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Why it's the UCI in the Dock, not Paul Kimmage
 
By Staff
Date: 10/14/2012
Why it's the UCI in the Dock, not Paul Kimmage
 
By Andrew Carter

In July this year, as Bradley Wiggins was lining up on the morning of the last stage of the Tour de France, the race was being discussed on BBC Radio Five Live in the UK. The presenter was suggesting that he found it a little odd that they had the last stage. After all, it is universally accepted that Wiggins has now won the race, he mused, so why bother with the last stage, and if we are going to bother with it, then why doesn't somebody go for broke and try to win? He struggled to come up with another sport where the winner was known before the event was even over. Well, this is the sport of cycling, and we like to do things differently.

Then, of course, USADA launched a spanner into the workings of his argument.[1]

If the UCI accept the argument put forward by USADA relating to the doping activities of Lance Armstrong – and they have 21 days in which to appeal to CAS under WADA rules should they wish to do so – then the Texan may be stripped of all results from 1998 onwards. Of course, this would mean that we will not know the winner of the 1999 Tour de France even thirteen years after the race supposedly finished. Or the 2000 Tour de France. Or indeed, the following five Tours de France. In fact, according to the USADA Reasoned Decision, 20 of the 21 podium finishers (not 21 individuals) have been directly linked to doping.

This poses a significant problem for us, the fans. We love the racing, we love the scenery, and we love the battles, but we don' know who wins. Ever. Some people think they do, but others disagree. Occasionally we agree, but then the winner fails a doping test further down the line, and we are back to square one. What are we to do then but to assume that all the winners are guilty?

Incredibly, it is now fourteen years since the Festina affair shattered the image of cycling, when soigneur Willy Voet was stopped by French Customs agents as he tried to cross the French-Belgian border driving what was nothing less than a mobile pharmacy[2]. The UCI had to act following this, and it said it had. The 1999 Tour de France would be a Tour of Renewal[3], but it stood idly by as French rider, Christophe Bassons, was essentially ejected from the Tour de France by pressure of the peloton, for simply questioning the performance of Lance Armstrong on the stage to Sestrieres that year[4]. Instead they feted Lance Armstrong as the new winner; a fresh beacon in the world of cycling. An entry into the vast US market.

And what a poster boy he was: the American cancer survivor. An inspiration; he had come from being at death’s door to winning the most gruelling sporting event in the world. He won it for the next six years too, and the UCI lapped it up.

But in 2005, after several years of suspicion, it was a French journalist, Dominique Ressiot, who set off alarm bells by claiming that he had proof that Lance Armstrong had taken EPO to win the 1999 Tour de France[5].

The UCI appointed Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman to investigate the findings relating to the EPO. Vrijman, in turn, exonerated Armstrong and instead was critical of the World Anti Doping Agency. The UCI supported Vrijman[6]. This was now 2006 and the sport was still clean.

Less than a month later, Operation Puerto broke, and both the Astana and T-Mobile teams withdrew from the Tour de France, alongside Ivan Basso. That was three pre-race favourites out of the Tour (Ullrich, Basso, Vinokourov). The 2006 Tour de France went ahead and was won by Floyd Landis. He failed a drug test and the win was awarded to Oscar Pereiro.

Things clearly hadn’t moved on from 1998, and still it appeared that the UCI weren’t doing anything.

Some people were, and one of those was Irish former professional turned journalist Paul Kimmage. And Kimmage wasn’t asking questions just in the aftermath of Puerto in 2006, he was asking questions over a decade before this. Kimmage first exploded spectacularly onto the pages of the media in 1990, after imploding meekly in the professional cycling peloton.

An extremely talented amateur cyclist, he came within two days of winning the 1983 Milk Race[7], and followed this up with sixth place in the 1985 World Amateur Cycling championship. In many quarters he was widely seen as the next hopeful off the Irish pipeline of the 70s and 80s following the path ridden by Kelly, Roche and Martin Earley into the professional ranks.

