SII Focus 9th March 2015

CIRC report: UCI prioritised growing cycling over tackling doping

The Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report has found that the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) prioritised growing the sport over tackling doping during the 1990s and early 2000s. The 223-page report, published by the UCI this morning, also found that the UCI gave preferential treatment to Lance Armstrong, whom it used to grow cycling, by ignoring allegations that he had doped, even to the point of breaking its own rules.

Armstrong

The report found that the UCI had allowed Lance Armstrong to provide a backdated prescription for corticosteroids following four positive tests at the 1999 Tour de France (TDF). It found that Armstrong and two other riders on the 1999 TDF had indicated ‘nil’ on the doping control form at the time of the test, yet the UCI allowed them to provide a backdated prescription as a ‘medical justification’ to explain the presence of a prohibited substance.

‘On the basis of the foregoing facts and of article 43 of the UCI ADR applicable at the time, the UCI acted in breach of its own ADR in asking the riders’ entourages to provide a medical certificate after they tested positive when they had not declared the use of a substance on the doping control form’, read the report. It also found that the UCI and Armstrong had been heavily involved in the drafting of the ‘independent’ Vrijman report into allegations that Armstrong had tested positive for erythropoietin (EPO) during the 1999 Tour de France (TDF).

However, the CIRC report dismissed allegations that Armstrong had financed the Vrijman report. It found Armstrong had made a commitment in January 2005 to provide $100,000 towards the fight against doping. As this commitment was made before the 23 August L’Equipe article ‘Le mensonge Armstrong’, which alleged a positive EPO test at the 1999 TDF, the CIRC report found that this did not constitute payment for the Vrijman report. This is despite payment not being received from Armstrong until January 2007.

It found that the UCI did purchase a $62,000 Sysmex blood testing machine under the heading ‘funds paid by Lance Armstrong’. On 5 January 2007, $100,000 was credited to the UCI account from Lance Armstrong. ‘CIRC has not managed to identify proposals made to Lance Armstrong by UCI for the allocation of the remaining $38,000, nor has it determined how this money was spent’, read the report.

The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has called for further action on this issue. “According to the CIRC, the UCI […] conspired to allow what was sold to the public as an ‘independent’ report to be re-written by Armstrong’s own lawyer and sports agent in order to conceal Armstrong’s doping”, said US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) CEO Travis Tygart in a statement. “USADA will work with the current UCI leadership to obtain the evidence of this sordid incident to ensure that all anti-doping rule violations related to this conduct are fully investigated and prosecuted, where possible.”

The report also dismissed allegations that Armstrong had paid the UCI to cover up a positive test at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland. ‘Reports from the laboratory show that he did not test positive during the Tour de Suisse (although three of his five samples came back as suspicious for EPO)’ read the report. Armstrong was apparently tested five times for EPO during the Tour, but only three of those were tested for EPO. Armstrong was informed about the suspicious results, which is where his claims to have tested positive may have come from. ‘A donation of $25,000 was made by Lance Armstrong to UCI for the fight against doping, but it was not paid until May 2002 and there is no evidence that the two were linked’.

The report also found that Armstrong was given permission by the UCI to compete in the 2009 Tour Down Under, despite the fact that he hadn’t been in the testing pool for the prescribed period of time. It said that there was a ‘temporal link’ between former UCI President Pat McQuaid’s decision to allow Armstrong to compete and Armstrong’s decision to participate in the Tour of Ireland, an event ‘run by people known to Pat McQuaid’.

A statement from Armstrong said that he was ‘deeply sorry for many things I have done’. His Attorney, Elliot Peters, defended the former professional cyclist by indicating that he had little choice but to dope. ‘While Lance has borne the brunt of anti-doping enforcement efforts and attendant negative publicity (and consequences), the truth is that the sport he encountered in Europe in the 1990s was a cesspool where doctors, coaches and riders participated daily in doping and covering up doping. Young riders on elite teams competing in Europe faced a simple choice: dope and lie about it or accept that you could not compete clean. We applaud CIRC for taking a courageous and unvarnished look at the truth. In the rush to vilify Lance, many of the other equally culpable participants have been allowed to escape scrutiny, much less sanction, and many of the anti-doping “enforcers” have chosen to grandstand at Lance’s expense rather than truly search for the truth.’

UCI

As previously stated, the report’s main finding was that the UCI had colluded with Armstrong, accepting payments from him and using him to promote cycling while ignoring allegations of doping. It found that from 1992-2006, its approach ‘was one of containment, with a focus on protecting health…Indeed, CIRC considers the policies of announcing sample collections, notifying riders and leaving them unattended, gave riders the opportunity to adapt and to evade testing positive through medical supervision, whilst at the same time giving the impression to the public that cycling was trying to address the doping problem’.

However it said that from 2006/7, ‘the original policy of containment was abandoned in favour of a policy that sought to catch the cheaters’. It said that this change, along with the introduction of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP), the transformation of the UCI’s anti-doping body into the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) and changes to how anti-doping is funded have ‘changed the behaviour of elite road cyclists considerably’.

