Weapons of Mass Dope-struction

by Rant on February 25, 2008 · 18 comments

in Doping in Sports, Tour de France, UCI ProTour

Looks like the not-so-cold war between the UCI and the ASO is escalating. Today’s big news is that Pat McQuaid is now trying to organize a boycott of the ASO’s Paris-Nice race, which is due to start less than 2 weeks from now.

McQuaid told the Associated Press:

“It’s about power and it has nothing to do with sport.”

Truer words, from the mouth of Pat McQuixote. McQuaid continues by saying, “We cannot allow this to happen.” Hmm. Now, about this power thing: Perhaps someone at the UCI is grumbling a bit because his organization is in danger of losing some of their power?

McQuaid says that the current action being undertaken by the UCI, which includes sending a letter to all UCI-registered professional cycling teams asking them not to participate in the Paris-Nice race, comes because the ASO is organizing the “Race to the Sun” under French Cycling Federation (FFC) rules. In years past, the Paris-Nice race has been sanctioned by the UCI.

Cycling’s international governing body called the ASO’s actions “utterly irregular,” warning that the organizer’s actions ” will have far-reaching consequences for all parties involved.” The UCI also said in a statement that if France’s cycling federation “insists on maintaining this position, the race will take place entirely outside the regulatory and organizational structure of the UCI.”

Perhaps that was the ASO’s point? The UCI also notes that, “No anti-doping controls will be carried out by the UCI, nor will it be involved in the management of any tests which may be carried out under national law.” The organization also warns that ASO’s Paris-Nice race will have “no links to organized sport or to the Olympic movement, of which the UCI is the sole organ of reference for all disciplines of cycling.” Now there’s a threat that’s got to have Christian Prudhomme quaking in his boots.

McQuaid has already suggested that this latest move by the ASO to operate outside of the UCI’s jurisdiction will have adverse effects on the organizer’s biggest race, the Tour de France. McQuaid is threatening to sanction any team that participates in the Paris-Nice race, as well as impose sanctions on the FFC.

“According to UCI regulations, international teams cannot participate” in the race, McQuaid said. “We will take away anti-doping inspectors. Any penalties that would then apply don’t have value on an international basis.”

I’d like to see which of the UCI’s regulations says that international teams can’t participate. Or that the UCI can sanction teams who do. I did a scan tonight of the UCI’s for road cycling races and teams, and I found no rules that suggest the UCI has such authority. Perhaps I missed the pertinent rules. If they actually exist, they’re pretty obscure and very well hidden.

I did see a rule that says only UCI-approved riders can participate as members of a UCI Pro Continental team in UCI-sanctioned races. (I suspect there may also be such a rule for ProTour races, though I didn’t find it.) Nothing in there about non-UCI sanctioned races. Nothing in there about sanctioning national federations who run races against the UCI’s wishes.

According to the AP article, the UCI won’t recognize the winner of the Paris-Nice race, nor will they award points (towards what? the overall ProTour championship?) to the winner. Threats, to be sure. But from where I see it, pretty empty threats.

In waging a war (or for that matter contesting a stage race), one needs to know how to pick his/her battles. The fight that Pat McQuixote is picking with the ASO (and vice versa), especially with the hyperbole involved, may well do more to damage the cycling federation than the race organizers. I suspect that Christian Prudhomme and others within the ASO organization are sitting back, waiting for McQuaid’s efforts to fail. If so, that could be their wisest move of all. Pat McQ may prove that the UCI is nothing more than a paper tiger, which could well damage the organization’s ability to govern cycling effectively. But in the meantime, who’s really going to suffer in all of this? Mostly, it’ll be the riders.

Meanwhile, Back At The Rock Racing Ranch…

VeloNews.com has a story that suggests one Mr. John Doe/Kayle Leogrande may be in a whole heap o’ trouble. That is, if what the story says is true.

former team soigneur says Rock Racing’s Kayle Leogrande told her last July that he used performance-enhancing drugs at Wisconsin’s International Cycling Classic, also known as Superweek.

In a sworn affidavit obtained by VeloNews, dated October 27 and filed with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Suzanne Sonye says Leogrande confided that he had used testosterone gel, had taken “lots of things,” including EPO, and that he had put soap on his wrist prior to entering a doping control at Superweek, hoping that by urinating on the soap, it would “f– up the test.”

Sonye’s affidavit could be used as a part of a non-analytical positive prosecution of Leogrande, if USADA is pursuing such a case. However, Sonye would most likely have to testify and hold up well under cross-examination before her story could be used to convict Leogrande of doping. That’s because the standard of proof required for such a case is closer to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that applies in criminal cases, a precedent set during the first successful uses of the non-analytical positive to convict Michelle Collins, Tim Montgomery and Chryste Gaines.

