Cycling’s ruling body will meet this week to discuss allowing riders to disclose past drug use without penalties after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned from the sport for doping.
The International Cycling Union, which goes by the French acronym UCI, today endorsed a decision by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to take away the 41-year-old American’s seven championships in the sport’s most prestigious race. A Texas promotion company said it would move to reclaim a $7.5 million bonus paid to Armstrong for one of the wins, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.
USADA also urged the bike group to create a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” similar to that used in South Africa at the end of apartheid, to find wrongdoing, and UCI lawyer Philippe Verbiest said it will be discussed on Oct. 26.
“There must be more action to combat the system that took over the sport,” USADA Chief Executive Officer Travis Tygart said in an e-mailed statement. “It is important to remember that while today is a historic day for clean sport, it does not mean clean sport is guaranteed for tomorrow.”
Armstrong lost sponsors including Nike Inc. (NKE:US), Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI) and the Trek Bicycle Corp. after USADA published evidence from 11 former teammates on Oct. 10 that he “engaged in serial cheating” in winning the Tour from 1999 through 2005. Today, Luxottica Group SpA’s (LUX) sunglass maker Oakley said it also was ending its relationship with the rider. Armstrong may lose $30 million in sponsorships, according to Steve Rosner of 16W Marketing LLC.
The Texan last week also stepped down as chairman of Livestrong, the cancer foundation he founded and which has raised more than $470 million 1997, according to its website.
“Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling,” UCI President Pat McQuaid said at a news conference in Geneva today. “He deserves to be forgotten in cycling.”
Armstrong has denied doping for more than a decade and said he never failed a drug test. He declined to take the USADA findings to arbitration, saying the process was heavily weighted against him.
Tim Herman, Armstrong’s attorney, was in court and unavailable for comment on UCI’s decision, according to an e- mail from his office.
McQuaid said he was “sickened by what I read” in the USADA report, particularly by how Armstrong’s former teammate David Zabriskie testified he was “coerced” into doping by team officials.
UCI could have appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The Oct. 26 meeting will also explore whether Armstrong should return his prize money, and whether to award his titles to anyone else, McQuaid said.
SCA Promotions of Dallas said it wanted the $7.5 million bonus, interest and legal fees Armstrong received for winning the 2004 Tour back, the BBC said, quoting the company’s outside counsel, Jeffrey Tillotson.
“We will make a formal demand for return of funds,” Tillotson said according to the broadcaster. “If this is not successful, we will initiate formal legal proceedings against Mr. Armstrong in five business days.”
Tillotson didn’t immediately return a telephone message seeking comment on the BBC report. Jeffrey Dorough, SCA’s general counsel, said in separate e-mails that the company was considering all legal options to pursue a return of the funds paid to Mr. Armstrong” and “fully endorses” any statement made by Tillotson as outside counsel.
McQuaid said doping in cycling dates back to at least the 1970s, when he was aware of it as an amateur rider.
Other Tour winners to lose titles for doping were Floyd Landis in 2006 and Alberto Contador in 2010. Twenty of the 21 riders to finish in the top three the years Armstrong won have been “tied to likely doping” through admissions, sanctions, public investigations or exceeding the UCI’s hematocrit level, USADA said.
USADA said on Aug. 24 it was stripping him of his titles after he refused to fight the group’s charges at an arbitration hearing. Herman, Armstrong’s lawyer, described the USADA’s evidence on Oct. 10 as “a taxpayer-funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories.”
The U.S. Postal Service stopped sponsoring cycling in 2004.
“We are aware of the allegations concerning Lance Armstrong and other riders in the USADA report and have no further comment concerning the matter at this time,” USPS spokeswoman Patricia Licata said in an e-mailed statement.
The Dutch lender Rabobank Groep said last week it would pull its 15 million euros of annual spending on pro cycling because of the USADA findings.
Armstrong’s former teammate Levi Leipheimer was fired by the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team after admitting doping in an affidavit to USADA. Johan Bruyneel exited as manager of the RadioShack team. The Belgian, who oversaw Armstrong’s seven Tour wins, denies wrongdoing.
“This is the biggest crisis cycling has ever faced,” McQuaid said. “My message to cycling, to our riders, to our sponsors and to our fans today is: Cycling has a future.”
The International Olympic Committee said it will wait for more information before deciding what to do about a bronze medal Armstrong won at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Asked why Armstrong’s doping hadn’t been caught, McQuaid said the UCI had limited powers to uncover what he called the “sophisticated” doping regime.
“The UCI doesn’t have police powers,” McQuaid said, adding it had to rely on drug testing. He said it was “absolutely untrue” that the organization had covered up failed tests by Armstrong.
Tygart, the USADA CEO, said that an independent reconciliation panel would allow cycling to “unshackle” itself from the past.
“There are many more details of doping that are hidden, many more doping doctors and corrupt team directors and the ‘omerta’ has not yet been fully broken,” Tygart said.
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