Current substance use

The report expressed a general view that doping is still taking place in elite road cycling, but either it is less prevalent or doping practices have changed so that actual performance gains are smaller. When asked about the professional teams, a common response ‘was that probably three or four were clean, three or four were doping, and the rest were a “don’t know”’, read the report. ‘A number of top riders, and others in the sport, discussed other rider’s top performances, or changes in appearance due to dramatic weight loss, and were unable to explain how they were achieved. One respected cycling professional felt that even today, 90% of the peloton was doping, although he thought that there was little orchestrated team doping in the manner that teams had previously employed. Another put it at around 20%. Many people simply stated they “didn’t know” who was clean and who was not.’

Another concern raised in the report was ‘micro-dosing’, where small amounts of a prohibited substance are used, so that blood values remain within the parameters permitted by the ABP. ‘The Commission also heard that riders are using ozone therapy, which involves extracting blood, treating it with ozone and injecting it back into the blood’, read the report. ‘One rider informed the Commission that by way of using ozone therapy he felt stronger, and that the muscles recovered, but that it had however not been as efficient as EPO’.

Use of corticoids also continues, sometimes as part of a planned team approach to weight loss.  ‘One doctor stated that it was impossible to lose the weight that some riders achieve without assistance, and that the TUE is taken advantage of to enable this practice’, read the report. ‘He stated that riders use corticoids to “lean out” i.e. to lose weight quickly, and keep it off, without losing power. By way of example he explained that to lose 4kg in four weeks by using corticoids would provide a 7% power/weight improvement. He added that when used in large quantities and in conjunction with other substances, they supported performance gains. Another doctor stated that some quite recent big wins on the UCI WorldTour were as a result, in part, of some members of the team all using corticoids to get their weight down to support the individual who won (who also used the same weight-loss technique). It was reported that this had been a planned approach by that group’s management.’

The report also suggested that changing riders’ attitudes to doping may be difficult, and that riders continue to take substances whether or not they are on the World Anti Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List. These can include substances such as tramadol, viagra, cialis and even those designed for animals. ‘One rider, for example, told the Commission that he had used at least 12 different types of substances throughout his professional career, some of which were highly experimental and which were even designed only for horses’, it read. ‘By way of example, GW 1516 is a substance that sends more oxygen to the muscles, burns fat and increases muscle mass. However, regulated development of the drug stopped before it was given clinical approval because it was thought to cause cancer. It is illegally manufactured today and a number of riders have been found to use it, despite WADA issuing a warning to athletes about its effects. The Commission heard that riders will use products which are only at trial stage and which are yet to receive clinical approval.’

Future concerns

The report identifies that doping in amateur cycling is becoming endemic. ‘Masters races were also said to have middle-aged businessmen winning on EPO, with some of them training as hard as professional riders and putting in comparable performances’, it read. ‘Some professional riders explained that they no longer ride in the Gran Fondos (timed amateur races) because they were so competitive due to the number of riders doping’.

It also identifies that the move towards an independent CADF, which handles testing for professional cycling, could also be a future issue. The CADF was set up in 2008  at the instigation of cycling’s professional teams, who didn’t want to give any more money to the UCI for anti-doping purposes. ‘Moving the CADF away from UCI may enable other stakeholder to have more influence on CADF operations’, the report warns. ‘The fact that a large proportion of the CADF’s budget comes from pro teams (and the fact that the pro teams are represented on the financial board of the CADF) may create a certain dynamic whereby professional teams want to see what controls apply to them and thereby influence the overall testing strategy for all disciplines in cycling.’

Recommendations

In its statement announcing the publication of the CIRC report, the UCI was keen to distance itself from its past management, which it did by outlining the key changes that have been made since Brian Cookson took over as UCI President in 2013. However, the report still makes 12 pages of recommendations for change. The key recommendations are listed below:

• The UCI works closely with governments/national authorities that make their investigative tools available to the fight against doping.  The UCI/CADF should shift its focus away from testing to non-analytical investigations.
• Doctors who are found guilty of an anti- doping rule violation should be investigated to determine whether they are fit to continue their general medical practice.
• The UCI should apply its ability to use financial sanctions on those who fail to adhere to its rules.
• The CIRC recommends that “prevalence studies” of doping in different countries, teams, levels (including amateur) and disciplines, should be undertaken by UCI/CADF.
• UCI/CADF should move to a qualitative rather than quantitative testing.
• The ‘no testing’ window from 11pm to 6am helps riders who micro-dose to avoid being caught. The CIRC is conscious of the principle of proportionality but the absence of night-time testing is a weakness in the current system and needs to be addressed. UCI/CADF should make more use of the exception contained in Article 5.2 of the 2015 UCI Anti-Doping Rules (serious and specific suspicion that the Rider may be engaged in doping) to test at night-time.
• Re-testing should be an integral part of the testing programme. A sample given by a rider should have a mandatory re-testing programme attached to it.
• The UCI should set up an independent whistleblower desk.
• The UCI should better investigate whether other forms of cheating are going on in cycling, and whether lessons learnt from this can assist in tackling doping.
• Use sanctioned riders as an educational tool.
• Use of a centralised food supplement pharmacy for short stage races.

IOC response

The IOC welcomed the publication of the report, but said it was up to the UCI to decide on the next steps to be taken. “This is a frank and open report that supports the IOC goal to protect the clean athletes”, said Dr. Ugur Erdener, Chair of the IOC Medical Commission. “We welcome the UCI’s commitment to tackling past abuses and putting in place future processes. The next steps are first of all a matter for the UCI and we trust that they will keep us fully  informed.”

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