We’ve all been hearing recently about the riders who showed questionable figures in their Biological Passports but who have escaped any sanctions so far, their positive could be buried, whilst certain others have been lambasted, suspended, and are facing the possibility of – or are currently serving – lengthy bans.
Last year the word was that a number of very big names in the sport were in the same boat, and may have been asked by officials to ‘lay low’ for a while until their numbers returned to more normal values, or until the heat died down.
The Biological Passport system is facing some serious legal challenges, and together with each country’s national body dealing with doping sanctions in a unique and largely isolated manner and the UCI trying to blame everyone else for the situation, the state of anti-doping in cycling – whilst it’s universally agreed is far better than ten years ago – isn’t really becoming any clearer.
UCI President Pat McQuad doesn’t help matters with his ‘theories’ – why he simply isn’t advised by his lawyers to keep quiet on the subject is beyond me. If he does have to say something, surely it would be “better for the sport” – his apparent priority – if he said something along the lines of:
“…there are various investigations under way on these matters and it’s not for me to comment. I’ll be more than happy to talk about it once the investigations have run their course, but speculation is of no help or purpose at this stage.”
Even before the Biological Passport came into being, it was perhaps always the case that certain riders were ‘shielded’ by the powers-that-be, whilst others were cast to their fate following doping infractions.
Thanks to Floyd Landis deciding in May to change his four year old story and come clean about his past and his involvement with Lance Armstrong and the dominant (in the Tour at any rate) USPS team, we are presented with the allegation that Armstrong paid the UCI to bury a positive test result from the Tour de Suisse – but how is that possible?
The logistics for this kind of thing could actually be quite simple; for discussion’s sake, let’s stay in Switzerland and talk about a small circle of people who all know each other.
The race in question as well as the lab analysing the samples (and the UCI) are all located here, the renowned ‘land of confidentiality’.
A positive ‘A’ sample would have been known to perhaps just one or two people at the lab, and one or two people at the UCI.
Assuming the above, a plausible sequence of events could (this is just a suggestion, remember) be:
1. The Lausanne lab analysing the samples taken at a race reports a positive test for EPO. The lab doesn’t know the name of the rider involved (since this information is only held at the UCI), and it passes the case to UCI together with the rider’s code number.
2. The UCI gets the word via a phone call ahead of the receipt of any official paperwork, and cross-checks its rider code database for the name. It’s a biggy, a Tour de France winner.
3. UCI management decide this can’t get out, it would be too big a scandal for the sport (this is prior to Landis’s own bust at the Tour in 2006 ). It could threaten corporate sponsorship in cycling, cause the sport to be excluded from the 2004 Olympics, and could even result in calls for the ousting of the UCI leadership itself. So, the UCI management decide that it would be best to handle this “within the cycling family”. Top Man at the UCI places a call to the rider’s Team Director, whom he knows personally.
4. The Team Director and the rider fly to Switzerland to meet with UCI Top Man and together they come up with a plan. The rider agrees to lay off the hotsauce, and makes a commitment to donate a ‘generous’ amount to the UCI for its anti-doping work. The UCI agrees to overlook the positive sample as a ‘borderline’ case, an acceptable approach they feel as the test for EPO is still quite new and ‘subject to interpretation’.
5. All parties agree that the donation will be kept secret until the rider retires. Furthermore, the actual payment would be best delayed by a few years in order to separate the positive from the payoff.
6. Both sides convince themselves that this is technically not a bribe, since the rider is really ‘helping cycling’ and not any one individual. No-one will ever know about the EPO positive since both sides have a vested interest to keep that quiet.
7. The Lausanne lab is told by the UCI that the sample in question did not result in a sanction due to the borderline value, or an existing TUE, or some such excuse, and the lab is never required to report the positive to IOC, to WADA or to elsewhere since the ‘B’ sample was never touched. Case closed as far as the lab is concerned. No record of a ‘positive test’ or even a ‘positive sample’.
8. Few people within the UCI would know the real facts, and in any case all would share the boss’s view – it was all handled in the best interests of cycling. No documentation exists, other than the rider’s donation (which would happen years later in any case).
A catastrophy for the sport is averted. Well done everyone.