America leads the way in many spheres – from obesity to arms stockpiles, confusing electoral systems to serial killers – and it has just gone and set another benchmark the world should sit up and take notice of – rather, its cycling federation has.
Or at least I thought it had. Then I dug deeper and found that, yet again, we have a situation where the wrong people are trying to make the right noises while doing very little whatsoever.
Sound familiar? A little like the UCI? Well, after all, this is a cycling federation we are talking about.
One of the great oversights in the struggles and tussles that have gone on within the sport of cycling in regards to doping over the previous few years has been the people who care about the direction the sport is headed in and want it to face up to its dark and depressing past have felt their voices have been marginalised, ignored and, at times, forcibly silenced.
For years, world cycling’s governing body and its presidents, and infamously its most high-profile rider, either looked the other way when anyone voiced concerns or suspicions of banned drug usage or went out of their way to ridicule and bully the doubters and accusers to the point where they were left isolated from the sport they’d grown up with.
We all know the Betsy Andreu story, the wife of former pro Frankie Andreu, whom Lance Armstrong called “a crazy bitch” (but not fat, you’ll remember) as he duked it out with her over her allegations he used banned substances.
Former World and Olympic champion Nicole Cooke retired at the age of 29, explaining in her heartfelt letter she was leaving a sport infected by cheats, stating, “I have been robbed by drug cheats.”
Graeme Obree, former world hour record holder, was forced to leave the first and only top-level European pro team he signed a contract with within weeks of joining them after he refused to dope, and when he made that news public he too was shunned by those in charge (the only people, in fact, with the power to have started to implement change in the drug culture of pro cycling).
These are three of the most famous examples of the marginalised, but for every Graeme, Betsy or Nicole there are hundreds if not thousands of clean riding individuals who have been left out in the wastelands by the cycling authorities’ refusal to allow their voices to be heard.
Disenchanted, many, like Nicole, have walked away from competitive cycling.
And so I awoke to read USA Cycling has just set a precedent that every cycling authority in the world can follow, if it has the gumption and the wherewithal to do so.
And if they do and if the information gleaned is acted upon properly then perhaps, just perhaps, those who have borne witness to the dark practices that have for so long infested this sport will be heard, leading to getting more of the cheats out and the ‘good guys’ back in.
The letter, in full, reads:
Recently, UCI President Brian Cookson announced the formation of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) to investigate historic doping in cycling and allegations that the UCI has been involved in previous wrongdoing. As we all know, doping is not limited to the sport of cycling, but cycling is among the most aggressive sports in developing new levels of drug testing, and the new leadership of the UCI recognises that we, as a sport, can only prepare for a better future by learning from the past.
The CIRC is a vital part of the process to bring integrity to every level of cycling, but this important commission can only work if the cycling world wants it to. Therefore, I am appealing to any USA Cycling members to come forward with any information that can assist the CIRC in its inquiry. This is your opportunity to take responsibility for our sport and help it become a sport in which we can have the utmost trust and confidence.
Below are important links to help you learn more about the role of the CIRC as well as an email address to contact the commission with any information you may have that will aid their investigation. I strongly encourage your full cooperation for the betterment of cycling.
As always, please feel free to contact us directly with any questions you may have about this process.
CEO and President, USA Cycling
Chair, USA Cycling Board of Directors
We, the cycling public, I felt on first reading, should push for this exact same appeal to be made in Australia, the UK, Italy, France – indeed anywhere competitive cycling exists.
But… then I remembered the name Steve Johnson, and started to check him out online and it started coming back to me.
Johnson has ties to Thom Weisel, longtime Armstrong supporter, and to Armstrong himself, and to other shady characters who litter the American cycling landscape, such as Jim Ochowicz (manager of the BMC Racing Team).
I found this from the SF Weekly from September 2005, which succinctly sums it all up:
Johnson, the widely quoted USA Cycling official, appears to suffer from a serious conflict of interest between his organisation’s role as a doping cop and his personal, institutional, and financial ties to the diversified business world surrounding Lance Armstrong. Financier Weisel is Armstrong’s longtime patron, employer, investment manager, and friend. Weisel is also Johnson’s longtime patron and friend and the founder of a nonprofit entity that employs him.
And then there’s this little fact: Johnson essentially works for Armstrong. In addition to serving as chief operating officer of USA Cycling, Johnson is executive director of the USA Cycling Development Foundation, an affiliated nonprofit organisation founded by Weisel, who serves as president of the board of directors, according to the foundation’s most recently available IRS returns, filed in 2003.
According to the foundation’s current website, the board of directors now includes Lance Armstrong.
“This whole thing isn’t a big deal for Americans,” Reuters quoted Johnson as saying of Armstrong’s doping troubles last week.
Reviewing the excellent Wheelman by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell on Red Kite Prayer, Padraig sums up my feeling on all this perfectly:
It is my hope that Thom Weisel, Steve Johnson and Jim Ochowicz receive the scrutiny they deserve. When I think of the harm done to cycling by the doping of the last 20 years, guys like George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer seem like small potatoes compared to the disservice done the sport by Weisel, Johnson and Ochowicz, and yet there’s no discussion of banning them from the sport. Justice is rarely just, huh?
And yet here is the same Johnson, sending out his appeal that aims to “bring integrity to every level of cycling”, yet reminds us, like a teacher scalding a spoilt child, “this important commission can only work if the cycling world wants it to.”
There you have it. The guys that got us here in the first place are now telling us they are our only hope to get out of the quagmire.
Sometimes you just have to step back and applause the bare-faced cheek of it all.