Michael Ball, owner of the Rock Racing team, said, “Rock Racing supports all of our riders. We live by the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty. Kayle Leogrande has denied the allegations regarding an alleged admission by him of an anti-doping event. We are asking that everyone respect the proper process. If there is a finding of a doping violation, we will address it internally and determine the appropriate course of action that should be taken. As always, Rock Racing subscribes to the highest principles of conduct as well as fairness and we stand by those principles.”

That’s a fair point to make. Leogrande deserves the presumption of innocence, at the very least until a tribunal looks at the evidence and makes its own determination. The reality, however, is that just the report of this story is going to be enough to convince many people that Leogrande is guilty.

If what Suzanne Sonye is saying is true, then Leogrande’s future as a professional cyclist is decidedly cloudy. Especially if, as the story contends, Rock Racing management was made aware of Leogrande’s statements to Sonye. You’ve got to wonder, though: Exactly how did a copy of her affidavit wind up in the hands of a VeloNews reporter? Did it come from USADA? Did it come from Sonye, or another current or former Rock Racing employee?

For what purpose was the affidavit released? Sonye has certainly put her own reputation on the line. If USADA ever pushes a case against Leogrande, it will be interesting to see whether she testifies, and what she would say if she does. My guess is that the cross-examination would be pretty intense.

But what if no charges are ever brought against Leogrande? What would the point of releasing this information be? And who would be benefiting from its release? We need to look at information from many angles before we leap to any conclusions — even though the obvious conclusion right now leads us in a certain direction. One thing is true, however: If Kayle Leogrande wants to continue racing as a professional cyclist, he’s got some explaining to do.

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trust but verify February 26, 2008 at 7:13 am

What I do not understand is on what basis McQ believes he can withhold anti-doping support, either the direct testing or the prosecution of cases.

If a licensed rider competes in a national-federation event, and comes positive in national-federation doping control, the federation is obliged to refer it to the world-federation, which is obliged to refere it to the rider’s national federation for “case management”.

I do not see any way that McQ can make the threat to not handle any doping cases that come out of an ASO/FFC sanctioned race without violating the UCI’s obligations the WADA Code, to which is is a signatory, if I am not mistaken.

As Larry notes, maybe some or most of the teams have grown the courage to participate in a boycott, and McQ knows this. But I’d be surprised — the teams have obligations to their sponsors that may carry more weight than McQ’s please.

TBV

Rant February 26, 2008 at 7:26 am

TBV,
I haven’t seen or heard McQ threatening that the UCI will quit its responsibilities vis-a-vis the WADA code. So, as you’ve pointed out, there seems to be a big contradiction in what he’s saying. I get the impression that he’s trying to strong-arm people without thinking through the full implications of what he’s doing. Along with this, he’s trying to strong-arm people without fully understanding his own rules, and whether he has a leg to stand on.

I can kind of see how he could say the UCI won’t provide the doping control testers or facilities (making it up to either the FFC or the ASO to pay for this service directly), but I can’t imagine how he can escape being involved in any anti-doping cases that might result.

Larry February 26, 2008 at 7:49 am

Rant and TBV, I wrote the following this morning before I saw your posts.

At the moment, it’s hard to say what’s going on between UCI and ASO.

Maybe the best place to start the analysis is by looking at LAST year’s dispute between UCI and ASO over Paris-Nice (PN). Last year’s dispute involved Pro Tour team Unibet, which was excluded by ASO from PN. ASO entered into an agreement with the French Cycling Federation (FFC) to run PN as a national event under its national calendar (a “NE” event). At roughly this same time last year, UCI instructed all Pro Tour and Pro Continental teams not to race in PN.

UCI’s actions last year look a lot like the actions they’re taking this year. UCI announced that it would take no role in drug testing or officiating at the 2007 PN. UCI stated that international anti-doping bodies will not be able to test riders at PN; only national anti-doping bodies would be permitted to do so. UCI commissaries were told that they could not officiate at PN.

But last year, UCI instructed all Pro Tour and Pro Continental teams that they could not take part in PN. ASO retaliated by stating that it would exclude teams from the Tour de France that refused to race in PN.

Last year, the Pro Tour teams (at least in public) mostly refused to take sides, but instead demanded that ASO and UCI work out its differences (which is, indeed, what eventually took place). It was not clear what the teams planned to do last year if ASO and UCI were unable to reach an agreement. The Francaise des Jeux manager stated that they’d race despite the UCI instruction not to do so. Apparently, Cofidis and Bouygues Telecom were also prepared to race at PN. The Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA) criticized both sides, and stated that the riders would follow the instructions of their teams.

