By Neal Rogers
A three-member arbitration panel has suspended Rock Racing rider Kayle Leogrande for two years, after concluding that he used EPO during last year’s Super Week, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced Monday.
The independent panel of arbitrators from the American Arbitration Association (AAA)/North American Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) unanimously found that Leogrande, 31, used EPO when competing at Superweek on July 26, 2007.
Leogrande, who has the option to appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport, said he was not yet prepared to respond to the panel’s decision.
“Now that it’s finally happened, in a way it’s a relief, and a weight off my shoulders,” he told VeloNews.”I’m not devastated. I kind of knew this was going to happen, even though I was hoping for the best. It could have gone either way, to be honest with you.”
According to sworn testimony, Leogrande told former Rock Racing soigneur Suzanne Sonye he had taken Vicodin, Ventolin and EPO and was nervous about a doping control done the previous day.
Sonye filed a sworn affidavit with USADA alleging that Leogrande confided he had used testosterone gel, taken EPO and put soap on his wrist prior to entering the July 26 doping control, hoping that by urinating on the soap, it would “f— up the test.”
Leogrande denied the allegations, testifying he did not soap his wrist prior to giving his urine sample, and that he did not speak to Sonye on July 27.
Suspension without a positive
While there were no definitively matching A and B samples, the panel sided with USADA, concluding that that although there was not enough scientific evidence to show the use of EPO, Leogrande’s “clear and repeated admissions of doping” were corroborated by circumstantial and scientific evidence. Such a “non-analytical positive” is permitted under the provisions of the World Anti-Doping Code.
The panel also noted that Leogrande submitted a urine sample in August 2006 that tested positive for EPO, although a follow-up B sample was “borderline.”
During the November 17-18 arbitration hearing in Los Angeles, USADA’s expert witness, Dr. Christine Ayotte, director of the WADA-accredited laboratory in Montreal, testified that four samples provided by Leogrande between August 2006 and July 2007 reflected the administration of recombinant EPO.
USADA relied on Ayotte’s testimony to corroborate Leogrande’s admissions to Sonye.
Leogrande offered testimony from Dr. J.R. Delanghe, who has published peer-reviewed articles on the subject of EPO doping-control tests. Delanghe found fault with the antibody used by WADA laboratories for testing urine for EPO, since it is not approved by the FDA for clinical research. He said the analysis of EPO urine test data is both difficult and unreliable. Nonetheless, Delanghe agreed with Ayotte that Leogrande’s samples were atypical and did not show the presence of human (endogenous) EPO as they should.
Leogrande also lost credibility with the panel over the issue of Ventolin, an albuterol inhaler. He first testified that he had never heard of Ventolin and never had an inhaler. However he later recalled that he had an inhaler, which he called a puffer, and had told a doping-control officer about it, but that he did not know the name of the product.
Other evidence in the case included pictures of Leogrande holding EPO vials that were taken by rider Joe Papp and a note that read: “Joe, 2 boxes G. 100 iu; 7 boxes E. 60,000; $500. I owed you! Thanks, Kayle.”
Following the hearing, the AAA/CAS panel ruled that Leogrande’s “clear and repeated admissions of doping, which in and of themselves may be sufficient to establish an anti-doping rule violation, are corroborated by a significant amount of circumstantial as well as scientific evidence.”
The panel sanctioned Leogrande for the maximum period of ineligibility of two years, from December 1, 2008, through November 30, 2010. The panel also ordered that all of Leogrande’s results obtained during and since Super Week 2007 be negated and any and all prize money be returned.
“All those who value clean sport should be encouraged by this decision and by those who voluntarily come forward with reliable evidence, placing their trust in USADA, to aggressively pursue those who will cheat their fellow competitors by using prohibited drugs,” said USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart.
Leogrande says he was targeted
Leogrande said he felt USADA had targeted him, and that a suspension was a foregone conclusion.
“I didn’t want this to happen, but the powers that be wanted that it happen,” Leogrande said.
“Having sat (in arbitration) for two days and hearing all these things that people working for USADA have to say about you, and their view on the collection of evidence they’re putting against you, it’s an odd thing to sit in a room and hear people say these things about you and judge your character along with the evidence,” he said. “It’s not something that most people should have to deal with. I could see it destroying some people. It won’t destroy me, because I’m not that kind of person, but I could see it having a really negative effect on people if they weren’t equipped to deal with that.”
Leogrande said he would probably issue a formal response in the next few days.
“There is a lot stuff that people don’t realize about the whole thing that has been pushed aside, in the back, kind of hidden from everybody that certain people didn’t want others to see,” he said. “Eventually those things will come out.”
The complete decision by the arbitration panel is available at
the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Web site.