Sadly, a similar level of success failed to materialise, and he retired in 1989 after four years in the professional ranks. The only bright lights he saw during this period were the headlights of the voiturebalai[8]. Kimmage claims this was due to the extent of doping in the sport. It wasn’t that he was no longer winning, but he was no longer being able to keep up. And all of this was in the years before EPO hit the peloton. Exchanging the bike for the pen, Kimmage detailed the life of a journeyman pro in the book, “A Rough Ride”. He won awards for it, and whatever one’s view of the sport of cycling, it is a must for any fan’s bookshelf. It was in this book that Kimmage’s story really begins, as he was the first former professional to expose the culture of drug taking in the sport of cycling. This was in 1990, and for the most part of the last twenty years or so, Kimmage has perhaps been the most vociferous critics of the dark side of cycling.

At the time of publishing Kimmage courted much controversy, and became a polarizing figure in the sport of cycling. Amongst those who disagreed with him at the time is someone who knows Paul Kimmage very well. His name is Pat McQuaid[9]. 

Since the book, Kimmage has worked for the Sunday Independent in Ireland, and The Sunday Times in the UK covering many sports, and often successfully. He has five times been winner of the Sports Journalism Association Interviewer of the year, and in 2012 won the British Sports Book Award for Biography of the year for “Engage”, an emotional roller coaster of a story about promising young rugby player, Matt Hampson, who was left quadriplegic after a tragic sporting accident.

Professionally Kimmage hasn’t only focused on the sport of cycling, but it is something he found himself coming back to time and time again. This isn’t due to laziness, or a lack of imagination, but due to a lack of traction. The issues that first drew him to put pen to paper at the back end of the 1980s are still existent in the sport, and still, he feels, the authorities are not taking the appropriate action against them.

Perhaps his greatest battles were with Lance Armstrong, for whom Kimmage had been a constant thorn in the side. Their confrontations came to a head at the 2009 Tour of California when Kimmage asked Armstrong a question about doping. Armstrong answered aggressively and referred specifically to a comment the Irishman had made previously about Armstrong being the “cancer” in the sport of cycling.[10]

More recently McQuaid has described Kimmage as having “a chip on his shoulder; …. two concrete blocks on each shoulder.”[10] Stinging criticism indeed, though it could be argued that someone who has a concrete block on each shoulder, would, through this, be a fairly balanced individual.

It is now a story that could have Hollywood written all over it. The paths of Kimmage and McQuaid have been crossing ever since Kimmage was a child, as McQuaid’s father would race with Paul Kimmage’s father in the 50s and 60s12]. Indeed, it was Pat McQuaid himself, who managed Paul during that unfortunate Milk Race and the later World Championships.

The next time their paths cross will be in the Est Vaudois District Court in Switzerland on December 12.

This is because UCI President McQuaid, and his predecessor, Hein Verbruggen, launched a lawsuit against Kimmage in January this year, accusing him of “annoyance” and that their ‘reputation has been seriously damaged’ by articles written by Kimmage. Each are seeking damages of 8,000 Swiss francs (about €6,600) and an apology in the media. According to the Sunday Independent, the statement of claim says that Kimmage was ‘dishonest’ in accusing them of ‘having knowingly tolerated tests, of being dishonest people, of not having a sense of responsibility, of not applying the same rules to everyone.’[13]

But Kimmage is a journalist, so surely it is his job to be “annoying”? The journalist is the mouthpiece of the fan, Kimmage is asking the questions that concern us. Look at any cycling forum and the questions are not about what Contador has for breakfast, or what Thor Hushovd’s favourite colour is. We want to know who the real winners are, who is doping, how it can be stopped. And if gets annoying, it is because we aren’t satisfied with the answers.

In part, the action against Kimmage is linked to a similar case the McQuaid/Verbruggen tandem has just won against Floyd Landis. In his absence, the Swiss courts found in favour of the pair after Landis alleged that the governing body had colluding in covering up a positive test by Lance Armstrong at the 2001 Tour de Suisse.[14] These interviews were conducted by Kimmage, and published in The Sunday Times prior to Kimmage losing his job at the paper due to cutbacks.

Intriguingly, the suit was filed in the weeks after Kimmage left the shelter of the newspaper .

