Six things cycling learned from the CIRC report

A report 13 months in the making delivered a very scathing review of the UCI and Lance Arsmstrong

Lasting 13 months and including a panel of three very experienced individuals, the Cycling Independent Reform Commission commissioned by the UCI in the wake of the Lance Armstrong/US Postal Service scandal delivered a scathing report on Monday.

The CIRC was established after Brian Cookson took over from Pat McQuaid as UCI president. It was requested to investigate claims that the previous UCI presidents McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen plus others within the UCI had protected Armstrong, and also to examine the historic issue of doping in cycling.

Clearly critical of the past regime, here are some of the conclusions that 217 page report reached:

1. Since Verbruggen became head of cycling in 1991, the UCI sought to manage the symptoms rather than effectively treat the problem. The CIRC found that Verbruggen and others such as the former head of the UCI's Athlete Doping Unit, Lon Schattenberg, did little to try to stamp out drug use.


“The approach to doping was one of containment, with a focus on protecting health,” said the CIRC. “Looking at the tools available to UCI to combat doping, there was no satisfactory commitment to push the fight against doping beyond the limits of health protection.

“Anti-doping policy was for the most part based on a predictable and quantitative approach. Going after the cheaters was perceived as a witch-hunt that would be detrimental to the image of cycling.”

2. Verbruggen and McQuaid were criticised for not paying attention to whistleblowers, but rather trying to dissuade them from talking.

“The general attitude in the context of disciplinary sanctions was to be strict on whistleblowers,” stated CIRC. “There was no general strategy to actively encourage whistleblowing. Instead, riders reported that the message sent out by UCI leadership in case they went public was ambiguous and hostile.”

The report gives examples, with Verbruggen seeking to punish the Spanish rider Jesús Manzano after he admitted doping and implicated others. “Why not sanction a cheater for the simple reason that he decided to talk? We have to remember that it’s the cheaters that are talking.”

McQuaid is quoted as calling two other whistleblowers, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis as 'scumbags,' and also dismissing the testimony offered by Bernhard Kohl.

“I would not put a lot of faith in what he [KOHL]says. It is always guys who get caught and thrown out who start reflecting a little bit, preparing a book, and they come out with anything. Unless we have proof, we cannot go and do anything.”

3. The UCI was far too close to Armstrong and this enabled him to evade punishment as long as he did. "UCI saw Lance Armstrong as the perfect choice to lead the sport's renaissance after the Festina scandal," it stated, referring to the doping affair in 1998. "The fact that he was American opened up a new continent for the sport, he had beaten cancer and the media quickly made him a global star. Numerous examples have been identified showing that UCI leadership "defended" or "protected" Lance Armstrong and took decisions because they were favourable to him.

“This was in circumstances where there was strong reason to suspect him of doping, which should have led UCI to be more circumspect in its dealings with him.”

4. Rather than properly investigating sample retesting in 2005 which showed Armstrong had used EPO in winning his first Tour de France in 1999, the UCI and the rider's lawyers combined to prevent any critical findings in the supposedly independent Vrijman report.

“UCI purposely limited the scope of the independent investigator’s mandate to procedural issues contrary to what they told stakeholders and the public and against Emile Vrijman’s own suggestion,” it said. “UCI, together with the Armstrong team, became directly and heavily involved in the drafting of the Vrijman report, the purpose of which was only partly to expedite the publication of the report. The main goal was to ensure that the report reflected UCI’s and Lance Armstrong’s personal conclusions.”

5. Initial progress made by McQuaid after he became UCI president was severely compromised after Armstrong's return to racing in 2009. CIRC found that once again the UCI treated him preferably, bending the rules to suit him.

Under the UCI regulations in place, all riders had to be in the out of competition testing pool for six months before being able to race. Armstrong was initially blocked by the UCI from riding the Santos Tour Down Under because of this but McQuaid later cleared him to ride. This was against both the rules and the advice of others.

Armstrong stood to be paid $1 million by the organisers of the race for taking part. CIRC suggests that a deal was done between the UCI president and the rider in relation to the Tour of Ireland in August 2009.

McQuaid’s brother Darach was heavily involved in running the latter event.

“Whilst there is no direct evidence of an agreement between Pat McQuaid and Lance Armstrong, information in the Commission’s possession shows that: (i) Pat McQuaid made a sudden U-turn and allowed Lance Armstrong to return 13 days early to participate in the Tour Down Under, despite advice from UCI staff not to make an exception, and (ii) there was a temporal link between this decision, which was communicated to UCI staff in the morning, and the decision of Lance Armstrong, which was notified to Pat McQuaid later that same day, to participate in the Tour of Ireland, an event run by people known to Pat McQuaid.”

6. Under McQuaid, the UCI tried to suppress USADA's investigation of Lance Armstrong. CIRC stated that the American agency "started the investigation against Lance Armstrong and was initially not supported by UCI in doing so. UCI did not or only reluctantly provided information to USADA in the course of its investigations and, in addition, also contested USADA's jurisdiction in order to protect Lance Armstrong from being pursued.

“Eventually, UCI decided for the sake of its own public image to remain neutral on the issue of jurisdiction and to publicly distance itself from Lance Armstrong. In this climate of hostility between the two entities, USADA took the dispute a step further by publishing its Reasoned Decision on the internet.”

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes

Shane Stokes is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about cycling