The Wednesday Comment


Lance Armstrong, the UCI and the Sysmex company have very different versions of events regarding the American rider’s donation to the sport’s governing body and the subsequent purchase of a piece of equipment used to analyse blood samples.

Pat McQuaid said that Armstrong pledged a donation to the UCI after visiting its new HQ at Aigle, Switzerland, some time in 2002. McQuaid said that the money finally came in during 2005 after the UCI had decided it wanted to buy a Sysmex machine.

But this press release on the Sysmex website from July 2005 says that Lance Armstrong specifically suggested that the UCI purchase a Sysmex machine.

The press release says: “Lance Armstrong, a great American cyclist, is keenly aware of this problem [of doping]. He voiced a desire that strict doping testing be conducted as part of the Tour de France 2005. Mr Armstrong recommended that the XE-2100 be used in these tests and personally financed UCI’s purchase of the required XE-2100.”

If the press release is to be believed, it appears that the UCI needed a Sysmex machine because Armstrong said they did. It raises the question, who was running the show?

So far, the UCI, Armstrong and Hein Verbruggen have been unable to give one definitive, consistent version of events surrounding the size and timing of a donation made by an active rider. Why is this?

This issue can only be cleared up with total transparency but the UCI has yet to respond to 19 questions Cycling Weekly has posed regarding the purchase of the Sysmex machine and the timing and size of Armstrong’s donation.

Some people may think this is old news, that it’s irrelevant to rake over old details. It’s become fashionable to draw a line under things and move on, focus on the present, be positive. There is a trend for those who dwell on the detail to be painted as negative trouble-makers.

However, it is imperative to uncover the nature of the relationship between the sport’s most high-profile athlete and the body that was regulating him.

The UCI has said in an email to us, that in a few weeks the receipt will be available for us to see at the UCI’s offices. We await our invite.

Further reading
May 23 Confusion over Armstrong’s donation to the UCI and the Sysmex machine
May 25 McQuaid confirms Armstrong’s donation was $100,000
The Wednesday Comment – June 9

It is only natural that people want to put Saturday’s race up Alpe d’Huez at the Critérium du Dauphiné into some kind of context.

Alberto Contador is the overwhelming favourite for the Tour de France and, with three weeks until the start, it was a chance to assess his form on an iconic mountain climb.

And opinions seem to be divided. Either Contador is behind where he needs to be because he couldn’t drop Janez Brajkovic of Radioshack, or he’s ahead of where he was at this time last year because he won the stage.

The problem is people have looked at the time taken to climb the 13.9-kilometre Alpe on Saturday and compared it against the times set in the past. Any such comparisons are pointless. Absolutely pointless.

And it is also flawed thinking to assume that slower times mean cleaner rides. That’s not a slight on the riders taking part on Saturday.

The time it takes to ride a mountain is irrelevant because all that matters is the result on the day and how it affects the general classification.

As Contador crossed the line the Eurosport commentator, Anthony McCrossan, said the climb had taken him 45 minutes. It hadn’t. It had taken 42 minutes and 20 seconds, more than five minutes slower than Marco Pantani’s record, set in 1997.

Clearly, Contador made up his mind quite early on that he was not going to crack the overall leader Brajkovic to the tune of a minute-and-three-quarters. So his objective became to win the stage, which is backed up by the Liquigas rider Sylvester Szmyd, who wrote on his blog that he was annoyed that Contador kept chasing him down.

Tactically it was a cagey affair. Brajkovic had no reason to do anything other than mark Contador, and the Spaniard was not riding a time trial, so had no need to race to the top as quickly as he could. It was also windy and there were some stretches between hairpins when a very stiff breeze almost brought them to a standstill.

It was a tactical battle in the wind. Contador did what he needed to do in order to win the stage. By itself, the time he took to climb Alpe d’Huez tells us nothing. What counts is the win.

There’s a phrase: show me the boy at seven, and I’ll show you the man.

The same could perhaps be said in cycling. Show me the espoir and I’ll show you the professional.

The Baby Giro (or Girobio as the Italians call it) is running at the moment. It’s a stage race for riders under 26, where the best amateurs compete in their own version of the Giro d’Italia.

A team of Britain’s most talented riders is competing there at the moment. Erick Rowsell, who had been lying seventh overall, crashed out on stage five.

But you have to wonder about the environment these youngsters are being asked to compete in when one of the leading Italian teams – the Lucchini Unidelta squad – was kicked out of the race after a raid by Italian police on the team vehicles.

One of Lucchini Unidelta’s riders had won the previous day’s stage but the squad, run by a former professional Bruno Leali, was expelled the following morning. An Italian newspaper reported that drugs and syringes were found in the team vehicles and riders’ room.

The Baby Giro’s organisers are well aware of the problems of doping. For that reason, they have banned all kinds of medication on the race, even prescribed medicines, without permission from the race doctor. The riders also stay together in dormitories, away from their team managers. The idea is to eradicate the culture of medicines and treatment, pills, preparation and jabs and attempt to introduce one of pasta and mineral water.

And perhaps there’s good reason. If the Baby Giro has had a reputation of being the place that creates the champions of tomorrow, take a look at the winners of the race between 1991 and 1999.

