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Why didn’t Cycling Australia smell the doping stench?

It has become clear over the past two weeks that Lance Armstrong ran the most well-managed and professional doping system ever seen in professional sport. So how did he get away with it for so long? Questions…

Doping allegations were made against Matt White before he started working for Cycling Australia. AAP

It has become clear over the past two weeks that Lance Armstrong ran the most well-managed and professional doping system ever seen in professional sport. So how did he get away with it for so long?

Questions of corruption remain unanswered by the International Cycling Union (UCI). In announcing the peak body’s decision to cut Armstrong loose in Geneva this week, UCI president Pat McQuaid was visibly agitated when questioned about the payments made by Armstrong to his organisation after the discovery of a highly suspicious test result in 2001.

McQuaid’s response was to attack two witnesses who blew the whistle on Armstrong’s doping – Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis – and label them “scumbags”. If cycling does anything well, it is shooting the messenger.

Globalisation of cycling

One of the reasons the cycling world turned a blind eye to the signals was to maintain UCI’s plan to globalise the sport: to turn cycling into an Anglo-American affair rather than a European one.

Armstrong was the vehicle through which cycling was sold to a new demographic throughout the English-speaking world, effectively as the new alternative to golf. The spectacular rise of cycling, the creation of new television markets and magazines, the sales of bicycles and paraphernalia, and the emergence of races outside the old European heartland were all achieved on Armstrong’s back.

Basking in the glory of the sport’s new prominence, many officials, including Cycling Australia’s (CA) president Klaus Mueller, were apparently blind to what was happening under their noses.

Early warning signs

Back in May 2010, one of the allegations made by Landis was that he had doped and discussed doping with, among others, the Australian Matt White, who was then sporting director for the American team Garmin. The UCI announced an investigation into Landis' allegations. And the UCI President allegedly spoke quietly to those subject to the allegations.

One would expect such an investigation to be delegated by the UCI to Cycling Australia. They in turn would have referred the matter to ASADA (the Australian government’s Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority).

But these matters don’t always seem to proceed in the manner in which they’re meant to. The case of Allan Davis and Operation Puerto is a prime example. 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 no case for Davis to answer.

Neither the UCI nor CA have ever explained what 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 removed the papers from the file which lead to the scuttling of ASADA’s investigation – the UCI or CA?

How did Armstrong get away with doping for so long?. AAP

Enter Dr Del Moral

The United States Anti-doping Agency (USADA) 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 Luis Garcia Del Moral, who helped run the USPS and Discovery Channel cycling teams' doping programs.

White’s links with Del Moral were the subject of his sacking in 2011 from his position with the Garmin team. Garmin team manager, Jonathan Vaughters, sacked White after the rider Trent Lowe wrote to Vaughters about his concerns about being sent to a doctor of Del Moral’s reputation. Del Moral, of course, had already been named by Landis in 2010 and is one of those charged as being a co-conspirator with Armstrong.

As part of an 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.

Past record

Given the allegations of Landis and 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 a few questions before Cycling Australia hired White.

Wouldn’t you expect either Cycling Australia CEO Graham Fredericks or its president, Mueller – Australian cycling’s two most senior administrators – to ask both Vaughters and White whether at any time White had been involved in doping, as alleged by Landis?

Wouldn’t you 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?

And wouldn’t you expect one of these two fine anti-doping crusaders to ask Trent Lowe for his side of the story?

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 – more than two years after Landis first made the allegation and 18 months after White was sacked by Garmin for his links to Del Moral.

In that same interview, Mueller stressed the importance and efficacy of Cycling Australia’s arrangements with ASADA. Both the Davis case and a decision this week of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal cast shadows over this ideal relationship that Mueller holds so high.

Unanswered questions

The question remains as to whether Graeme Fredericks ever asked Matt White these questions, and if he did, what the answer was. It also remains whether Graeme Fredericks asked Vaughters about the Landis allegations of White doping. Or just whether White was a good manager.

Perhaps they have wilfully closed their eyes to problems, or that they just saw the world through their yellow-tinted glasses. But it seems their collective failure to ask the hard questions in 2010 and 2011 were arguably just negligent and in breach of their duties to all their members.

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? What cycling always does so well: shoot the messenger or find a scapegoat. Sack Matt White.

Join the conversation

17 Comments sorted by

  1. Robert Merkel

    logged in via Facebook

    There's a great quote from Upton Sinclair which I think explains much of the behaviour of journalists, commentators and officials in cycling over the past 20 years with regards to doping:

    "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

    Incidentally, when do you think "the chop" and its innumerable variants are going to blow up in cycling's face?

