Michael Ashenden: Tour Down Under "prostituted itself" over Lance Armstrong

Blood doping experts says state government should come clean over multimillion dollar payments to disgraced rider

by Simon_MacMichael   January 21, 2013  

Lance Armstrong - Tour Down Under 09

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.”

7 user comments

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Can't believe they believed him, let alone paid him to compete.

posted by andyp [630 posts]
21st January 2013 - 18:46

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I guess that in the UK it would be a simple FOI request to find out how much he was paid?

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1300 posts]
21st January 2013 - 18:49

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I think it's the same in Australia - http://www.oaic.gov.au/foi-portal/about_foi.html#what_is_foi - but I don't know if that also applies to State Government (rather than national government), which is who paid the money in this case.

In any event, it was stupid not to provide for a condition around doping. He would never have turned it down (because of the damage to his reputation in doing so) and they could have at least got some cash back.

As for the TDU being infamous rather than famous, I think Ashenden is now pushing the reach of Armstrong rather too far. Sure, people will remember the fact that Armstrong rode it, but he's practically saying no-one is interested in the race now just because Armstrong rode it. I've got a lot of respect for his biological passport, but his rhetoric leaves a little to be desired.

posted by step-hent [633 posts]
21st January 2013 - 19:09

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andyp wrote:
Can't believe they believed him, let alone paid him to compete.

I can't believe the vitriol and emotion being displayed in some of these posts.

EVERYONE was involved in this. The race promoters who paid him to ride knowing that audience share would rise dramatically. The cycling mags who didn't rock the boat because their exclusive interviews with the biggest star in cycling would disappear. The UCI for bending their own rules about the 6-month blood passport window so he could make his comeback and thus benefit the race and, indirectly, the UCI.

From the POV of the race organsiers, they had nothing concrete to go on re doping, just rumours (and lets face it, if you banned cyclists on the basis of rumours of doping, you'd have a peloton of about 12). Simple business decision - pay LA $3million but make $20 million in increased revenue from sponsors and TV audience.

posted by crazy-legs [435 posts]
21st January 2013 - 20:52

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Look this is what happens when governments do the "bread and circuses" thing". In this case they had a socialist state government that spent millions across a series of such events to effectively buy votes. The same government/party lost the Formula 1 Grand Prix to Melbourne and was trying to make up for it since.

The hypocrisy here is that many of the journalists who are writing opinion pieces or scrambling to find some bitter commentator to quote are the same people that wrote glowing pieces on Armstrong when he was the golden boy. It's all a great lesson for the gullible and naive.

mike_ibcyclist's picture

posted by mike_ibcyclist [36 posts]
21st January 2013 - 20:57

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It's certainly not vitriol, and the only emotion is one of continuing amazement that for the sake of TV audiences people can still be utterly stupid.

posted by andyp [630 posts]
21st January 2013 - 21:12

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andyp wrote:
It's certainly not vitriol, and the only emotion is one of continuing amazement that for the sake of TV audiences people can still be utterly stupid.

Hindsight's a wonderful thing...

posted by pwake [235 posts]
22nd January 2013 - 2:24

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