How did Lance Armstrong get away with it?
It is a question for the ages, and one that is a key to a lot of doors that have sat quietly locked for years, but which are now being thrown wide open.
It is a matter of little White lies, and great big black ones more than it is about the blood, or the science of drug testing and evading that testing.
Above all, the stench of a hidden hand, or maybe a not so hidden hand, remains.
It is clear to all except maybe Blind Freddy that Lance Armstrong ran the most managed and professional doping system ever seen in professional sport.
The Armstrong Effect and above all the Armstrong Stench … surely The Sergeant Schultzes of Cycling Australia must have smelt it?
Questions of corruption remain unanswered by the International Cycling Union (UCI). In Geneva this week, in announcing the UCI’s decision to cut Armstrong loose (or that is to throw him under the bus) a UCI President Pat McQuaid was visibly agitated when questioned about the payments made by Armstrong to his organisation after the discovery of a positive test result. McQuaid’s response was to attack two of USADA’s witnesses, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis and labeled them scumbags.
Questions of corruption extend beyond the explicit. The cycling world – primarily its administrators and its media; have at best turned a blind eye to the signals that something was rotten in the state of cycling and the Armstrong machine for over ten years. Why? I have put forward one explanation for that related to the manner in which the rise of Armstrong was tied to the UCI’s plan to globalise the sport, to turn it into an Anglo American affair rather than a European one. Simply put Armstrong was the vehicle and the manner in which the sport was globalised, in which it was sold to a new demographic, as the new golf, throughout the English speaking world. The spectacular rise of the sport, the creation of new television markets, of new magazines, their viewers and readership readership, the sales of bicycles and paraphernalia, the emergence of races outside of the old European heartland were all achieved on the back of the Texan.
No wonder so many such as Cycling Australia’s (CA) President, Klaus Mueller were so apparently blind to what was happening right under their noses. Basking in the glory of the sport’s new prominence brought to them by the arrival of the Texan messiah, they saw nothing but green (or yellow) fields ahead.
When Floyd Landis first made his allegations back in May 2010 we at Deakin proposed in good faith to use the conference we had been organising to coincide with the World Championships in Geelong as a forum for the sport’s renewal. At first the response from the sport’s administrators was a non committal attitude bordering upon quite hostility, hoping that we would just go away, despite the support we had from riders and others. When we announced Floyd Landis wished to attend in order to contribute to the sport’s renewal, opposition developed into abuse and active pressure to have us shut down. The CA President abused me over the phone for inviting Landis, Steve Bracks told me after the event that they made sure that no one noticed us. Riders were enlisted to speak in the press to voice their concern, some going so far as to robotically claim Landis had defamed Armstrong for alleging that they had all doped together. One great benefit of the conference that was lost on its detractors was the time Floyd Landis spent working hard with the anti-doping scientist Mike Ashenden. That in itself was worth its weight in gold for the anti-doping movement.
Back in May 2010 one of the allegations made by Landis was that he had doped and discussed doping with amongst others, the Australian Matt White. White was at the time a Director Sportif with the American team Garmin. The UCI announced an investigation into the allegations of Landis. At the same time the UCI President spoke quietly to those subject to the allegations.
One would expect according to the normal course of events such an investigation to be delegated by the UCI to Cycling Australia. They in turn would have referred the matter to ASADA. But these matters don’t always seem to proceed in the manner in which they are meant to.
The case of Allan Davis and Operation Puerto is an example. Here it seems despite a number of documents implicating Davis in doping being provided to the UCI by the Spanish Police, by the time the matter got to ASADA only one cryptic page was left. Based upon this ASADA had no option but to find that there was no case for Davis to answer.
Neither the UCI or CA have ever answered what ever happened to the other incriminating pages of the police file. When I raised the matter with Mueller he dismissed it without any consideration. When I sent him my book chapter raising the issue he never responded. But the question remains? Who was it that removed the papers from the file in order to scuttle ASADA’s investigation- the UCI or CA?
