is truth in the argument that 100 years of doping culture can not be overturned in a relative instant, this in itself renders the responsibility to act decisively all the more compelling, all the more immediate. Elsewhere, most notably in France, huge progress has been made, and the systemised ‘vertical’ doping of the recent past is apparently no more, which can only be a good thing. In northern Europe and America new teams are emerging with openly anti-doping policies and cultures. To many of the young riders I meet, particularly British and American, doping is simply a non-issue because they’ve never been exposed to it. Though globally cycling is doubtless a much cleaner sport than ever it was in the past, the Italian peloton, and the Giro itself, has done nothing of any great substance in the fight against doping. CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, is stringent in its application of the WADA code, but the Giro seems intent on leaving a side door ajar for most anybody to sneak through. Sad to say, but whilst all around it bike racing is being regenerated and renewed, Italy’s great showcase simply blows hot air.

Extract from Maglia Rosa by Herbie Sykes, available here.