According to the UCI, "The case against Mr. Kimmage is limited to false accusations and does not concern other opinions of Mr. Kimmage. The case is based upon the protection of the personality rights. Under the applicable Swiss law such case is directed against the person who made the defamatory statements. In this case this person is Mr. Kimmage.”[15]

Like Landis, Kimmage initially had no plans to fight the case:

“Asked what action he would take, he said he didn’t intend entertaining the claim. “I am reluctant to even put a stamp on an envelope and send it back, as that is going to cost me money…the cost of a stamp is actually too much money to waste on those people,” he said. “But I suppose it will come to that at least. It is at least going to cost me a stamp.”[16]

This is possibly what Verbruggen and McQuaid wanted – ask for little enough to not make it cost effective for Kimmage or Landis to fight, whilst possibly being able to rely on UCI funds themselves. They deliberately chose not to chase The Sunday Times or L’Équipe, both of which have considerably more resources than Kimmage or Landis[17]. Nor are they planning on taking action against Tyler Hamilton or his publishers for the allegations which appear in “The Secret Race”, even though the book seems to give credence to the supposed “false accusations” levelled by Kimmage.

However, in the aftermath of a crazy summer, which has seen Hamilton lift the lid on the behind the scenes doping regime at US Postal, and the USADA case against Lance Armstrong, support for Kimmage has grown considerably (the case having gone largely unnoticed when filed in January). The satirical website Cyclismas.org even set up a Paul Kimmage defence fund, which to date has amassed $58,000 and more than 1800 contributors. The Twittersphere and blogspace has been awash with messages of support (enough to even prompt Kimmage himself to learn how to tweet), and even names from within the sport have tweeted their support.

David Millar[18] for one has referred to the UCI as “shameful” for the way in which they are pursuing Kimmage.

There is even some dissent at the heart of the UCI, with Robin Parisotto stating that Pat McQuaid should step down as President should the USADA report on Armstrong confirm that the UCI was involved in the alleged Tour de Suisse cover up.[19] Michael Ashenden, who was part of the UCI’s expert group on the bio passport, has also thrown his hat in the ring:

“As for Paul Kimmage, my emotion when I read that he was being sued was one of anger. That's the first reaction I have whenever I perceive someone being bullied or being forced into an unfair contest. I had no hesitation donating to his fund.[20]

So what began as a small legal case to silence Kimmage with the minimum of fuss is turning out to be a referendum on the future of cycle sport and a vote of confidence in the UCI itself. Kimmage is gearing up for the battle:

“The notion that I would apologize in the first place is laughable. The notion that I can do so now, given how many people have stood up for me and have put their hands in their pockets for me, makes it even more improbable. It’s just up to me now to go and take them on.”[21]

For the fan, the case is not about Kimmage proving he hasn’t defamed the UCI, but about the UCI proving to the fans of this beautiful sport that it is not corrupt, does taking doping seriously, and can go forward with its actions in the best interests of the sport rather than themselves. Inadvertently, through their petty actions, McQuaid and Verbruggen have succeeded only in putting themselves in the dock.

What stands out most significantly about the UCI is the apparent conflict of interest in its roles in the sport: it is there both to promote the sport but also to police the sport. There is little or no accountability – no one to watch over the watchdog. To an extent we the fans do – however, unlike in football and other sports, it is an odd relationship. The fans boycotting races does not cost the UCI or cycling money in a direct way, in the same sense that, for example, NY Yankees, LA Lakers or Manchester United playing in front of empty stands would. By and large, cycling is a free to access sport. Though this is one of the beauties of cycling – in what other sport can the average Joe get so close to his idols? – but it leaves the fans without a voice in the face of the all-powerful UCI .

Even within the organisation itself, it seems the power of the President is absolute. Beyond this, it still seems that Verbruggen pulls the strings. It was he that nominated and backed Pat McQuaid as his successor in 2005. Indeed, when McQuaid was re-elected for a second term in 2009, he stood unopposed, and he still intends to stand again at the end of 2013. At the time of his election in 2005, questions were raised by Sylvia Schenk as to the seemingly biased support given to McQuaid over the opposition, Darshan Singh and Gregorio Moreno.[22]  No action was taken other Sylvia Schenk stepping down from her position on the UCI board.

She was also involved in the allegations around Armstrong’s positive samples for EPO in the 1999 Tour de France, and was strongly critical of the UCI’s reaction to it.

“The UCI and its president Hein Verbruggen are more interested in finding the leak than clearing up the Armstrong doping case.”[23]

Furthermore, it was she who raised questions over the donations Armstrong supposedly made to the UCI, and his apparent closeness to Hein Verbruggen during his tenure as UCI President.