At the end, the Pro Tour teams (acting through their organization, the IPCT) helped broker a deal to save last year’s racing season. It would appear that the ASO were the victors in last year’s dispute, because Unibet WAS effectively excluded from last year’s ASO races.

Based on what was written about last year’s dispute, there appear to be multiple legal issues left to be resolved. Last year, the general consensus seemed to be that UCI’s regulations prohibited Pro Tour and Pro Continental teams from racing in NE events. It’s not clear whether this situation has changed. Last year, RCS (the organizer of the Giro d’Italia and other major Italian races) sided with the ASO. As the UCI is not challenging the ability of RCS to exclude Pro Tour teams from its races, the ASO may not have the RCS as its ally this year.

There’s also the issue of the biological passport system, which is run by UCI. I think ASO has announced that no one can ride in their events this year without a biological passport. It’s not clear how the riders can “produce” a biological passport without the cooperation of UCI.

If last year is any guide to this year, then the key to this year’s dispute will be the stance taken by the various Pro Tour teams.

ange February 26, 2008 at 8:01 am

I think this is McQuaid’s only move at this point. After Astana’s performance is the ToC, the timing couldn’t be better as Astana proved without a doubt that they belong at TdF as one of the best teams in cycling at the present time. Couple that with Confidis’s inclusion (a French team) despite their prior doping issues and you have an obviously hypocritical ASO acting in their own self-interest and NOT in cycling’s interest.

I hope the riders and the teams see it that way was well and I would rather not see a Paris-NIce or TdF race this year if it means that ASO wins. I would be happy to watch the Tour of Germany or some other race instead. I do not have any confidence that should ASO prevail in this that they would manage this growing international sport very well at all. Do we really want the ASO running World Championships?? The sport NEEDS a strong international governing body to insure fairness and an absence of tampering at the national level (translate this to a French corportation picking the teams to get the result they want)

Don’t get me wrong…TdF and Paris-Nice and all of the other ASO races are classics and deserve to be a major focus of the cyling year. To be valid as a major determinant of the best cyling teams in the world however, the best teams should contest them regardless of their national origin or popularity with French corporate interests.

As for UCI refusing to participate in doping controls for an ASO/FFC race, I think this is an excellent idea…hit ASO where it hurts. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that UCI being a signatory to the WADA code assumes that UCI is running the show as the de facto international governing body. If ASO/FFC procede with this move, aren’t they are taking themselves out of the jurisdiction of the UCI and wouldn’t that relieve the UCI of any theoretical obligations under said code? At this point, one begins to wonder if UCI would like to re-think signing on to the WADA code in the first place. Imagine UCI having the same “flexibility” to administer doping controls/punishments as say the NFL, NBA, or MLB.

William Schart February 26, 2008 at 8:05 am

Well, UCI has shown some propensity to play fast and loose with rules before. If they ignore any doping cases referred by ASO, WADA could sever all ties between them and UCI, and cycling gets dropped from the Olympics. Not the worst fate, IMO. I kind of think the Olympics has out-lived their purpose, but that’s another idea beyond our purpose here. In some countries, like here in the USA, cycling and other less-than-mainstream sports tend to use the status of “Olympic Sport” to legitimize the sport. But I think this is far less important than back, say, in the 1960’s or 1970’s, when I could count every licensed rider in my state on the fingers of one hand.

We could end up in a situation like Landis might be in, should CAS find in his favor, where he would still be banned from racing in France, and probably excluded a la Astana from ASO races outside France. ASO does their own testing, finds a rider(s) doped, and bans them from France, but UCI ignores the case, or even dismisses it, allowing the rider to remain in good standing elsewhere.

McQ could be trying to pull a big bluff. Or maybe he has teams lined up. The number of known and suspected dopers is such I doubt there is a team that cannot be connected to doping in some way, and hence might be subject to the kind of back door ban ASO is doing, especially if the team and/or its riders pisses ASO off in some way. I would think teams/sponsors would like to know they will not be arbitrarily barred from the TdF or other ASO races. Whether they have the cajones to stand up to ASO remains to be seen.

UCI could go so far as to sanction riders/teams who participate in ASO races, whether or not they have any legal leg to stand on. Such an action could be appealed to CAS, but if Landis case is any indication, by the time such an appeal is decided, the season would be over.

Of course, I am just brainstorming here. Who knows what will happen? ASO can call UCI’s bluff and UCI fold. Or ASO could back down, and let Astana and High Road back in. As always, time will tell.

