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UCI wants independent panel to review USADA’s Armstrong case files prior to sanctions

UCI president Pat McQuaid says USADA is willing to bend the rules to nab Armstrong and needs an independent review

LONDON (VN) — The ongoing battle over jurisdiction of alleged evidence that Lance Armstrong cheated his way to seven Tour de France titles took another step sideways Friday, as UCI president Pat McQuaid said that the international federation is demanding an independent panel review USADA’s evidence against Armstrong and five U.S. Postal Service team associates prior to any arbitration hearings or sanctions.

McQuaid spoke for 45 minutes with a group of journalists attending the day’s Olympic BMX races. The impromptu gathering came as a response to a letter sent to the UCI by WADA director general David Howman on Tuesday, which stated that the UCI did not have jurisdiction over the case.

As USADA pursues a sanction for Armstrong that would see him stripped of some, if not all, of his Tour titles, the UCI’s insistence that it should make a determination on whether a doping violation occurred, rather than USADA, has given the appearance that it might be stalling, or stifling, the investigation.

McQuaid stated that the UCI is trying to ensure that the accused receive a fair trial, stressing repeatedly that by withholding its information from both the respondents and the federation, USADA was violating basic principles of due process.

“I’d like to confirm that the UCI does not have, nor has it ever had, the intention to stop these investigations, nor to make any obstruction of these investigations,” McQuaid said. “Our aim and objective is to ensure the fundamental fairness of the results management process.”

Not trying to save Armstrong’s skin

To date, USADA has not shared its investigation files with the UCI, and McQuaid said by enforcing lifetime bans for three former members of the Postal team entourage — Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral, Dr. Michele Ferrari and Jose “Pepe” Martí — and withholding its evidence, the national anti-doping agency had overstepped its boundaries.

“When this started, unfortunately, USADA released the charge letters to the public immediately,” McQuaid said, although the source of the leaked charging letters has not been confirmed. “This affair is a trial in the court of public opinion, and that’s not just for anybody. I’m in no way trying to save Lance Armstrong’s skin — not in any way. The question at stake here is, I am concerned that the authority of the UCI as an international federation has been undermined by USADA with the support of WADA.”

Accompanied by UCI lawyer Philippe Verbiest, McQuaid explained that the UCI had reversed its previously stated stance — that the case “is a USADA investigation” — after USADA issued lifetime bans without allowing the accused the chance to review the case files of their alleged doping violations.

“At the time that I said this is American affair and the UCI wouldn’t be involved, the UCI legal department was still looking into it,” McQuaid said. “A few days later, when USADA announced lifetime bans on three individuals, that was when we started to closely examine what was going on. To give a lifetime ban — when you collect evidence, you prosecute, and then, so to speak, you’re the executioner — without any due process, is completely against legal principles. It’s reminiscent of medieval justice.”

Because USADA has refused to turn over its case to the UCI, McQuaid said the federation is demanding that an independent panel review USADA’s evidence.

“It was then we realized these affairs should probably be taken out of hands of USADA, and given to an independent group. Not the UCI, the UCI doesn’t necessarily want to deal with this process, but it should be given to an independent group,” he said.

“We’re now in a very strange situation, where the UCI, the governing body of cycling, is not aware of what’s going on,” McQuaid continued. “And we’re not sure that the people involved will be granted a fair defense.”

“When I made statements following the announcement of the lifetime bans, WADA put out a communiqué the following day, saying that the life bans had to be respected. To the best of my understanding, in order for the UCI to validate those sanctions, we need to see the evidence upon which they were based. And USADA is refusing to show us that evidence. Until the time we see that evidence we cannot accept or recognize that life ban.”

Under the WADA code, which the International Olympic Committee instituted in 2000 and the UCI adopted July 2004, USADA has the authority, granted by the U.S. Olympic Committee, to investigate and sanction athletes and licensees independent of national or international governing bodies such as USA Cycling or the UCI. The federations are required only to enforce the sanction determined by three-member arbitration panels at either the American Arbitration Association or, ultimately, the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

Asked what sort of independent group might review the case material to determine whether or not USADA should be allowed to pursue sanctions, McQuaid suggested either the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) or the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

“We don’t mind who the members are, not at all,” McQuaid said. “We don’t want any influence. We just want an independent review to look at all of this and decide what it is.”

A political campaign against cycling

This is not the first time the UCI has looked to an independent review related to Armstrong and doping allegations.

In 2005, the UCI appointed Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman to run an independent investigation into claims made by L’Equipe that Armstrong had used EPO during the 1999 Tour. At the conclusion of Vrijman’s 10-month investigation, he recommended that Armstrong be cleared of any suspicion surrounding the retroactive testing of his blood samples, and questioned the ethics of then-WADA chairman Dick Pound.

WADA quickly replied to Vrijman’s report, describing it as “fallacious in many aspects and misleading.”

WADA’s response in 2006 was just another example of what McQuaid on Friday said has been an ongoing antagonism from WADA towards the sport of cycling.

“Historically, over the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a political campaign against cycling by senior people within WADA,” McQuaid said. “And I don’t think that’s acceptable. UCI does more in the fight against doping than any international federation and we do not deserve to have people attacking the sport the way that they are.”

Asked why he thought WADA had waged a campaign against cycling, specifically after the UCI had pioneered the biological passport, McQuaid said that is a question only Howman could answer.

Asked if there was precedent for any international governing body to demand that an outside group, such as CAS or the IOC, determine whether or not USADA has grounds to sanction Armstrong, Verbiest answered, “This is the first time the UCI has been confronted with this situation. It also has to do with the specifics of the proceedings with USADA. I have no knowledge of other non-analytical cases; there may have been other non-analytical cases that may have been prosecuted by USADA, but how it went exactly, I don’t know how. But for the UCI it’s the first time we’ve been confronted with this.”