“Since 1998 the UCI has done a lot to combat doping but everything is different where Armstrong is concerned,”[24]

These are all questions that the UCI needs to answer. Through the allegations of Kimmage and Landis, the book by Tyler, the expected testimonies relating to the USADA case, and the questions raised by Schenk over the years, there is a strong case building against the UCI. To date the UCI has avoided answering these questions but the time is coming where it simply has to.

In addition, the UCI has also made enemies with race organisers and teams over the Pro Tour. The UCI compelled the grand tours to take Pro Tour status, thus guaranteeing itself a greater share of TV rights. Even today professional teams are hardly falling over themselves to garner World Tour status: as it stands, only Argos-Shimano from the Pro Conti ranks has applied for an upgrade.

Does the UCI even care about the teams? Some think not. One team manager summed up the UCI’s attitude towards them, saying: “They make out they’re listening and then it’s a case of ‘Okay, run along, the adults are talking now’.”[25]

The biggest conflict is that the UCI manages the anti-doping actions within cycling. Surely if its role is also to promote the sport of cycling, it is in its interests to keep the number of doping positives low? It says that it is doing a lot in the fight against doping, but the Hamilton revelations suggest otherwise. Of course, they have caught dopers in the past but the real big names have escaped. Operation Puerto, which led to suspensions of Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso (amongst others) was a result on an investigation by the Spanish police, and not direct UCI action. Likewise, the Oil for Drugs affair in Italy was led by Italy’s anti-narcotic agency, NAS, and Willy Voet caught by customs officials. Yes, they took Contador, but it took longer for the governing organisations to come to a decision on his case than his ultimate ban lasted.

Then again, this assumes the UCI is really trying to promote the sport of cycling, as opposed to itself.

But is it really? What is it doing to address the appalling situation in Women’s cycling? Seemingly not a lot if you listen to the riders, like Australian rider Chloe Hosking[26], or Olympic silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead[27].

The 2012 Olympic Games in London should have shown the sport of cycling at its best. Whilst the racing, particularly in the velodrome, was great, it can hardly be called the best cycling has to offer. Though there were ten gold medals to be won on the track this year, there were twelve in 2004. The blue riband event of the Olympics used to be seen as the Individual Pursuit; now this no longer exists. Nor does the Kilometre time trial. The keirin is in there, but there is lots of talk about money changing hands between Japan and the UCI to get its berth. Given we wait four years for the Olympic games, we should expect to see the best riders in attendance. The UCI thinks differently – in 2012, for the individual track events, only one participant per country was allowed to enter. Imagine the 100m final if Jamaica had only been allowed one runner?

Also, as stated earlier, the sport can be a beautiful spectacle; a battle of the best riders on the best roads. Well they have just selected Qatar for the 2016 World Road championships. If racing up and down desert roads in 41 degree heat is how the UCI sees the sport developing, then it is not a sport I particularly want to watch.

What we need is for Kimmage to win the case against the UCI in December – not for himself, but for the fans and the future of the sport. Maybe then the UCI will wake up to what is really going on and initiate changes from within.

However, even before then, the UCI needs to make its position 100% clear in relation to the USADA report on Lance Armstrong.

For more details on the Paul Kimmage Defence Fund, please visit: www.cyclismas.com

Footnotes


[1]In August 2012 a USADA investigation found Lance Armstrong guilty of doping. Armstrong opted not to fight the charges
[3] “Lance Armstrong: key excerpts from the USADA doping report” – Daily Telegraph, October 10, 2012: “Hoping to put behind the Festina doping scandal of 1998, Tour organisers had dubbed the 1999 version, the “Tour of Renewal”.”
[4]Bassons was writing in a Tour column for French daily newspaper, Le Parisien
[5]“Le Mensonge Armstrong”, L’Equipe, September 23, 2005
[6] “UCI supports Vrijman's findings”, Gerry McManus, CyclingNews, June 2 2006 http://www.cyclingnews.com/editions/latest-cycling-news-for-june-2-2006
 