Jean C February 26, 2008 at 8:44 am

McQuaid is only playing the terrorrist by taking teams and riders as hostages.
There is no necessity to go further.

If the last year, teams should have to be careful, it was only in regard of their Pro Tour status.
With GT and ASO races outside of PT, their choice seems more easier. Maybe I forget something.

Or McQuaid is threatening to hurt people with doping cases which has been under the rug since a while, … In a corrupted system like UCI evrything is possible, especially when McQuaid seems to be at the end of the road.

Larry February 26, 2008 at 9:06 am

As Rant has reported, the UCI rules are complicated. I think Rant has correctly reported that the ASO is free to invite whatever teams it wants to invite to its races. But we did not look at the other side of this: in what races are Pro Tour teams permitted to participate?

McQuaid is saying that Paris-Nice is now a “national event” run by the FFC. If that is the case, then McQuaid may not be tilting at windmills after all.

UCI Cycling Regulations 2.1.008 and 2.1.009 read as follows:

2.1.008 The management of the national calendar, its structure, the classification of national races and the participation rules are the responsibility of the respective national federations, subject to the provisions below.

2.1.009 Only the UCI continental teams of the country, regional and club teams, national teams and mixed teams may participate in national events. Mixed teams may not include riders from a UCI ProTeam.

I’m far from an expert on this stuff, but it appears that UCI could suspend any team who raced in Paris-Nice in violation of these rules. One consequence of suspension is that the team would be barred from any races on the UCI international calendar.

This is high stakes poker! And it turns out that McQuaid indeed has some cards to play.

I’ve also confirmed that UCI controls the current “biological passport”. Without UCI, ASO will be stuck with the usual form of in-race doping testing.

Rant February 26, 2008 at 9:26 am

Larry,
Good find.
I don’t know if there’s any authority to impose penalties written there (I’ll have to take a look after work…), but it certainly suggests that the UCI might be able to impose a penalty of some sort.
Now, the next trick question is: What if the national federation pulled out of the UCI? Could they still impose any sanctions on anyone who participates in what McQuaid called “a private race”?
Looks like McQuaid may have a decent hand to play. We’ll have to wait and see …

Jean C February 26, 2008 at 10:14 am

It would be good to dig inside the Pro Tour licence which should provide a participation at GT to every teams. Since GT are outside of PT, the licence could be seen as broken. So the only Mc Quaid card would be the biological passport.

Larry February 26, 2008 at 10:20 am

Rant, I’m far from having this stuff figured out, but see UCI Cycling Regulations 2.15.039 bis regarding team license suspension, and 2.15.040 regarding team license withdrawal. I think that these are the primary sanctions open to UCI.

At the moment, if a team chose to race in Paris-Nice, they might be ineligible to race in the Giro!

You might also want to look at 2.15.255 – 2.15.262 regarding events on the calendar without a license. Pro Tour teams can race in such events, but it appears that the race organizers are limited in their ability to exclude Pro Tour teams from these events.

Michael February 26, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Having to chose sides between ASO and the UCI makes me feel icky.

Rant February 26, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Larry,
Thanks for the pointers, I’ll take a look later.
Michael,
Me, too.

Larry February 26, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Michael, you think THIS is icky? Wait until WADA weighs in!

the Dragon February 26, 2008 at 12:59 pm

Larry,

I’m waiting for WADA World to weigh in. That will confirm that my choice is correct.

Regards,

Larry February 26, 2008 at 1:12 pm

Dragon, what might your choice be? WADA will stay silent for as long as they can, because they have much to lose either way. I think that WADA managed to stay out of last year’s dispute. But if they DO weigh in, I think I know what side they will take …

Sara February 26, 2008 at 1:16 pm

Larry, which side would that be?

the Dragon February 26, 2008 at 1:20 pm

Larry,

First, my personal sentiments tend to be stated by “ange” above.

I happen to think that WADA World would have to side with UCI because it is recognized by the IOC as the Authority in Cycling. I think there would be hell to pay if WADA World sided with ASO.

It’s not unlike the Dick Pound Hoax, where the IOC reprimanded/sanctioned Mr. Pound and came down on the side of the UCI.

Regards,

Larry February 26, 2008 at 2:50 pm

Dragon, I agree. I think they’ll side with UCI, notwithstanding the “pounding” that UCI has taken from WADA over the years.

There’s also the matter of the threats made by some in Europe during last year’s election of a new WADA president, that the Europeans might seek to form a EuroWADA.

But WADA will try to avoid taking sides for as long as it can.

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