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Commentary: It’s a little early for the UCI to be this exasperated, isn’t it?

  • By Matthew Beaudin
  • Published Oct. 2, 2012
Pat McQuaid and the UCI anxiously await the Lance Armstrong case file from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Photo: Bax Lindhart | AFP | ScanPix

BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — Exasperated. That was the tone of the Union Cycliste Internationale and its president Pat McQuaid in their emergency flare dubbed a press release concerning the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s transfer of its Lance Armstrong file to the sport’s governing body late last week.

“The UCI wonders why it is taking USADA so long to provide its reasoned decision and case file,” read the first sentence of last week’s press release blasted over the Internet sea. “Reports state that its decision has been delayed because it is continuing to gather evidence and that it has yet to complete its case file.”

The UCI went on to condemn USADA for “making announcements” instead of focusing on buttoning up its Lance Armstrong dossier, and claim it is, “at very least unusual that USADA would still be gathering evidence against a person after it has found that person guilty.”

If USADA was busy “making announcements,” the cycling press corps sure didn’t know about them. Since the Armstrong case went public in June, USADA has not been in the business of public announcements, but only responded to requests for comments, which it does selectively. (Case-in-point: The agency didn’t immediately return a request for comment on not commenting.)

And while it certainly is frustrating for everyone involved, from athletes to journalists to even the lawyers, who are paid to be frustrated, when have such matters ever been known for their expedience? Have we ever gotten curbside service from the UCI, either?

Recall the Alberto Contador disaster. The Spaniard tested positive for clenbuterol in July of 2010 but wasn’t suspended until February of this year. The UCI sat on a positive test for two months, reportedly asking the sport’s greatest rider to keep quiet before he was eventually suspended.

We shouldn’t expect immediate answers, no matter who’s doling them out. It’s an inconvenient truth that truth gathering should take so long, but that’s the way it works. In this high-stakes game — should the collective decide that USADA came up short it would mark an enormous failure for the organization — every single detail is paramount. It’s remarkable that the UCI is scolding, publicly, what is supposed to be an ally organization.

But, as to the question at hand of what’s taking so long, I’m not sure. But I have a few guesses.

Early speculation surrounding the investigation suggested USADA was merely rubberstamping the dropped federal investigation because it had a lower standard of proof.

While VeloNews has learned that representatives from USADA sat in on federal meetings with witnesses, it seems clear now that the agency had to do a bulk of its own work riveting the Armstrong case. That meant calling in witnesses that had already given time to the feds. But it may also mean paddling up other tributaries once Travis Tygart and company began their odyssey down the grimy river of EPO-era professional cycling.

One element that may be holding up the USADA/UCI file transfer could be Armstrong himself. USADA likely didn’t expect the Texan to give up fighting in August. Had Armstrong gone blow-for-blow with the agency, there would have been hours of additional on-record testimony from a legion of Armstrong’s American contemporaries. So, when the Texan chose to walk away from the fight, it’s possible USADA found itself lacking ammunition the agency thought would be in the quiver once it came time to recommend action and provide the UCI with information.

More likely — and potentially more damning for the six accused in the U.S. Postal Service investigation — is the flood of evidence said to be pouring into USADA after Armstrong refused his right to arbitration. VeloNews understands that a mass of new evidence has surfaced since Armstrong’s August 23 announcement that he would avoid a public hearing. Has a definitive positive test finally been produced, and is that what the entire cycling world is waiting on? Has Tygart found the smoking gun so many fans have demanded? We will soon see, as USADA plans to transfer its case file to the federation before October 15.

This may not be a file on Armstrong himself, but a top-down indictment of an entire system that presided over cheating on a macro scale. The UCI has already tried to wrest control from USADA once on jurisdictional grounds, and now it’s pressuring one of the few entities in cycling it has no control over to fork over its information, and stop furthering its case. Exasperating.

Whatever the hold-up is, USADA boss Travis Tygart must think it’s worth it. Only time will tell, but it’s awful early to be this exasperated, isn’t it?

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Matthew Beaudin

Matthew Beaudin

Matthew Beaudin graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder's journalism school in 2005 and immediately moved to Telluride, Colorado, to write and ski, though the order is fuzzy. Beaudin was the editor of the Telluride Daily Planet for five years. He now lives in Boulder, where he joined VeloNews in the spring of 2012. Music. Coffee. Bikes. His dog, Anabelle. That about sums it up. Follow him on Twitter @matthewcbeaudin.

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