Jaimie Fuller has told road.cc he is disappointed at Michael Ashenden’s decision to distance himself from the pressure group Change Cycling Now after learning emerged that one of its members had made contact with Lance Armstrong, but defends the blood doping expert's right to walk away.
Ashenden has told Change Cycling Now he will have no more to do with it after one of its members, the French physiologist and coach, Antoine Vayer, approached Armstrong to try and arrange a meeting.
Fuller, chairman of compression clothing firm Skins, was the prime mover behind the setting up of Change Cycling Now late last year after writing several pieces on his blog that were highly critical of the UCI's handling of the US Postal scandal and discovering he was not alone in wanting reform of the sport from the top down.
He says the disagreement reflects the fact that rather than being a formal organisation, Change Cycling Now is an affiliation of people united by a common overarching aim, and that there will be differences of opinion when it comes to how that should be achieved.
In a telephone conversation this evening, he told road.cc: “One of our guys reached out to Lance Armstrong to set up a meeting with him.
“I think it’s important to understand that we’re not a formal organisation, we’re a movement.
“There was some talk about formalising things and I actually wrote to everybody back in December and said I really don’t think we should do that, because you’ve then got to look at having placeholders, policies, people have to toe the line.
“Before you know it you’ve got the same impediments that organisations like the UCI have, and that’s not what we’re about.
“We’re about people who are united with the common view that we need to eradicate doping in the sport, and there are going to be times when people’s views are going to differ on how we achieve that.
“Certainly I have no intention whatsoever on forcing our views on anybody else and I think it’s important that everyone understands that we all have our own perspective.
“What we’ve seen is one of the guys, Antoine Vayer, he’s reached out to Lance Armstrong to set up a meeting with him and Armstrong is very keen to meet with him to talk about all the stuff that’s been going on.
“I can’t go into much detail as you can appreciate because this was meant to be a confidential matter with Mr Armstrong.
“As I said to everybody before, I see no reason to try and sanction anybody’s actions for what they do personally, and that’s what Armstrong wanted to do personally. I have no problem with that.”
Ashenden, who helped set up the UCI’s blood passport programme but left the governing body last year after a dispute over new contractual terms it was seeking to impose, including effectively gagging him from speaking to the press, has been an articulate and forthright speaker on matters relating to doping and in recent months the US Postal scandal in particular.
In an email sent to fellow Change Cycling Now members, the text of which was published by Cycling News, Ashenden said: “I am writing to inform you that I am removing myself, effective immediately, from the CCN movement.”
"It is clear to me that there are irreconcilable differences in the approaches used by CCN and myself. Put simply: I will not be associated with any group that seeks to meet with Lance Armstrong, with the obvious exception of USADA."
"If I had been informed of the intention to approach Armstrong I would have made my position clear immediately. Unfortunately, the approach to Armstrong was made without my knowledge, it cannot be undone, and nor can my decision to leave CCN.”
“I wish you all well and remind you that we are all still pushing in the same direction - we just don't agree on how to go about that.”
Publicly disassociating himself from Change Cycling Now will be interpreted by some as a major blow to the organisation, which held a two-day summit in London in December which ended with the publciation of a document urging reform of the sport titled the Charter of the WIlling.
Attendees including Ashenden, three time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond and Garmin Sharp team manager Jonathan Vaughters, there in his capacity as chairman of the professional teams organisation, the AIGCP. Others are listed on Change Cycling Now’s website.
Fuller admits that the very lack of a formal structure that he sees as one of its strengths can also viewed in circumstances such as these as a weakness.
“Sure, we realised at the time that things like this can be weaknesses because they can be portrayed as disunity.
“But I was okay with that, I said I’d rather have potential for disunity than have a situation where we are forcing opinions on people.
“We’re a group of fairly strong, opinionated people. Absolutely, I’m disappointed that Mike has chosen to distance himself from us or to exit our group, but that’s his right, and I’ll fight for his right to do that.
“I disagree with how he’s done it, but it’s his right to say, you know what guys, I’m out of here, which is fine.”
Earlier today, Michael Rasmussen had confessed to doping between 1998 and 2010. While Fuller admitted he wasn’t fully up to date on the situation – he had been in meetings in Paris all afternoon – he welcomed news that Anti Doping Danmark wants to uncover the whole system supporting doping, rather than focusing on individual riders.
