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Speaking in the wake of a Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report that was critical of the past presidents of the UCI, Paul Kimmage has said that he would be very surprised if Hein Verbruggen’s lawsuit against him were to continue.
Verbruggen and his successor Pat McQuaid both launched suits against Kimmage in the past, claiming defamation of their character in terms of his criticism of them and how they handled anti-doping in the UCI.
McQuaid dropped out of that suit last year but Verbruggen pushed onwards with his portion of it.
However according to Kimmage, there were recent indications that the Dutchman was awaiting the outcome of the CIRC report before going further.
“I have had two letters in the last two months from his lawyers,” he told CyclingTips on Wednesday. “They have been stalling for time. His lawyers have been writing to the court asking for more time, clearly in my opinion with a view to seeing what is in the CIRC report. That is the only thing that makes sense to me.
“I sent an email off to my own lawyer this morning. I told him that I felt pretty happy about it and was wondering what he felt and where he saw it might go next. I haven’t heard back from him yet.
“But I would feel pretty happy about it, to be honest, given the stakes personally for me.”
Although Verbruggen tried to spin the conclusions afterwards, the CIRC report was damning about several aspects of his presidency. That inquiry concluded that serious errors were made by Verbruggen, McQuaid and others.
The former was criticised for being dismissive of clean riders who tried to highlight the problem, while McQuaid’s reactions to whistleblowers also came under the spotlight.
CIRC found that in the 1990s, the UCI was simply trying to manage the sport’s image rather than effectively knuckling down to tackle doping. It gave the example of the 50% red blood cell limit introduced under Verbruggen, saying that while this may have been an initial measure to try to prevent deaths, that it soon became seen as a licence to dope up to a certain point.
Both Verbruggen and McQuaid were also faulted with having far too close a relationship with Lance Armstrong, with numerous examples being given to show how the rider was favoured. These include the approval of a backdated prescription which allowed him sidestep disqualification after a positive test in the 1999 Tour de France, the failure to target test him despite suspicions of doping and also the flawed Vrijman report.
The latter was an inquiry set up in 2005 to look into allegations of EPO use by Armstrong dating back to that 1999 Tour. Rather than that report being objective, CIRC found that the UCI actively engaged in a whitewash and put pressure on the individual compiling the report to issue conclusions favourable to the Texan.
It found that Armstrong’s legal team was allowed to help write the conclusions.
CIRC was also critical with what it said was the waiving of anti-doping rules to allow Armstrong to return to racing in the 2009 Santos Tour Down Under. CIRC concluded that this occurred after McQuaid intervened and that there are indications that Armstrong was given a green light on the understanding that he would agree to ride the Tour of Ireland later that year.
Kimmage said that he was “pleasantly surprised” by what was in the report. “I thought it was really well constructed, very accessible, gave good context to the UCI and the problems in the sport. You could actually read it as a book – even if you didn’t know that much [about cycling], you would find it interesting enough.
“What impressed me was the degree to which they absolutely nailed Verbruggen and McQuaid.”
Denials and spin
The report was universally interpreted as being critical of McQuaid and Verbruggen, yet both of them reacted in a perplexing way. McQuaid gave a radio interview on RTE’s Morning Ireland show and was strongly defensive of his time in office.
“The report completely clears me of any corruption, any wrongdoing or any complicity in doping,” he insisted.
“Everybody knows the work that I have done to fight doping and the UCI is now one of the leading international federations in the fight against doping, and the legacy I have left behind there I am quite proud of.”
Kimmage found it hard to believe what he was hearing.
“McQuaid gave an interview on Morning Ireland and it was actually amazing to hear the disconnect between what the presenter Gavin Jennings was saying to him about points in the report and how he was responding to it. It was staggering, really.
“What do you do with someone like that? It is in black and white, and he is still denying it. Then you have the other clown [Verbruggen] issuing press releases with exactly the same thing, claiming this essentially absolves him of all wrongdoings.
“Clearly Brian Cookson doesn’t think so as he thinks Verbruggen should resign [from his position as honorary UCI president]. Anyone who reads the sport will form the same conclusion, and will be left in no doubt as to how badly these two have run the governing body.”
In that light, Kimmage said that he would be stunned if Verbruggen were to press on with his legal action against him.
“Well, you know what courts can be like, but I would find it…I would be astonished, to be honest, if he decided to pursue it. I would be absolutely astonished.”
Peloton perspective and UCI’s future
Much as Kimmage is encouraged by the report and the fact that it didn’t hold back, he said that he has been surprised by the response from some.
“I find it really amusing when you hear the reactions of David Brailsford plus the peloton to the report. You hear them complaining about the statistic quoted in it…they have all latched onto what someone said about the state of the current peloton and the degree to which they are all doping now.
“They are all going crazy about this. Yet here you have a report stating that the governing body and its two leaders have been complicit in the doping problems that there have been in the sport…they [Brailsford and others] don’t have any comment to make on that at all.
“They don’t have any criticism to make of Pat McQuaid or Hein Verbruggen. Come on… I found that really, really depressing.”
Asked what he felt should happen next, Kimmage said that the release of the report in itself is already a very positive step.
“Brian has some work to do now,” he said. “I give him great credit for delivering on this report and for bringing to light what I have said for a long, long time, and what a couple of others have said.
“This is actually a document of record now. McQuaid’s tenure and Verbruggen’s tenure is now well documented in this report and everyone can read it.
“It is not something written in the Sunday Times or in the Sunday Independent. It is not just an opinion that Paul Kimmage or somebody else had. It is a matter of record now and I think for that alone it has been great.”
Kimmage has been writing about the subject of doping in cycling ever since he retired from cycling in 1989. After years of denials from the governing body, he feels that there is a chance now for some progress to be made.
“Things have to be better now. If you have a governing body that treats doping infractions as an a la carte menu, you have no chance. You are wasting your time doing any tests.
“What is the point in spending on all this money on anti-doping if you are picking and choosing who you are going to test positive? That creates chaos, and that has created the chaos where all this came from.”
“Brian Cookson needed to start with a blank sheet of paper, and that gives him the chance to do that now. He has reacted and addressed the problems within his own organisation and he can now clearly move on from that and address the other recommendations in the report.
“He has laid bare the faults within his own organisation. He needs to address those, act on the recommendations and move on.”