The Wednesday Comment


Lance Armstrong donated some money to the UCI – to help the anti-doping fight – that much is clear. It was pledged in 2002 and paid in 2005, or in mid-2006, depending on which of the statements made by the UCI president Pat McQuaid you want to believe. The timing is quite important because mid-2006 was when the Emile Vrijman report was published. That was the report into L’Equipe‘s allegations that six of the urine samples given by Armstrong at the 1999 Tour de France contained EPO. Vrijman, a lawyer who was independent, but appointed by the UCI, decided there was, effectively, nothing to see here. Armstrong should be cleared of suspicion.

Anyway, about that donation. So far, despite a request by CW and an assurance from the UCI that the paperwork exists and can support when and how much Armstrong donated, no documents have yet been put in the public domain.

Armstrong said, under oath, in his deposition to the tribunal adjudicating the dispute between Tailwind Sports, the owner of the US Postal Service team, and SCA Promotions, that the donation had been around $25,000.

McQuaid has said, more than once, that the donation was $100,000 and that the money came into the UCI’s account in 2005 (or 2006, again, depending on which statement you want to take). The UCI spent the cash on a Sysmex machine – used to analyse blood samples in the anti-doping effort. Said machine cost around $88,000, according to McQuaid.

Hein Verbruggen, McQuaid’s predecessor on top of the pile at the UCI, told The Associated Press this week that the Sysmex machine ended up costing between $51,000 and $60,000.

Now, that conflicts with what the people at Sysmex told CW the machines would have gone for – they say it would have been north of $100,000 but that it’s possible the UCI got a deal.

Anyone who’s been following this must be spinning.

If anyone at Aigle happens to read this – how much was the donation Armstrong made to the UCI? Was it $25,000 or $100,000? How much was the Sysmex machine $51,000 or $88,000 or more? And when was the payment made? And have you got any paperwork to clear this up once and for all?

Jesus Manzano, one of the little people cycling chose to chew up and spit out, rode for the Kelme team. In the 2003 Tour, he was given an injection before a mountain stage. He attacked and three kilometres into the first col of the day, he felt dizzy and collapsed. He was taken to hospital and was in a very bad way. He later said that he had been given an injection of bovine hemoglobin.

In 2004, he went public. Everyone dismissed what he said. But a couple of years later, Operacion Puerto blew up, partly because the Spanish Guardia Civil took an interest in what Manzano had said.

One of the things Manzano said that one of the Kelme doctor’s, Walter Viru, was also connected to a haematology clinic in Spain that Manzano claimed was accredited by the UCI. Viru – Manzano alleged – would have advance notice of impending blood tests when they were racing in Spain. And he would also tip off other team doctors, including Luis Del Moral of US Postal Service.

Recently, Floyd Landis told ESPN of his time at US Postal. He said: “We always knew when the blood testers were going to be there the following morning, so we would know when to have the saline solution bags so we could dilute our blood the night before.”

Last year, on the Tour de France, there were allegations by the AFLD (the French anti-doping agency) that Lance Armstrong’s Astana team also had advance notice that testers were coming. A report by the AFLD said that testers allowed Astana riders 45 minutes before carrying out the tests, when they should have been carried out immediately.

The wording of Garmin-Slipstream’s statement – following Landis’s allegations, which named David Zabriskie, their rider, and a directeur sportif, Matt White – would have made people sit bolt upright for their courage and candour.

“We cannot change what happened in the past. But we believe it is time for transparency,” it said.

“We created Slipstream Sports because we wanted to create a team where cyclists could compete 100% clean.

“We expect anyone in our organisation who is contacted by any cycling, anti-doping or government authority will be open and honest with that authority. In that context we expect nothing short of 100 per cent truthfulness – whatever the truth is – to the questions they are asked. As long as they express the truth about the past to the appropriate parties, they will continue to have a place in our organisation and we will support them for living up to the promise we gave the world when we founded Slipstream Sports.”

By promising to stand by people who the Garmin team believe in now and by encouraging them to speak up and tell the right people what they know, the team has taken a bold step.

Far better than presenting the riders with the dilemma that led to the Omerta in the first place, which was: Speak up and lose your job.

At first I was certain it was a hoax. The smirk on the face of the Italian television presenter, the sheer breathless audacity of the idea, surely this was a late April fool’s joke.

But having spoken to a number of people I’d have expected to dismiss the notion outright, and heard them hum and haw, pondering the possibility, I’m not so sure.

Of course the debates are raging now about whether such a thing is possible, with people inventing science to support their views. Or they say it’d be too noisy and there’s no way the technology exists.

But we’re not talking about a bike purely powered by battery, we’re talking about the idea of a little mechanical assistance, something to provide a few watts of extra power at the key moment. That is certainly within the bounds of existing technology.

I still have no idea whether any riders have tried out it. The key question is: Why would they take the risk of seeking a little extra assistance? But in light of a decade of doping scandals, that seems a rather daft question.

And it was very depressing when someone said to me last week: “They take all those drugs and still they need electric bikes?”

For cycling’s sake, I hope there’s nothing to it. And anyone found to have used a cheat’s bike should be banned for life, along with anyone who was complicit. It would undermine the sport completely because it is a far easier form of cheating for the public to get their heads round than blood doping. It would be as bad as the Soviet fencer, Boris Onishchenko, who was kicked out of the 1976 Olympics because he’d rigged up his épée to register points at the press of a button hidden inside the grip. It’d be as bad as finding out that a major winner had used a remote-controlled golf ball. It would be a more serious blow to cycling’s credibility than Festina and Operacion Puerto together.

It’s been a difficult few weeks for cycling and it is easy to lose sight of some of the upbeat aspects of the sport.

There’s plenty to look forward to. The Critérium du Dauphiné goes up Alpe d’Huez on Saturday. The Alpe is one of those mountains that transcends the sport and it’ll be interesting to see it used in a smaller event than the Tour de France.

For British fans up and down the country, the Tour Series offers a chance to get out and see some exciting racing, and almost all of the country’s big names will be returning to ride the National Championship road race at the end of the month. There’s a notable absentee, but the likes of Cavendish and Millar, Cooke and Pooley, will be there. It’s also a chance to see Team Sky ride on home roads, something that doesn’t happen that often. And, Johnny Bellis returns after his horrific scooter accident in Italy. That is a heart-warming story if ever there was one.

In the meantime, why not find out who you should support in the Tour de France with Cycle’s Sport’s handy chart. The latest issue of Cycle Sport, the Tour guide, is on sale now. Find out what’s in this month’s issue here.

And if that doesn’t put a smile on your face, how about a picture of a dog in a Team Sky jersey. Woof.