That is not entirely accurate, however.

In May 2009, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) banned Spaniard Alejandro Valverde from racing in Italy for two years for his involvement in Operacion Puerto, involvement proven not by a positive drug test, but rather a non-analytical finding — a DNA match between Valverde and a blood bag seized in the Puerto raids. The UCI allowed CONI, which serves as both Italy’s national federation and anti-doping agency, to pursue the sanction without interference, and it was not until a CAS hearing that CONI requested the UCI and WADA participate in the hearing.

The key difference with that situation is that CONI shared its Valverde case file with the UCI.

“We work with many anti-doping agencies, all the time,” McQuaid said. “They share their evidence, their files, we see the evidence, and we allow them to work with the results management after we’ve seen the evidence, and it works quite well,” McQuaid said. “But from the beginning USADA has refused to share any evidence.”

In the past few years, USADA has suspended at least five cyclists for non-analytical sanctions — without testing positive for performance enhancing drugs — including Kayle Leogrande, Jonathan Chodroff, Kirk O’Bee, Joe Papp and Phil Zajicek.

“What is also important is that the case was started based upon UCI rules, not the rules of another organization,” Verbiest added, “and in the letter of incrimination to the six respondents, it said (USADA) was proceeding on the basis of UCI rules. So then the UCI should have been involved.”

Absolutely nothing to fear

USADA has been adamant it would not release details of its case to either Armstrong or the UCI, both for fear of witness intimidation, and because, as general counsel Bill Bock wrote in a July 26 letter, the UCI had adopted “some of the arguments now being advanced by Mr. Armstrong’s lawyers and public relations consultants.”

When one journalist suggested to McQuaid that USADA was resistant to hand over the case files because there was evidence that would incriminate the UCI — including the alleged UCI cover-up of Armstrong’s 2001 Tour de Suisse positive and allegations that the UCI has tipped off riders and teams as to when to expect out-of-competition testers — Verbiest said that would not change the rules of jurisdiction.

“There is no case against the UCI,” Verbiest said. “We can only see that six (charging) letters have been sent out to six individuals, and no one else.”

“There’s a lot in those letters that’s making statements without anyone knowing the facts,” said McQuaid. “If they have evidence against the UCI they should share it with the UCI and ask us our opinion. It’s very easy to take statements from people and put them into a charge, and say that they are evidence. But they need facts to back up those statements.

“The UCI has absolutely nothing to fear in relation to samples going under the counter, because it’s never happened,” McQuaid said. “Nothing to fear in that. A lot of what I’ve read over the years are statements coming from people like (Floyd) Landis and (Tyler) Hamilton that are hearsay about statements that were made out on the bike in training. That’s all it is. The actual facts — which we have gone through a lot of trouble to find out, a couple of years ago — show that the evidence is not there. There is no hard evidence — because it didn’t happen.”

After VeloNews suggested that the UCI make public its records from the 2001 Tour de Suisse doping controls, McQuaid answered, “I’m sure we could,” with Verbiest adding, “it was made public that we knew the names of all athletes that were declared positive of all the athletes that were positive for EPO, and none of those athletes were Lance Armstrong. That is all one can do.”

When a journalist asked McQuaid whether, if USADA’s evidence were to ultimately result in sanctions — and prove that the UCI had been involved in a Tour de Suisse positive cover-up — McQuaid answered, “In the first part of the question, if a review group looked at it and decided that they should be sanctioned, and they were sanctioned, I have no problem with that. To the second part of the question, I don’t accept it, because in asking that, you’re making an accusation against the UCI which I know to be untrue.”

Bending the rules

In the back and forth between the UCI and USADA over the evidence gathered, one glaring question yet to be asked is whether or not the international federation has reached out to any of USADA’s “more than 10” members of Armstrong’s Postal team that provided testimony to either USADA and/or the federal investigation that was dropped in early February.

Asked by VeloNews if McQuaid had spoken personally to any of the riders widely believed to have provided USADA with testimony, McQuaid said he had not.

“No. I don’t even know who they are,” he said. “We haven’t had any communication from the federal investigators, other than one email from the deputy attorney’s office asking what year the EPO rule went into the UCI rules. That was the only contact.”

McQuaid acknowledged that there is no rule prohibiting the UCI from reaching out to athletes to ask what sort of testimony they might have provided to either the U.S. Department of Justice or USADA, or any other doping investigation. Those riders are widely believed to include Americans Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, Frankie Andreu, George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, Levi Leipheimer and Dave Zabriskie.

“I’ve only read speculation,” he said. “I have an idea who they are, but only speculation. I don’t think there would be any value in that. I don’t think George Hincapie would necessarily tell us what he told the federal investigators, or what USADA has in the file. I don’t necessarily think that would be appropriate. The case is based on the file. We have no proof as to who the eight or 10 witnesses are. I have an idea, but I don’t think it would be appropriate to ring someone and ask, ‘what did you say to this or that?’.”

“It would be far more appropriate that the file is opened to the UCI,” Verbiest added. “And in the first instance, to those who have been sent to disciplinary hearings. That is the most astonishing aspect of this case.”

Asked if he felt USADA and WADA had spent years specifically targeting Armstrong, McQuaid said he did, adding, “and they are prepared to allow the rules to be bent.”

Tygart fires back

Reached for comment on McQuaid’s statements, USADA CEO Travis Tygart wrote to VeloNews via email: “UCI’s various contrasting positions and public comments concerning our USPS case are baffling, especially in light of the fact that we have offered to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and have all the evidence of the USPS doping conspiracy presented in open court for the independent judges to consider and ultimately decide once and for all. We will continue to do our job on behalf of clean athletes and pressure from external sources including UCI’s will not prevent us from simply doing the job we are mandated to do.”