AEG Sports president Andrew Messick told VeloNews Thursday morning that the Amgen Tour of California will continue, business as usual, despite doping allegations leveled by Floyd Landis at three-time California winner Levi Leipheimer, race leader Dave Zabriskie, national road champion George Hincapie and the race’s top attraction, Lance Armstrong.
The race’s fifth stage was set to start at 10:30 Thursday morning, arriving in Bakersfield approximately five hours later.
“There is a bike race going on,” Messick said. “And I think it’s important that we don’t get completely hijacked by comments from a guy who isn’t part of this race, and who is timing this (announcement) for maximum effect.”
Messick said prior to Thursday’s stage that he had not spoken with any of the riders Landis charged with having used performance-enhancing drugs from 2002 through 2006.
“Our official position is that this has nothing to do with our race,” Messick said. “This is regarding stuff that happened before the Amgen Tour of California existed.”
Reminded that Landis claims he helped former teammates Leipheimer and Zabriskie take EPO before one Tour of California, Messick said that the 2006 California race winner’s credibility is questionable.
“We don’t know what to believe,” he said. “These are incredibly serious allegations against people who are riding our race. And it seems there is no real evidence in these allegations. We are awaiting something we can react to, other than an accusation by somebody who clearly has an agenda in this whole thing.”
Asked to comment on the timing of Landis’ announcement in the middle of this year’s Tour of California, Messick said, “I can’t comment on Floyd’s motives. It’s inappropriate to do so.”
Since 2008, AEG Sports has gone to great measures to run a race free of doping scandals — particularly given that the race’s title sponsor Amgen is a leading manufacturer of red blood cell booster erythropoietin — by implementing additional testing protocols beyond the UCI’s biological passport program.
Those measures include pre-race blood and urine testing, in-competition testing of the stage winner, leader of the general classification and three other riders, storing urine and blood samples for up to eight years, and insisting that all teams ensure that all riders, coaches, trainers and support staff are clear of any pending doping investigations at the time of the race.
The additional testing measures, including storing of blood and urine samples, were not in place during the 2006 race.
“We believe we are doing everything we can to run a clean race,” Messick said. “The testing program we have in place with USADA is far in excess of what is required. We are storing samples for future testing. There are limits to what we have the ability to unilaterally do.
“I’m not a physiologist; I don’t have a point of view on all the specifics of testing. We have to trust in USADA, and in their expert opinion, they think our program should result in the cleanest possible race. That’s the limit of what is in our power to control.”
Messick said that his AEG Sports team had to take extra measures to prepare for an official statement prior to the start of stage 5 by RadioShack team manager Johan Bruyneel, whom Landis alleged was complicit in condoning the use of performance-enhancing drugs during his tenure with the U.S. Postal Service team.
“We’re preparing for the fact that Johan will make a comment, so we have to manage security, and crowd control, and we’re doing all that,” Messick said. “We’re expecting a massive scrum outside the buses of three of our teams.
“Other than that, we’re running a race this morning. There is a race today, from Visalia to Bakersfield, that will include finishing circuits on China Grade. I don’t want that to get lost in everything.”