OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — It nearly went unnoticed, a quiet clause in a press release amid a torrent of Lance Armstrong clamor. It seemed like an afterthought dangling there, as more Armstrong news shipwrecked around it.
Armstrong, the once-great Tour de France champion, wouldn’t cooperate with the United States Anti-Doping Agency and its CEO, Travis Tygart, whose investigation assailed the great Armstrong Mystique.
This wasn’t exactly a surprise given the fact that it was USADA that ultimately brought him down, and the reported tensions between Tygart and Armstrong.
It wasn’t a surprise given the fact that Armstrong is on the hook now for more civil suits after his much-maligned public confession, in which he likened dope to the air in a rider’s tires and the water in a rider’s bottles.
What is surprising now is the backdrop in front of which the stars of the PED saga have been acting; there is an entire play in motion behind them, though its debut is only coming in pieces, and its actors are only shadows.
There’s also that little thing Tygart said. The thing that may prove to be bigger than any testimony Armstrong could offer.
“At this time we are moving forward with our investigation without [Armstrong] and we will continue to work closely with WADA and other appropriate and responsible international authorities …” said the release from USADA after Armstrong declined to cooperate with its investigation.
Sometimes, an afterthought is the most important. The proof is sketched in faint outlines across the sport’s anti-doping agencies, although their efforts lack the heavy ink of the Armstrong case. USADA announced it will fight on, and that was to be expected, given the dump trucks of dirt it found when it dug around Armstrong. But the Americans aren’t acting alone.
Anti Doping Denmark, the Danish national anti-doping agency, issued a press release on Jan. 31 regarding Michael Rasmussen, who admitted to using PEDs continuously from 1998-2010. Not a surprise. But the Danes went out of their way to thank their American counterparts.
“The interrogations of Michael Rasmussen have taken place in a groundbreaking cooperation between the national anti-doping organizations of Denmark (Anti Doping Denmark and the NOC and Sports Confederation of Denmark), the Netherlands (Doping Autoriteit) and the USA (USADA) and WADA,” the statement read.
“I would like to thank our colleagues from the U.S. and the Netherlands and WADA for excellent cooperation,” said Lone Hansen, the CEO of Anti Doping Denmark. “The investigations of doping cases have improved very much recently, and this case is an excellent example of the implications of the work initiated by USADA’s investigation.”
Rasmussen doped — everyone already knew that — and he was banned for two years in 2008 for whereabouts violations, although that was backdated to 2007. Rasmussen, however, isn’t the point: It’s the tainted family tree of cycling that USADA and the others are after. As important as the Armstrong name was, it was a dead end when push came to shove as far as getting further information, at least publicly.
Rasmussen, however, provided “valuable information, not only about other doping offenses, but also giving us valuable insights into an otherwise secret part of professional cycling,” Hansen said. USADA clearly assisted, yet declined to comment on its role when asked in January, and referred questions to the Danes.
On Feb. 20, USADA sent out a fairly innocuous Tweet, followed by a second. “International cooperation is an important part of the fight to protect the rights of clean athletes,” the Tweet said. The second one was a picture of Ana Munoz, the new director of Spain’s anti-doping agency. “USADA was glad to welcome the new director,” to its offices, it turns out.
Armstrong himself called for a grand international tribunal, noting that he’d be the first one at the door in a sweeping truth and reconciliation commission. The protocol, however, is that the national anti-doping agencies conduct interviews in such matters. WADA is free to send someone to sit in, but the process itself starts at home. If other agencies are deep into investigations, they may sit in and coordinate efforts.
Late Tuesday in Europe, Munoz indicated that there were ongoing Spanish investigations into Luis Garcia del Moral, one of Armstrong’s team doctors, and that the investigation went beyond those from Spain and into those who committed crimes in Spain.
If we begin to connect the dots, we don’t see isolated events — Rasmussen confesses to cheating years ago and the Danish anti-doping agency mentions USADA cooperation, a top Spanish anti-doping official visits USADA, and the American outfit publicizes it the same day — but instead a constellation is taking shape. National anti-doping agencies are collaborating and offering a dragnet that may yet purge the sport of its cheats, present and/or past.
There is certainly a fatigue in the media and among cycling fans regarding doping stories and offenses, but this is the paradox of today’s cycling; the worst may be yet to come, but it may lead to the best sport yet.