Blood doping expert Michael Ashenden maintains that the Tour Down Under “prostituted itself” by making seven-figure payments to Lance Armstrong to get him to agree to take part in the race when staging his comeback in 2009.
Armstrong also received appearance money to participate in the race in 2010 and 2011, and Ashenden has said that the South Australian government should declare the sums he was paid, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
The state government has said that there are no legal grounds for it to recoup the money paid to Armstrong, with estimates of the sums involved ranging from A$3 million to A$9 million over the three years.
The participation in the race of Armstrong, with Astana in 2009 and RadioShack in the subsequent two years, was dogged by controversy from the start as he was allowed to forgo the six-month biological
“In my opinion, the race prostituted itself,'' declared Ashenden. ''It will be known forever as the race who paid a serial liar millions of dollars to promote itself.
“It was poor judgment, backed up by poor governance in failing to guard against risks, which has now made the Tour Down Under infamous rather than famous.
“On a business level, I don't fault the government's rationale, although I do consider their motives to be cynical,” continued Ashenden, who developed the UCI’s biological passport programme.
He left his role with the governing body last year after it attempted to impose new contractual conditions on him that among other things would have gagged him from speaking to the media.
In the wake of Armstrong’s confession last week, UCI president Pat McQuaid hailed the introduction of the biological passport programme in 2008 as evidence that cycling is now a cleaner sport, something the disgraced cyclist himself had highlighted in his interview with Oprah Winfrey.
In that interview, Armstrong insisted he had ceased doping in 2005, his denial being widely attributed to the prospect of legal action from sponsors and others relating to the period after his comeback.
In October, when the UCI confirmed Armstrong’s life ban, McQuaid said he did not accept the assertion by the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) that Armstrong had doped between 2009 and 2011.
The governing body itself made an exception to its biological passport rules in Armstrong’s case prior to his racing the Tour Down Under in 2009 by waiving the requirement for him to have been part of the programme for at least six months before competing.
USADA’s Reasoned Decision in the Armstrong case included evidence of suspicious blood values exhibited by the rider during the 2009 Tour de France, in which he finished third.
Ashenden, who was one of the attendees at December’s Change Cycling Now summit in London, insists that should have been enough to raise the alarm, accusing the government of a “failure to conduct due diligence, for example by taking heed of the plentiful evidence available in 2009 indicating that Armstrong had doped.
“Due diligence should have prompted them to indemnify the event in case Armstrong brought the race into disrepute.”
Current South Australia Premier, Jay Weatherill last week said there was no legal basis for the state government to seek to recover the sums it had paid, adding: “We'd be more than happy for Mr Armstrong to make any repayment of monies to us. He's a cheat and deceived people.”
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.