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  2. william hollingsworth

    student flinders university

    So is Casey Stoner going to be drug tested before his big race this weekend? Drug hysteria seems to reach a fever pitch more so for moral reasons than for scientific reasons.Poor old Lance won the Tour 7 times and seems pretty fit,despite a bout of cancer.Chemical enhancement has been a part of human existence since day one .Chemicals keep us all alive. However commercial reasons cloaked in moral robes have become the fly in the ointment so to speak.

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    1. Joe Gartner

      Tilter

      In reply to william hollingsworth

      Unless Casey Stoner was to push his bike around the circuit it is doubtful that EPO, HGH and the other drugs in question would help him very much.

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    2. mark feltrin

      Renewable Energy and Resources

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      If stoner had to push his bike around he would get a 10% performance advantage out of doping.

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    3. Joe Gartner

      Tilter

      In reply to mark feltrin

      So what's the point? Cycling over tests? Under tests? Motorcycling should test?
      Cyclists dope because of th performance advantages,I'm not aware any drugs that would assist a motorcyclist...

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    4. mark feltrin

      Renewable Energy and Resources

      In reply to Joe Gartner

      Its a joke. Drugs and motorbike racing at those speeds do nothing - Especially with a broken ankle - Go Stoner!

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  3. Gary Cassidy

    I wonder if many people would be left to administer/manage this sport if everybody involved in doping, covering up, turning a blind eye were somehow exposed.

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    1. Simon Arthur

      Reader

      In reply to Gary Cassidy

      I wonder if anyone would be left in ANY highly-lucrative professional sports if doping was truly exposed.

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  4. John Zigar

    Engineer, researcher

    In the early eighties, a fellow student went to the US as an exchange student for 12 months. He was a tall but skinny kid when he left. Upon his return, we were in shock as the once bag of bones now looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’d been asked to join the rugby team (due to his height), which he did, and then was coerced into taking steroids to build up muscle mass. The steroids were provided by the coach. The coach knew very what he was doing as it was his job to make sure that his team wins against competing schools - at all cost. My understanding of American culture is that when it comes to sports, even at school level, doping is OK provided you don’t get caught. Yes, I'm generalising, but this is first hand information I believe to be true.

    Us ‘non-athletes’ shouldn't be shocked to hear of doping. It is common in the industry, and if you want to get ahead in pro-sport, doping is unfortunately a serious option. That's why Armstrong wasn't exposed earlier.

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  5. mark feltrin

    Renewable Energy and Resources

    I would very much start believing in professional road cycling again if Paul Kimmage became UCI boss.
    PS the doping started at jnr levels and i heard last year it still going on in Europe - they must be quaking in their boots right now.

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  6. william hollingsworth

    student flinders university

    Hmmm the reason I mention Casey Stoner is he will be very likely only be able to race with the aid of drugs .i.e. pain killers because of his ankle injury.He would probably have a drug level that made it illegal to drive or ride on public roads if he took particular pain killers.The reason for bringing this up is that drugs are an integral part of many sports.If they didn't think they would help i.e. enhance their chance of winning by giving them a performance enhancement or the ability to soldier on under pain , then why would they take them?
    I see no negative issues in taking drugs, as in poor Lance's case it didn't hurt him physically, as he did win seven more tours than most of us and he is still fit and healthy, although his memory might not be in A1 condition.

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    1. Martin Hardie

      Lecturer in Law at Deakin University

      In reply to william hollingsworth

      The libertarian argument that drugs are not a problem is not one that I have found many cyclists support. But the Armstrong case is not about individual drug taking. It raises questions of corruption and intimidation that extend well beyond any notion of choice. I don't know of any rider who is in favour of being told our forced into taking something they would prefer not to. So I think this thread is just missing the issues at stake here.

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    2. mark feltrin

      Renewable Energy and Resources

      In reply to william hollingsworth

      Oh now i see your point. Sorry i was a bit dismissive.
      I am a great Motogp and motorbike racing fan and yes I expect they take massive levels of painkiller especially when they are racing with broken bones. Actually last week at the formula extreme series in Australia a young rider raced with a broken collar bone and we all new he had it. I think it is common for these guys (and girls) to race with broken bones - part of the excitement and i think the drug here is the one we all share and thats the thrill of speed (actually speed - not the drug).
      Now i see your point. Horses for courses I guess?

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