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USADA’s Armstrong case could impact U.S. Olympic road team selections

  • By Ari Baquet and Neal Rogers
  • Published Jun. 15, 2012
  • Updated Jun. 15, 2012 at 10:22 AM EDT
The USADA investigation could play a role in today's Olympic team selection. GPhoto: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s allegations against Lance Armstrong could influence the composition of the U.S. squad selected to race during the London Olympics, sources tell VeloNews. USA Cycling is to announce its Olympic team on Friday.

The U.S. has five available spots for its men’s road team, and one for the time trial; one of the five road spots goes to the rider who competes in the time trial. Steve Johnson, president and chief executive officer of USA Cycling, told VeloNews Thursday that the only way a rider’s Olympic selection could be affected “is if they’re under investigation for a doping violation.”

It may seem, then, that only Armstrong’s hope of an Olympic berth could be in danger – which is irrelevant, as he has retired from professional cycling. However, the phrase “under investigation” could describe riders who testified against Armstrong. USA Cycling’s selection criteria for “protected events,” like the Olympic Games and world championships, state that any rider selected to the national team must be without scrutiny from the anti-doping authorities and governing bodies:

I. A. 3.3. All athletes must be in good standing with USAC, UCI, and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) at the time of nomination.

USADA’s letter stated that “more than 10” cyclists and team employees from five different organizations witnessed the alleged doping violations. If the names of these riders were leaked to the public – as happened Wednesday with USADA’s letter to Armstrong – it would cause public-relations headaches for USA Cycling. And even if the list is never leaked, an open hearing, which Armstrong has the right to request, would see the release of all the riders’ and employees’ names — another potential PR nightmare for USA Cycling, if some of the named riders were competing, or had medaled, in the London Games.

ESPN.com’s Bonnie Ford alluded to this Thursday, writing, “Now that USA Cycling has been notified of USADA’s intent to file charges, it will be up to the cycling federation to try to avoid the potentially messy situation of sending an athlete to London whose name might later surface in a doping case.”

Whether USA Cycling has any direct knowledge of the names of the riders who testified before USADA is unclear. Two former Postal riders to have witnessed the alleged doping violations are widely known — Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. Both are retired, with Hamilton serving an eight-year suspension, effectively a lifetime ban.

Eight riders among those vying for the London Games were members of the U.S. Postal Service, Discovery Channel, Astana or RadioShack squads alongside Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel: George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Tom Danielson, Chris Horner, Dave Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde, Jason McCartney and Matthew Busche, who was a neo-pro in 2010. Hincapie has been reported to have spoken with the federal grand jury last year, but has refused to confirm that he did so.

This week, Hincapie announced he would retire in August. And Leipheimer took himself out of the running for an Olympic spot, citing injuries sustained in April.

Of the remaining former Armstrong teammates, Zabriskie is the most likely to earn an Olympic nod, having won the time trial at the Amgen Tour of California and defended his national title in May. If the seven-time national champion is snubbed for the time trial in favor of the younger Taylor Phinney, there will likely be speculation that factors other than medal capability came into play. Phinney is the future for American medal hopes in the TT, but Zabriskie continues to show that he is currently the best time trial rider in the U.S.

Likewise, if Hincapie, who is on good form and expecting to race the Tour de France, is overlooked for Olympic selection, USA Cycling is sure to face questions about its selection rationale.

With Olympic selections set to be announced Friday, it remains to be seen whether USA Cycling’s selection committee has been influenced by the possibility of a selected rider having provided testimony in the USADA case against Armstrong.

What seems certain is that the International Olympic Committee, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and USA Cycling all want to avoid the embarrassment of an American Olympian turning up in a doping case. The wounds of Hamilton’s returned gold medal from the 2004 Olympic Games are still fresh.

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