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?
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.
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.
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.