USA Cycling has fired its longtime technical director, Shawn Farrell.
Farrell was terminated Thursday after 11 years in the role. USA Cycling’s communications director Bill Kellick declined an opportunity to comment, citing the situation as “an employment issue.”
Reached for comment, Farrell confirmed that he had been dismissed, and that it had not come as a complete surprise, though he was reluctant to disclose the factors that went into his dismissal.
According to a bio on USA Cycling’s website, Farrell has been officiating cycling events since 1980, and became a UCI International Commissaire of road, track, and cyclocross in 1989. He retired as a biochemistry college professor in 2003 to take on the task of USA Cycling technical director and manage the officials program.
During his tenure at USA Cycling, Farrell instituted the National Technical Commission (NTC), an advisory committee on issues relating to rules and regulations, and officiating at the national level.
The NTC’s primary purpose, USAC’s website reads, is to “communicate national policies relating to officiating to district- and regional-level organizations. NTC members serve a number of different roles, particularly in officials training and education, evaluation, mentoring, and administration of USA Cycling’s disciplinary policies.”
In March 2011, Farrell hosted USA Cycling’s first National Officials’ Summit in 24 years, to discuss topics such as: USA Cycling’s overall business and sports plan and the officials’ role in it; the cycling official as a professional; and the use of new technology in bike race scoring.
“This is going to be a disappointing bit of news to officials across the country,” a U.S.-based UCI commissaire told VeloNews, requesting anonymity for fear of recrimination. “Shawn Farrell has years of experience, not only working at the highest levels of the sport, but also officiating. [USA Cycling] is regarded around the world as having one of the best cycling officials’ programs in the sport, from how we handle officials’ education, training, and evaluation, to our corrective work with officials who need attention. … It’s a more structured program than any nation around the world, and that’s been largely Shawn’s doing. He was was an effective internal advocate for the role of officiating in cycling.”
Farrell said he was largely proud of his time with the federation, and would miss many officials who he had forged friendships with over the years.
“For the majority of my time at USA Cycling, I was very happy with what my department, and the technical commission, had done,” Farrell said. “We made strides in the officials program, although some of that got a little weird in the last few years, when [USA Cycling] started asking for things like background checks, or when [USOC’s SafeSport program] got involved. But, all in all, the program progressed, a lot further along than it was when I took it over. As far as USA Cycling goes, from the director level on down, these are great people and I will miss working with them. I consider them all friends and wish them well.”
A year of high-level personnel changes at USA Cycling
Farrell’s termination was another personnel change in a year that has seen many at USA Cycling.
In April, longtime USA Cycling executive Sean Petty, who served as its chief executive officer from August 2006 to March 2013, left his position, saying he would be “pursuing business interests inside and outside the sport of cycling.” Petty changed roles in March 2013, from COO to a newly developed post — chief of domestic and international affairs — which he occupied for 13 months before stepping down.
A member of the UCI’s Road Commission since 2005, Petty is the only member of the UCI Road Commission from outside of Europe. The UCI Road Commission oversees elite, U23, and junior road racing for the international federation.
In June, USA Cycling announced that its board of directors had elected former Highroad Sports general manager Bob Stapleton as its chairman, and Alex Nieroth as vice-chairman. Stapleton replaced Bill Peterson, who served as board chairman since March 2010. Nieroth replaced Mark Abramson as vice-chair.
As board chairman, Stapleton works with the federation’s senior management team. The office carries a two-year term with the next election slated for the spring of 2016.
On October 6, USA Cycling announced that the USA Cycling Professional Committee had appointed Petty as an at-large member to take the position vacated by outgoing committee member and board Chairman Bill Peterson. Subsequently, Petty was elected by the Pro Committee to also serve on the USA Cycling board of directors.
Steve Johnson serves as both USA Cycling’s chief executive officer and president; after serving as USA Cycling’s COO, he was appointed by the board of directors as CEO in May 2006 when former CEO Gerard Bisceglia was dramatically fired by the board. At that time, Jim Ochowicz, now general manager at BMC Racing, served as the president of the board.
Todd Sowl serves as both USA Cycling’s chief financial officer (CFO) and chief operating officer (COO); Sowl moved into the COO role when Petty stepped down in June 2013.
Johnson’s current contract as CEO of USA Cycling is up for renewal in March 2015.
A federation still under Armstrong’s long shadow
Though his time at USA Cycling was primarily spent working behind the scenes with race officials, Farrell’s name most recently appeared in the news during the summer of 2012, as the UCI and U.S. Anti-Doping Agency battled over jurisdiction in USADA’s investigation into doping on the U.S. Postal Service team.
At the time, Lance Armstrong’s legal team filed an affidavit, signed by Farrell, which stated that the UCI had ultimate jurisdiction over the case.
“Under the UCI ADR [anti-doping regulations], UCI has exclusive jurisdiction over testing at those international events where it conducts testing (if UCI does not test at a particular international event, the National Federation in that country may test), and doping control for such matters is governed exclusively by the UCI ADR,” Farrell had said in sworn testimony.
On Friday, Farrell said that the affidavit was among one of his few regrets from his time spent at USA Cycling.
“To this day, I regret signing that affidavit,” Farrell said. “I should have been stronger in my opposition. It was something the UCI had requested, that we write a letter acknowledging their jurisdiction … inasmuch as both the UCI and USADA can claim jurisdiction, there was no substance to that affidavit, but it came across as though we were trying to defend Lance Armstrong. I felt bad I put my name on it. While it was factually accurate, it was not in the spirit that I felt comfortable it should go. I regret not making that opinion more well known in the office. I had had a good feeling about everything I’d ever done at USA Cycling up to that moment. I feel bad I put my name to something I didn’t really believe in.”
In an interview during the Interbike trade show in September, Stapleton, USA Cycling’s new board chairman, told VeloNews that the federation had been put into a tough spot during the summer of 2012, wrangling between trying to appease the sport’s leaders at the UCI and its obligation to work with the nation’s anti-doping agency under the U.S. Olympic Committee umbrella.
“It’s unfortunate because it’s just not appreciated how stuck in the middle and how legally tied USA Cycling is to enforce the rules of the UCI, but at the same time trying to do the right thing for American athletes while complying with the USOC,” Stapleton said. “So those aren’t always perfectly aligned, particularly with Pat [McQuaid], he was absolutely a bully with anyone he could be, especially USA Cycling, which was legally tied to the UCI. I think that USA Cycling went through relatively remarkable lengths to try and do the right things, but in some cases, their hands were completely tied, even with information flow and things like that.”
In March, Johnson fell under scrutiny after the publication of Juliet Macur’s book, “Cycle of Lies,” in which former U.S. Postal rider David Zabriskie said that he told Johnson of the Postal team’s drug usage shortly after Frankie Andreu’s admission of PED use in 2006.
Johnson denied the allegation, telling VeloNews that he had learned for the first time of Zabriskie’s allegations in an excerpt from Macur’s book, “published without her ever having contacted me regarding these claims.” Both Macur and Zabriskie disputed Johnson’s version of events.
Johnson did not return an email seeking comment for this story.
Farrell added that many inside USA Cycling view Stapleton’s appointment as chairman as a step in the right direction for a federation whose leadership has been called into question since the Armstrong scandal first took shape in May 2010.
“If Bob Stapleton wants to know what’s going on, he just needs to start asking around,” Farrell said. “We used to have problems because the board would micro-manage us. They shut that down, the board is not involved in the daily running of USA Cycling, but I think now it goes too far the other way. No one is paying attention to what’s happening.”