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Three-man panel to probe cycling’s doping past

Lance Armstrong at the 2004 Tour de France, where USADA found systematic doping. Picture: Reuters

Lance Armstrong at the 2004 Tour de France, where USADA found systematic doping. Picture: Reuters

  • by STEPHEN WILSON
 

An independent three-man panel featuring a former war crimes investigator is to probe cycling’s doping past, including allegations that the sport’s governing body, the UCI, colluded with Lance Armstrong.

Current UCI president Brian Cookson said the commission will investigate allegations “that the UCI has been involved in wrongdoing in the past – allegations which have done so much to hurt the credibility of the UCI and our sport.”

The probe will centre on the UCI’s handling of doping in the late 1990s and early 2000s, especially its links with Armstrong. Much could hinge on whether Armstrong and former UCI presidents Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid agree to testify. The UCI and Verbruggen have been accused of protecting Armstrong and helping cover up his doping. The American was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from Olympic sports for life after admitting doping.

The investigative panel will be based in Lausanne, Switzerland, and will be called the Cycling Independent Reform Commission. Cookson said he wants the investigation completed this year.

The commission will be chaired by Dick Marty, a Swiss politician and ex-state prosecutor. The other members are German anti-doping expert Ulrich Haas and Peter Nicholson, a former Australian military officer and war crimes investigator.

“Their work will also be focused on understanding what went so wrong and they will make recommendations for change,” said Cookson.

In an interview in November, Armstrong claimed Verbruggen helped him cover up doping at the 1999 Tour de France. Verbruggen dismissed it as a “ridiculous story”.

Armstrong said Verbruggen insisted “we’ve got to come up with something” to explain his positive tests for a banned corticosteroid. The UCI accepted a backdated prescription for a cream to treat saddle sores, allowing Armstrong to stay in the race. He went on to win the first of his seven Tours. The UCI panel is also expected to investigate whether $125,000 donated to the UCI by Armstrong was paid to cover up suspicious doping tests. Creation of the panel was one of the main campaign pledges of Britain’s Cookson, who ousted Ireland’s McQuaid in the UCI presidential election in October.

Cookson said the panel will have complete access to UCI files and electronic data that was seized by investigators within minutes of his election. It will seek testimony from current and past riders and officials.

Cookson has said Armstrong would be among those invited to testify – as well as Verbruggen and McQuaid. Armstrong has said he would co-operate with any such commission but wants a reduction in his life ban.

Armstrong has so far refused to provide sworn testimony to the US Anti-Doping Agency, whose report in 2012 led to him being stripped of the Tour championships he won from 1999 to 2005. USADA has said the only chance to lessen the penalty is to answer questions under oath.

Armstrong said on Twitter on Tuesday that “my position remains unchanged” and he plans on “cooperating openly & honestly” with any UCI commission that contacts him.

 

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