MILAN (VN) — The UCI held out an olive branch in one of cycling’s darkest moments Friday. After giving its nod to Lance Armstrong’s lifetime ban and stripping him of his seven Tour de France wins on Monday, it made more moves today, agreeing to an independent commission to study allegations of corruption and suspending its lawsuit against journalist Paul Kimmage.
“The UCI Management Committee acknowledged that a cloud of suspicion would remain hanging over this dark period – but that while this might appear harsh for those who rode clean, they would understand there was little honor to be gained in reallocating places,” the UCI said in a statement. “The committee agreed that part of the independent commission’s remit would be to find ways to ensure that persons caught for doping were no longer able to take part in the sport, including as part of an entourage.”
In an emergency meeting called in Geneva to address the fallout from the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, the Management Committee voted to install an independent commission to examine accusations of corruption at the UCI made in sworn testimony included in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Armstrong case file. The committee also urged riders implicated in the Armstrong investigation to return prize money earned between 1998 and 2005.
Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton alleged under oath that Armstrong told them how the UCI helped cover up a positive doping test from the 2001 Tour de Suisse. Other witnesses, including Emma O’Reilly, alleged that U.S. Postal Service staff produced a back-dated medical prescription to excuse a positive cortisone test at the 1999 Tour de France. The governing body denies these claims.
“[The allegations] are absolutely untrue, when you study the papers in the file related to the 1999 cortisone and the 2001 Tour of Switzerland, you’d see that there was nothing to be bought off,” McQuaid said Monday. “The UCI absolutely denies that that ever happened.”
Kimmage wrote about these allegations in articles for London’s Sunday Times last year and spoke of them in an interview with France’s L’Equipe newspaper. The UCI sued Landis and Kimmage. It won its case against Landis, who did not fight the federation’s charges, and was due to face off with Kimmage December 12 in a Swiss court. It announced today that it would suspend its case pending the commission’s findings, despite McQuaid saying Monday, “[The lawsuit is] a separate action from the USADA affair. Paul and his journalistic colleagues have done well to try to connect to two together.”
“What utter nonsense,” Kimmage responded in a radio interview with “Off The Ball”. “That was the whole point of the interview, the whole power of that interview, the steps that drove Floyd Landis as Lance Armstrong’s teammate to dope and the information that Floyd Landis got from Lance Armstrong in terms of how complicit the UCI was in that doping,” he said.
Kimmage will breathe a sigh of relief today. It appears that after a day-long meeting in Geneva, the UCI’s Management Committee came to grips with what it was facing. Not only were they battling Kimmage, who has a public defense fund that has surpassed $80,000, but many in cycling who have lost faith in the federation’s management of the sport.
Garmin-Sharp CEO Jonathan Vaughters was one of Armstrong’s former teammates to testify against him in the USADA investigation. He rebounded from his dark days to create a successful team with a strong anti-doping stance and heads the International Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP). At the Tour presentation Wednesday he said that the representatives attending an AIGCP meeting on Tuesday all voted to support a proposal for an independent review of cycling’s anti-doping program.
“It needs to be looked at objectively from outside the sport,” Vaughters said, “to determine what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong, and to decide what actions would be correct.”
The Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA) announced it backed the AIGCP’s push on the same day that three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond called for McQuaid’s resignation and the Dutch Federation said that this “deep crisis requires a strong and unconventional approach.”
The lone U.S. representative on the Management Committee, Mike Plant, is the executive vice president for business operations for the Atlanta Braves and was unable to attend Friday’s meeting due to team meetings. He told VeloNews that he had urged McQuaid to pursue the external review this week.
“The key is, I believe, and I mentioned this to Pat talking about (race) radios, it’s not independent if the UCI is selecting these people,” said Plant, who supported each of the committee’s recommendations. “Like many people, I’ve been besieged by emails expressing the opinion that ‘this is a sport I love, this has been a shock and a blow and I don’t know if I’ll love it in the future.'”
The UCI’s move to support a commission will calm the fires. But how far will it go? The governing body said today that in addition to looking into the various allegations made in the Armstrong Affair, the commission will charged with finding ways to keep cheats from taking part in the sport.
The Management Committee will announce which sports body will nominate the commission’s members and agree to the terms with the selected body during the week of November 5. The commission will report its findings by June 1.
Tour de France organizer ASO later Friday issued a statement in support of the UCI’s decision to vacate Armstrong’s Tour wins: “The organizers of the Tour de France have taken note of the decision of the International Cycling Union (UCI) not to award to any other riders the victories of Lance Armstrong, including those of the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005. This decision fully coincides with the wishes expressed by the organizers of the race ten days ago.”
Brian Holcombe contributed to this report.