Armstrong scandal: UCI decision to accept donation "sinister" if it suspected doping, says Ashenden
Was governing body's decision to accept cash from disgraced cyclist purely misjudgment, or did it hide something darker?
Blood doping expert Dr Michael Ashenden, who developed and ran the UCI’s biological passport programme, has described as “sinister” the claim that the governing body could have had suspicions about Lance Armstrong’s doping at the time it accepted significant cash donations from the disgraced former cyclist.
The reasoned decision published last week by the United States Anti Doping Agency include a reference to former UCI President Hein Verbruggen’s reaction last year to claims made by Tyler Hamilton and others that the governing body colluded in covering up a positive test by Armstrong during the 2001 Tour de Suisse.
"There is nothing,” insisted Verbruggen, who is now UCI Honorary President. “I repeat again: Lance Armstrong has never used doping. Never, never, never. I say this not because I am a friend of his, because that is not true. I say it because I'm sure."
However, the documents released by USADA also include testimony from Dr Martial Saugy, director of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accredited laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland, who confirmed that in 2001 the UCI told him that at least one of a number of samples taken during that year’s Tour de Suisse considered “suspect” for the presence of EPO belonged to Armstrong, winner of the race.
A “suspect” test, of course, is not the same as a positive one. However, critics of the UCI, which has a little more than a fortnight to either ratify USADA’s decision to ban Armstrong or challenge it through the Court of Arbitration for Sport, believe that the governing body has still not satisfactorily explained why it chose to subsequently accept significant donations from him. Furthermore USADA also points out in its Reasoned Decision that the criteria for deciding what classed as a positive test and what as merely suspect were different in 2001 - under today's testing criteria Armstrong's sample would have been classed as a positive.
Speaking during a two hour programme called Peddlers – Cycling’s Dirty Truth on BBC Radio 5 Live last night, Dr Ashenden, who left the UCI in April this year after a disagreement regarding new contractual terms it was attempting to impose on him, maintained that both the governing body and its former president had questions to answer.
"For the honorary president of the UCI to say he [Armstrong] hadn't doped, in the face of everything, I really have to question what his motives were to say that. I find that absolutely flabbergasting," he said.
Armstrong’s former team mates, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, both claimed in the affidavits they provided to USADA that he had admitted to them that he had tested positive during the race.
Hamilton said that Armstrong had told him at the time that “his people had been in touch with UCI, they were going to have a meeting and everything was going to be ok.”
According to Landis, Armstrong told him the following year that “he and [US Postal Service team manager Johan] Bruyneel flew to the UCI headquarters and made a financial agreement to keep the positive test hidden.”
Current UCI President Pat McQuaid confirmed in 2010 that Bruyneel and Armstrong visited the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, in May 2002 where the cyclist signed over a personal cheque for $25,000 to go toward drugs testing in junior races, and he also promised to donate $100,000 to it to help develop the sport.
He finally paid that money in 2005, after the UCI sent him a reminder. The governing body used the money to buy a blood testing machine.
While McQuaid acknowledged in 2010 that “the UCI would be very careful before accepting a donation from a rider in the future,” he insisted that there was no conflict of interest.
“You have to consider that at the time, in 2002, no accusations against Lance Armstrong had been made. They've all came up since then.”
Dr Saugy’s testimony, however, suggests that with the UCI having been aware of the “suspect” results for EPO at the 2001 Tour de Suisse at the time Armstrong said he would pay it $100,000, the governing body was at minimum guilty of a serious error of judgment.
And despite McQuaid’s protestations, by 2005, when the UCI reminded Armstrong that he hadn’t followed through on his promise and actually paid the money, accusations had started to mount against the Texan.
Dr Ashenden told the BBC programme last night: "The UCI should never have accepted money from Armstrong under any circumstances.
"But if they took money after they were aware there were grounds to suspect Armstrong had used EPO, it takes on a really sinister complexion.
"We know Armstrong paid the UCI more than $100,000 and around that time the UCI gave the Lausanne laboratory free use of a blood analyser worth $60,000 to $70,000.”
Ashenden raised the question of whether what he called a “triangle” had existed between Armstrong, the UCI, and a drug testing laboratory in Lausanne.
“The laboratory meets with Armstrong. All of this takes place at about the time that Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton said under oath that Armstrong bragged he had managed to have a result covered up."