Organisers of the Tour Down Under, now established as the curtain raiser to the UCI WorldTour season, are being urged to make their position clear regarding Lance Armstrong or risk next year's event being overshadowed by questions surrounding the digraced cyclist. The 41-year-old secured appearance fees running into millions of dollars in his three appearance in the event, the first of those being his debut for Astana when he came out of retirement in 2009. Race and government officials are also under fire after it emerged that they failed to make public a positive test by a stage winner in the 2003 edition of the race.
Even before the United States Anti Doping Agency’s publication of its dossier on Armstrong this week, the Texan’s participation in the 2009 Tour Down Under provoked controversy, partly because the UCI gave him special dispensation to compete, despite the fact he had not fulfilled its own requirement of having been subject to a testing programme for six months.
Another cause of criticism was the appearance fee Armstrong negotiated with organisers of the race, which is owned and run on behalf of the South Australian government by Events South Australia,which is a division of the South Australian Tourism Commission.
Although Armstrong’s selection of the Tour Down Under for his comeback was seen as a crucial factor in the estimated economic impact of the race more than doubling to A$39 million in 2009, the payment of a fee generally reckoned to be around A$2 million to just one rider proved controversial and attracted widespread condemnation locally.
It is believed that Armstrong also received seven-figure fees for taking part in the race in 2010 and 2011, the latter turning out to be his last ever race outside the United States.
Among the allegations contained in USADA’s reasoned decision in the Armstrong case are that he was engaging in blood doping and training under baned Italian doctor Michele Ferrari during that 2009 season and beyond.
Writing in The Age, leading Australian cycling journalist Rupert Guinness accuses Tour Down Under organisers of being “seemingly oblivious” to the potential damage to the race should they fail to go public with their thoughts on the Armstrong situation, saying that if they maintain a media silence until next January’ race, the event will be overshadowed by the continued fallout from the US Postal affair.
Race director Mike Turtur, who is also president of the Oceania Cycling Confederation, was quoted in the article as saying: “'I would prefer the UCI to make an official response to the information before I make any comment on it, being a board member.
“I'm in a position not being able to comment on the Armstrong matter or Matt White [the Orica GreenEdge sports director who admitted yesterday to having doped while with US Postal] or anyone else related to that situation.''
He added: ''It's been very difficult to swallow what's been put into the public arena in the last few weeks. It's been horrendous, to a level I never imagined in my wildest dreams.''
Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday – the same day White confessed to doping – that Tour Down Under organisers failed to make public a positive test by Italian rider Giampaolo Caruso after he won a stage of the race in 2003.
Caruso, then with ONCE-Eroski, won Stage 5 of the Tour Down Under in 2003 but subsequently tested positive for the anabolic agent, nandrolone. Caruso was later implicated in the Operacion Puerto scandal but would be released from the investigation by Spanish authorities, and while the Italian authorities tried to have him banned for two years, he was acquitted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
In October 2003, the UCI announced that he had been banned for six months, and while Tour Down Under organisers subsequently awarded the prize money for that stage to second-placed Steffen Wesemann of Team Telekom, they made no announcement of the fact.
The failure to make that public meant that until yesterday there was nothing to suggest that the Italian was no longer officially the winner of that stage.
"It would have been published on the (International Cycling Union's) UCI website that he was found to be in violation of the code and that's how it's dealt with," insisted Turtur, quoted in the Herald Sun.
"Race organisers don't go around publicising or advertising or making a point of any doping infringements because it's not their job or their responsibility.
"The organisers manage the race, the UCI manage the sport.
"That's the normal and accepted procedure since day one. The Tour de France might work a bit differently because of what it is and the world-wide media, they will actually go out and state that this has happened.
"It's not that they're breaking the news it's already been identified by the doping agency."
Turtur was unable to immediately confirm whether Caruso is the only rider to have failed a doping control while participating in the race.
"I'm pretty certain that he's the only one that's given a positive from a direct test at the Tour here. We've always operated in the regulations of what's in place on the day.
"I can't see the point in making any other public comment in regard to anything that might happen in that area other than the process taking its natural course with the UCI and the anti-doping agencies.
"The majority of organisers are excluded by that process."
That may indeed be the case, but the rise of the internet and social media mean that organisations in all walks of life are having to become more transparent than ever before about their activities, and are increasingly being held accountable for them; it’s hard to imagine that if a situation such as that involving Caruso happened today, the failure to amend a result would go unnoticed for almost a decade.
The Tour Down Under, unlike most leading bike races, also has the additional issue of being owned and organised by a public body, making it perhaps more likely to attract scrutiny than other similar events that are put on by private businesses.