In an extraordinary editorial on the front page of its Véloworld magazine, world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, has launched a thinly-veiled attack at Floyd Landis and rejected his claims that it has protected some top riders from doping charges.
The editorial follows comments made by UCI President Pat McQuaid at the end of November in which he branded Landis a “liar” for suggesting that he and predecessor Hein Verbruggen had been complicit in covering up potential drugs scandals involving top names in the sport.
In the editorial, which is anonymous, although it would be difficult to imagine that it would have been published without McQuaid’s approval, the UCI says: “According to a certain person who has a tendency to throw around serious accusations without the slightest evidence to back them up, the UCI protects certain riders from the risk of failing a doping test.
“Given the impressive progress that has been made in anti-doping programmes and, sadly, the ever-higher number of proceedings we have had to initiate in recent years against some of our sport’s biggest stars, it would be very interesting to know the names of these privileged riders who have enjoyed such favourable treatment.”
There’s no doubt that the “certain person” to whom the UCI refers is Landis, and if the UCI really doesn’t know the identity of at least one of the stars the former US Postal Service and Phonak rider refers to, they are the only people in cycling who don’t – Lance Armstrong, who has been at the centre of allegations made by Landis since he confessed to having doped in May this year.
The UCI, however, seeks to discredit Landis by pointing to his past inconsistencies regarding his own drug-taking, in words that echo statements made on behalf of Armstrong who, together with other former riders and management of the US Postal Service team, is the subject of an ongoing investigation in the United States led by special agent Jeff Novitzky of the Food and Drug Administration.
“For the time being we must simply look at the source of these insinuations, which
seriously tarnish the image of our sport and its leaders,” insists the UCI. “This is a person who lacks all credibility and has no sense of responsibility, who believes he now has free rein, having abused the system himself, having lied to all of us and all of you.”
The implication of that statement is one that goes well beyond the allegations made by Landis, however; one reading of it could be that the UCI is arguing that the evidence of a convicted doper carries no weight.
Translating that into the world beyond cycling, that would be the equivalent of a court rejecting evidence from someone involved in terrorism or organised crime against other members of their organisation simply because they had once been involved themselves.
It’s also curious that the UCI, which has been vocal in urging national sporting bodies and law enforcement agencies to take action to combat doping, should have nailed its colours to the mast – however obliquely – at a time when Landis’s allegations are in fact being investigated by the appropriate authorities, and it does itself a disservice by naming neither he nor Armstrong, who it should be remembered has never failed a drugs test, in the editorial.
Instead of waiting for the US investigation to run its course, the UCI seeks to deflect Landis’s assertion that it protects star names by highlighting the case of Alberto Contador, saying, “Today, as the UCI awaits the Spanish Federation’s conclusions regarding the Contador case, his theory seems all the more absurd.”
It continues: “The consistency, rigour and serenity that governed the inquiry, conducted in close cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency, into the abnormal test results of the triple Tour de France winner, should offer the most telling guarantee of our commitment to eradicate doping, regardless of the low levels of product detected, regardless of all the possible justifications, regardless of the rider’s impressive record, and regardless of the additional negative consequences for cycling.”
“And,” it concludes, “even in spite of the slanderous accusations and a habit of being economical with the truth.”
While it has to be acknowledged that the UCI’s stance on the Contador case, and in its earlier pursuit of Alejandro Valverde, do reflect a welcome commitment to stamping out the use of performance enhacing drugs - although it should be mentioned that they only went public on Contador after the story broke - the fact remains that for now, convicted doper or not, Landis has raised some uncomfortable questions that have yet to satisfactorily answered.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.