Analysis: Bruyneel hearing hangs in the balance

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is yet to set a date for Johan Bruyneel's arbitration, meaning the case will almost certainly drag into 2013

BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — Most of the major figures in the U.S. Postal Service case have come and gone now, either accepting punishment or fighting through passivity, as Lance Armstrong has done.

But then, there is Johan Bruyneel.

The Belgian was Armstrong’s sport director during his run of seven now-stricken Tour de France wins, and was heavily implicated in the performance enhancing drug spectacle the U.S. Postal Service teams became, according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Bible-thick report from October 10.

Bruyneel chose to contest the USADA allegations against him, possibly setting the cycling world up for another flurry of revelation and condemnation, or possibly setting it up for nothing at all.

According to a USADA spokesperson, as of Tuesday, there was no hearing yet set for Bruyneel, who is supposed to appear stateside in front of arbitrators to fight the charges against him, which are as serious as the charges were against Armstrong. USADA CEO Travis Tygart initially said he expected the Bruyneel case to lift off before the end of the year, though that appears unlikely.

USADA outlined Bruyneel’s alleged possession of blood bags and needles, his trafficking of EPO and other drugs, his administration of the substances and his covering up of the uses in a June 12th charging letter.

“With respect to Mr. Bruyneel, numerous riders will testify that Mr. Bruyneel gave to them and/or encouraged them to use doping products and/or prohibited methods, including EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, hGH and cortisone during the period from 1999 through 2007,” read USADA’s initial letter detailing the charges.

Bruyneel has left his post atop RadioShack-Nissan and sat out this year’s Tour de France as the Armstrong case simmered. He’s been relatively quiet, only taking to Twitter from time to time to criticize Jonathan Vaughters, pledging “this ain’t over yet, people!” and that there are “always 2 sides to a story. Coming soon!”

How soon, though, is as unclear as Bruyneel’s endgame in tangling with USADA, which presented a case so comprehensive even the famously confrontational Armstrong shoved his fists in his pockets as the USADA investigation burned the house of sport and culture he built.

Armstrong himself could be called as a witness in the Bruyneel hearings, unleashing who knows what, though both men have outside chances at pleading the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminate themselves. A component of that tactic, however, is proof that other legal actions are looming.

This seems more likely for Armstrong, who is under scrutiny from the USPS and is reported to be the central figure in a federal whistleblower suit filed by none other than former Postal teammate Floyd Landis.

Vaughters, whom Bruyneel called a “douche” in a roundabout Tweet regarding those hoping to clean up cycling, isn’t sure the Belgian will make it to arbitration.

“I imagine that he will come out with three, four, five riders, who will say, ‘I never saw any doping, I didn’t witness this, but I did notice that Vaughters, (David) Zabriskie, (George) Hincapie, whoever, were very interested in doping. They were trying to get it done on their own,’” Vaughters told VeloNews. Is there a valid strategy there to win the arbitration hearing? Probably not. But there might be a strategy there to make all of the witnesses look bad, and then say publicly, ‘I’m not going to go to arbitration because it’s rigged, but look at these four or five guys that I have standing behind me, saying they didn’t see anything — and why are those witnesses worth more than my witnesses?’ I think that’s the strategy.”

Time will tell. Or will it?