Fuller said that was in line with the ideals behind Change Cycling Now. “Absolutely, and this was the whole push.
“The magic letters of TRC over the last five days that have come about because [UCI president] Pat McQuaid has – hallelujah! – seen the light, and is using the concept of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to shut down the UCI IC.
“But if you remember, back at the beginning of December, one of the four things we came out with in our charter was to have a full blown Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“The reason we want that is we need to understand everything that’s been going on. We need to understand what the systems are, what the processes are, who the people are, and we figured that the only way to do that is to have an amnesty and to make sure there are no impediments for anybody – and it’s not just riders, its also directeurs sportifs and managers – to come forward and talk about the truth.
“So if that’s what Danish anti-doping is saying today, that they believe they want to get to the root of it, the culture, the systems, the people, then I’m right behind them, and the only way we can genuinely do that is with truth and reconciliation.
“I think we also need to differentiate between fully blown truth and reconciliation versus what USADA was pushing for with the Independent Commission, because USADA’s push – and I’ll also put us in there, Change Cycling Now – was to have a mini amnesty, which was a short, sharp shock to the ability to get a heap of information, as much as possible in a short period of time, for pragmatic reasons to do with the term of the Independent Commission’s appointment.”
The Commission, ordered by the UCI to examine the governing body’s own role in the Lance Armstrong scandal, had held its first and only public hearing last Friday, was dissolved by the UCI on Monday. It had been due to hold an evidential session in April, and publish its report in June.
According to Fuller, that meant of necessity that any consideration of truth and reconciliation by the Independent Commission would of necessity have to be an abbreviated process.
“To do a full truth and reconciliation, that could take a couple of years. But in the context of the independent commission, it needed something that… not compelled, but incentivised people to come forward, talk and let their stories be known.
“That got labelled ‘truth and reconciliation.’ It was sort of truth and reconciliation, but it was a mini truth and reconciliation, if you get what I mean.”
Given this week’s events, with the UCI insisting on Monday that it was pushing forward with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in partnership with WADA, a claim the agency denied in no uncertain terms on Tuesday as open warfare broke out between it and cycling’s governing body, did Fuller believe that the relationship between the two bodies had broken down beyond repair?
“That’s a really tricky one and frankly it’s one that needs to be asked of [WADA director general] David Howman.
“Personally I think that the way that the UCI has behaved through this process is atrocious. I think that they have manipulated the story, I think they’ve manipulated the truth, I think they’ve been devious in how they’ve presented the situation to their end, which was to basically shut down the whole UCI IC [Independent Commission] process.
“It was there to do a job, they claimed they were independent, they weren’t independent. They [the UCI] claimed that the UCI IC were responsible for their terms of reference, solely – well, if that was the case, why can’t they change them?
“So I think that the UCI have been very underhanded in the way they’ve dealt with that.
“But I think the person that really needs to answer that question is at first instance [WADA president] John Fahey or if not him then David Howman, because obviously what we’ve seen is a loss of faith from those guys.
“I think what they need to do is describe what the circumstances are under which they can work with the UCI.
“I don’t know what WADA technically can or cannot do without the UCI. What I believe though is that so many things are coming out now, this is moving quite quickly and the pressure is going to continue to mount on the UCI.”
Fuller believes that the situation may also be moving on apace behind the scenes and out of public view, suspecting the International Olympic Committee may be putting pressure on the UCI president.
“I just can’t believe that the IOC isn’t going to step in, if they haven’t already,” remarked Fulller.
He went on to refer to McQuaid's departure, announced suddenly earlier this month a year ahead of schedule, from WADA’s Foundation Board – he also left its Executive Board, although that was at the end of the planned term – and his stepping down last week from an IOC committee examining candidate cities for the 2020 Olympic Games with less than nine months before the winning bid is announced.
“I don’t believe in coincidences and the fact that Pat McQuaid was turfed off the WADA Foundation board is one thing, the fact he’s no longer on the 2020 host city committee as well is another so I would like to think there are people within the IOC who are getting very frustrated at how this is being played out and are maybe trying to bang some heads together,” Fuller concluded.
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.