Anti-doping authorities have lodged cases against as many as two-dozen domestic racers, sources tell VeloNews.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency will announce the findings in the coming weeks, the sources said.
The alleged violations are primarily for possession of performance enhancing drugs, rather than for positive urine or blood samples, and are said to have originated with information provided to USADA and federal investigators by former pro cyclist Joe Papp.
Anywhere from 15 to 25 masters, elite and pro cyclists have been notified of non-analytical violations as a result of having allegedly conspired with Papp, sources said. The names will not be announced publicly until and unless the individual cases are resolved against the riders.
Earlier this year Papp, 35, pleaded guilty in a Pennsylvania federal court to conspiracy to distribute human growth hormone and recombinant erythropoietin imported from China. Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration were involved in Papp’s case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary McKeen Houghton told The Associated Press in February that Papp had earned more than $80,000 selling the drugs from September 2006 to September 2007 to 187 customers, including cyclists and other athletes, for performance enhancement.
The customers were not identified in court, and Houghton, Papp and his attorney, William Ward, declined to comment on terms of the plea agreement, which the court sealed — sometimes an indication that a defendant is cooperating with investigators.
USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart declined to discuss any specific situation or unresolved investigation. He said USADA has previously benefited from cooperating with sources, including those who have run afoul of authorities, in pursuing non-analytical violations.
World Anti-Doping Code article 2.2 states that a violation may be established for attempted use of a prohibited substance or prohibited method. Doping can be established through admissions, witness statements, documentary evidence or conclusions drawn from longitudinal profiling. Unlike analytical positives, the burden of persuasion is on the anti-doping agency to prove possession, or the intent to use a banned substance by an athlete.
Papp’s history — and updates
Papp is a former pro who was suspended in 2007 for using synthetic testosterone during the 2006 Tour of Turkey, where he won four stages. He is perhaps best known for his testimony at Floyd Landis’ May 2007 arbitration hearing on the benefits of testosterone use among cyclists.
Papp also provided compelling evidence in the 2008 non-analytical sanction against former Rock Racing rider Kayle Leogrande. The evidence included a photo of Leogrande holding EPO vials and a note that read: “Joe, 2 boxes G. 100 iu; 7 boxes E. 60,000; $500. I owed you! Thanks, Kayle.”
Though his sentencing was originally scheduled for June 25, Papp has not yet been sentenced for his violation of federal narcotic laws. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of $500,000, or both.
Because he is awaiting sentencing, Papp declined to comment about any USADA or criminal investigations with which he may be cooperating.
McCarty had finished sixth on that stage, behind Levi Leipheimer, Francisco Mancebo, Ian Boswell, Darren Lill and Phil Zajicek.
On August 11, Papp wrote on Twitter, in consecutive messages, “Seriously – if you think you were on ‘my list’ I urge you turn yourself in, b/c there’s little chance of leveraging something later. Try to dissuade ADA (anti-doping agencies) from applying an increased sanction by admitting your anti-doping violation as soon as you’re confronted with it…”
Among Papp’s clients was elite amateur rider Duane Dickey, who was issued a lifetime ban on September 1, sources said. Dickey was banned for use and possession of synthetic erythropoietin (EPO) as well as his refusal to submit to sample collection.
Dickey was disqualified from all results achieved on and subsequent to April 2, 2007, the date he first allegedly violated anti-doping rules.
After Dickey’s suspension was announced, Papp posted this message on Twitter: “Saw that USADA gave Duane Dickey a life-ban. Sucks to be on any list, but especially the one that gets life bans…”
Reactions from the cycling community
USA Cycling president Steve Johnson said he would respect USADA protocol and not comment “on any anti-doping adjudication until it’s announced.”
One veteran of the domestic peloton, who requested anonymity, said he knew of the impending sanctions. While the North American peloton is generally seen as cleaner that the European peloton, the veteran said “the U.S. scene has not been remotely clean for a while now.”
“People see Europe as where the hard-core doping is happening, but at least in Europe they are testing at races, out of competition; they have the biological passport, and they target riders,” he said. “Here in the U.S. it’s sort of the Wild West. The testing hasn’t evolved much past 10 years ago. Once every blue moon USADA shows up and administers a pee test. That’s about it. I’m surprised this many riders are going to be handed sanctions, but I’m not going to be surprised by what comes out at all.”
Jonathan Vaughters last raced in the domestic peloton in 2003, with Prime Alliance; he now runs the Garmin-Transitions ProTour team, known for spending six-figure amounts on an internal blood-monitoring system to prevent a doping violation from within its ranks. Vaughters’ Slipstream Sports organization also runs the Holowesko Partners under-23 development team, which competes primarily in North America.
Vaughters said he believed the domestic peloton was a relatively level playing field.
“It seems like the best North American riders are clean, but North American racing does not have as many controls as ProTour racing at either the blood level or the urine level,” Vaughters said. “How much people have taken advantage of that I have no idea. The Holowesko Partners U23 team won team the team classification at the Redlands Classic, so I feel like if they can be competitive I would think the U.S. has primarily clean racing. But I can’t vouch for that.”