In 1991 Francesco Casagrande (banned twice for testosterone)
1992 Marco Pantani
1994 Leonardo Piepoli (kicked out of the 2008 Tour for CERA positive)
1995 Giuseppe Di Grande (suspended after police raids on the 2001 Giro)
1996 Roberto Sgambelluri (positive for NESP in 2002)
1997 Oscar Mason (positive and banned for six months in 1998)
1998 Danilo Di Luca (banned for CERA positive in 2009)
1999 Tadej Valjavec (withdrawn from racing for biological passport irregularities in 2010)

That’s quite a roll of (dis)honour.

To redress the balance, none of the Baby Giro winners from 2000 to 2009 are associated with any such controversies. Having said that, neither are they household names, although one or two (Dario Cataldo, the 2006 winner, for example) have shown promise in the pro ranks.

But coming a few days after the UCI president Pat McQuaid declared all the samples taken at the grown-up Giro d’Italia to be clear before issuing the sport a clean bill of health, it was a pertinent reminder that the sport needs to look just as carefully at how its future stars are made.

Earlier this year, UK Sport appointed the auditor Deloitte to examine the relationship between British Cycling and Team Sky.

British Cycling is funded by members and grants from UK Sport, which come from Lottery funds. Team Sky is a commercial operation sponsored by a broadcaster.

UK Sport said in May that the review would study how Team Sky and the British Cycling squad’s operate together, as well as ensuring that everyone is complying with UK Sport requirements.

Russell Langley, of UK Sport, said: “It is not being done from any negative angle but to ensure that both programmes are working well and can deliver what they need.”

As CW explained at the start of the year Team Sky is owned by a company called Tour Racing Limited, which in turn is owned by BSkyB. On the board of TRL are two key British Cycling figures, it’s chief executive Ian Drake and president Brian Cookson.

With so many staff and services being shared by British Cycling and Team Sky, there might be conflict of interest if, for example, a foreign Sky rider received treatment, coaching or advice at the expense of a British athlete or if Sky’s riders benefited from the relationship and BC was not adequately compensated.

Dave Brailsford explained to CW that he was very aware of the possible conflict of interest and that a set of procedures had been put in place to ensure everything was above board.

But the relationships between British Cycling and Team Sky are complex. Although Brailsford likes to think of it as a Venn diagram, in some areas the relationship is more akin to interlocking fingers.

Deloitte is an independent auditor, appointed by UK Sport, to have a close look at the situation and determine where the lines are drawn.

It may seem curious that as an independent auditor, Deloitte is also keenly involved in cycling – sponsoring the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, a nine-day charity ride that is currently on the road from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

And the event’s partners are companies that are currently, or have previously been heavily involved with British Cycling or Team Sky or both – Boardman Bikes, Halfords, Adidas and Science in Sport.

However, both UK Sport and Deloitte have quashed any suggestion of a conflict of interest.

A spokesman for UK Sport said: “We do not see Deloitte’s support of this charity bike ride as in any way impinging on their ability to carry out the independent review, as commissioned by UK Sport and British Cycling. We have absolutely no doubts about their impartiality and look forward to receiving their report in due course.”

In a statement, Deloitte said: “Deloitte rejects any suggestion of a conflict of interest. We have stringent processes in place to preserve independence and objectivity with all our client work. Deloitte is the title sponsor of Deloitte Ride Across Britain, which is a corporate challenge designed to raise funds for ParalympicsGB and to raise the profile of the Paralympic movement and disability sport across the UK. All commercial supporters of the event were negotiated by Threshold Sport, the event organisers. There is no connection with British Cycling through the sponsorship of this event.

“Deloitte’s relationship with Deloitte Ride Across Britain is managed by our sponsorship and corporate responsibility department.

“The engagement for British Cycling and UK Sport is separate to and unrelated to Deloitte Ride Across Britain.  Deloitte has been commissioned to conduct an independent review to assess the impact of the creation of Team Sky on the World Class Performance Programme.”

CW understands the initial findings from the review are expected in the next month or so.

A few readers have been asking why the race is no longer called the Dauphiné Libéré.

This year, for the first time, the French race was called the Critérium du Dauphiné.

In the past, its full name was the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. The race was founded and run by the newspaper, the Dauphiné Libéré. However, the newspaper group was taken over by another one, based in Nancy.

As a result it was decided that the bike race was a drain on resources and so it was put up for sale.

Step forward ASO, the owners of the Tour de France and a host of other races. Now ASO’s stranglehold on French cycling is complete one wonders what the future holds for the company.

Johan Bruyneel has used Radioshack’s snub from the Vuelta a Espana to renew his grand plans to change cycling. Bruyneel believes that the sport should become more like Formula 1. The Belgian feels that the teams get a rough deal and need to have more power.

Well, forgive me for saying, but the last thing the teams should be granted is more power. That’d be like letting the animals run the farmyard.

While the riders are indeed the stars of the show, they are merely taking to the stage and reading out the lines. In a decade’s time there will be a new set of actors. The races (and the fans, hopefully) will still be here.

As much as all the team owners and managers would love it to be so, it would not be in the interests of cycling to create a closed-shop of a certain number of elite teams, run in perpetuity by the same people.

Good, ethically-run teams will survive and prosper. Poor or dubious ones should fail, rather than be propped up because a particular bunch of individuals are able to hold onto their golden ticket.

What cycling needs is not so much a power-hungry collection of people running the sport for their own benefit but someone who eschews self-interest in favour of the good of cycling. It’s a crazy notion, I know…