[7]The name under which the Tour of Britain was recognised from 1958-1993. The race was ultimately won by American rider, Matt Eaton, with Kimmage dropping to 31st place on GC. The USA team was made up of Eaton, Chris Carmichael, Alexi Grewal, Andy Hampsten, Steve Speaks, and Steve Tilford. All finished, and all certainly made names for themselves in the years to come.
[8]VoitureBalai: French for “broom wagon”. The name for the vehicle that follows a Cycle Road Race picking up stragglers (or “sweeping them up”) who are unable to make it to the finish of the race within the time permitted. This is usually the last vehicle on the road.
[9]“When When Rough Ride came out in 1990, McQuaid was critical of Kimmage, notably in a television interview on the Late, Late Show, Ireland’s top chat show.” Extract from “Who is Pat McQuaid and why is he running our sport?” by Lionel Birnie, Cycle Sport, May 2012
[10]Interview on Irish radio on 9/10/2008. Confrontation video here from Canadian Cyclist: a http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUAO7xmNKeA
[10]“Who is Pat McQuaid and why is he running our sport?” by Lionel Birnie, Cycle Sport, May 2012.
[12]“Who is Pat McQuaid and why is he running our sport?” by Lionel Birnie, Cycle Sport, May 2012.
[13]http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/10008/Kimmage-blasts-UCI-legal-action-by-McQuaid-and-Verbruggen.aspx#ixzz28eAUetmc
[14]http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/swiss-court-finds-in-ucis-favour-in-landis-defamation-case
[15]http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/uci-provides-clarification-regarding-its-case-against-kimmage
[16]http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/10008/Kimmage-blasts-UCI-legal-action-by-McQuaid-and-Verbruggen.aspx#ixzz28eNo7Cq7  
[17] Both Verbruggen and McQuaid have been vague about why this is. Per Verbruggen: “Asked why he and his associates had taken action against Kimmage and not the publications Verbruggen incorrectly claimed that only the author could face a legal case.” Verbruggen won't take legal action against Hamilton by Daniel Benson, CyclingNews, September 21, 2012, http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/verbruggen-wont-take-legal-action-against-hamilton Per McQuaid: “Cyclingnews asked McQuaid why he had not taken legal action against L’Équipe or The Sunday Times for publishing the allegedly defamatory comments, but instead pursued Kimmage personally through the courts.
 
“You’ll really need to ask our lawyers, I’m not going to comment on this,” McQuaid said.” McQuaid reluctant to elaborate on Kimmage case by Barry Ryan, CyclingNews, September 22, 2012,http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/mcquaid-reluctant-to-elaborate-on-kimmage-case
[18]@Millermind, September 23, 2012, “UCI = SHAMEFUL. They continue to sue Kimmage which is disgusting and Verbruggen speaks out proving he must have nothing to do with cycling.”
[19]http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/gripper-cycling-cannot-move-forward-until-lance-issue-is-resolved  
[20] “Ashenden: I don't know whether Armstrong's passport file was ever sent to any of us experts’” Interview with Shane Stokes, http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/13026/Ashenden-I-dont-know-whether-Armstrongs-passport-file-was-ever-sent-to-any-of-us-experts.aspx#ixzz28zkm7faO
[21]http://velonews.competitor.com/2012/10/news/kimmage-an-apology-to-the-uci-is-laughable_255727?utm_medium=whats-hot  
[22] “Strong-minded Sylvia Schenk continues quest for Law & Order”, CyclingNews, August 10, 2005 http://autobus.cyclingnews.com/riders/2005/interviews/?id=sylvia_schenk05a  
[23] “Former German cycling president blasts UCI’s handling of Armstrong case” VeloNews.com September 15, 2005 http://velonews.competitor.com/2005/09/news/former-german-cycling-president-blasts-ucis-handling-of-armstrong-case_8889  
[24]“Former German cycling president blasts UCI’s handling of Armstrong case” VeloNews.com September 15, 2005 http://velonews.competitor.com/2005/09/news/former-german-cycling-president-blasts-ucis-handling-of-armstrong-case_8889  
[25]“Who is Pat McQuaid and why is he running our sport?” by Lionel Birnie, Cycle Sport, May 2012.
[26] Hosking was fined earlier this year for calling McQuaid a “d*ck” in reference to comments made by him about a riders’ minimum wage. She was later fined and called to apologise http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/hosking-takes-swipe-at-pat-mcquaid  
[27] “Armitstead speaks out over sexism in professional cycling” CyclingNews, Daniel Benson, July 31, 2012 http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/armitstead-speaks-out-over-sexism-in-professional-cycling
 

 
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