If we assume that ASADA did commence an investigation into the Landis allegations in 2010 and given that ASADA cannot communicate information to CA about what they have or have not found, what remains troubling is why now at this stage CA find it convenient to prove their bona fides by cutting ties with Matt White. Yes the USADA reasoned decision in the Armstrong case provides evidence of White’s involvement in doping when he was a member of Armstrong’s teams. In particular it points to White’s involvement with the Valencian, Dr Del Moral, who helped run the USPS and Discover Channel doping programs.
But notwithstanding the allegations of Landis in 2010 and the announced investigation (the results of which have never been announced) White’s links with Del Moral were the subject of his sacking in 2011 from his position with the Garmin team. In this case, as a result of Irish journalist Paul Kimmage discovering the links between White, Garmin and del Moral, the Team manager, Jonathon Vaughters, sacked White after the rider, Trent Lowe, wrote to Vaughters about his concerns about being sent to the Dr. Del Moral of course had already been named by Landis in 2010.
As a part of that exercise in damage control Vaughters flew to Australia to sack White and to discuss the matter with Cycling Australia. White’s contract with Garmin meant that if he left Garmin would also lose the young Australian talent on its books such as Jack Bobridge and Travis and Cameron Meyer. But the point is that in January 2011 at the time of White being sacked by Garmin there existed two pieces of evidence pointing to White’s past and present relationship and that of young Australian riders with Dr Del Moral. Dr del Moral is of course one of those charged as being a co-conspirator with Armstrong.
Give the allegations of Landis and those of Lowe – all of which were in the public domain; and Garmin’s sacking of White, it would seem that any diligent administrator would have asked both Vaughters and White a few questions before Cycling Australia hired White.
For example would not one expect either CA CEO Fredericks or its President Mueller, who have in the past weeks been so concerned to be seen to be doing the right thing, to ask both Vaughters and White whether at any time White had been involved in doping as alleged by Landis. Let’s not forget Vaughters was also subject to the allegations of Landis and had himself acknowledge his doping past, albeit in a decaffeinated manner.
Quite simply if Muller and Fredericks were as concerned about doping as they now tell us they should have said quite bluntly “Whitey we don’t want any problems in the future, is there any grain of truth in what Landis has said?”
Wouldn’t we also expect these two administrators to ask Vaughters about the details of Garmin and White’s dealings with Del Moral? Just to make sure there
was nothing sinister going on? Especially when the careers of young Aussie riders were potentially at stake? “Whitey, why did you send Trent Lowe to Del Moral, that was a bit dumb wasn’t it, given his reputation?”
And wouldn’t you expect one of these two fine anti-doping crusaders to ask Trent Lowe for his side of the story?
Is it really too much to expect, too unreasonable, given the allegations floating around in 2010 and 2011, for Australian cycling’s two most senior administrators to due their due diligence and ask some of these basic questions?
But, on Sunday on SBS TV Klaus Mueller acknowledged that he had never asked White about his doping past until the USADA report became public – over two years after Landis first made the allegation and eighteen months after White being sacked by Garmin for his links to Del Moral.
The question remains as to whether Graeme Fredericks ever asked Matt White these questions, and if he did what the answer was?
Along with that the question remains whether Graeme Fredericks asked Vaughters about the Landis allegations of White doping? Or just whether or not White was a good manager?
One doesn’t need to go so far as to claim that the two most senior administrators in Australian cycling are corrupt. One might be tempted to say they may have willfully closed their eyes to problems, or that they just saw the world through their yellow tinted glasses. But we don’t need to go that far as its seems that their collective failure to ask the hard questions in 2010 and 2011 were arguably just negligent and in breach of their fiduciary duty to all their members. When such serious matters are on the table, no matter how one feels about the messenger or messengers, one has a duty to ask those involved the hard questions and to properly investigate the matter.
In the case of hiring Matt White Cycling Australia just seems to have failed. So what do they do when it all blows up in their face. Sack Matt White.
In the end its all a bit like Sergeant Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes: “I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing”. Or, as was said by Alain Delon to Burt Lancaster in the film The Leopard “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”