Cookson opens door for Armstrong ban reduction

UCI chief says he won't contact the banned American directly, but would welcome his involvement in the forthcoming independent review

Photo: MG

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — UCI president Brian Cookson is encouraging Lance Armstrong to participate in an upcoming drugs inquiry, but said Thursday that he won’t be hat in hand asking for the banned American’s assistance.

The banned-for-life Texan has said in interviews that he is waiting for officials to ask him to assist in delving into cycling’s dark past, but Cookson said Thursday it’s not appropriate for him to have direct contact with someone as toxic as Armstrong.

“He won’t get a phone call from me,” Cookson said. “I am deliberately not speaking to anyone involved. That’s the job of the [UCI’s independent] commission. Lance Armstrong will be able to contact them, just the same as everyone else.”

Cookson, speaking to a handful of journalists Thursday morning, said there is steady progress by a three-member independent commission named earlier this month to probe into cycling’s dirty laundry.

More details about the structure of the inquiry will be released “soon,” including guidelines about possible ban reductions for former and current pros that come forward to help investigators.

That ban reduction, however, would apply to riders who provide new details and information, and might not be retroactively applied to riders currently serving bans, as in the case of Armstrong.

“I am aware that Armstrong is keen to contribute, but I’ve kept one step backward from the process. I don’t want to be seen as interfering in any way,” Cookson said. “[Any possible ban reduction for Armstrong] depends on what information he has and what he’s able to reveal.”

Cookson pointed out that a possible ban reduction for Armstrong or other riders currently serving bans would have to come with the approval of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

USADA chief Travis Tygart told Reuters late last year it was “premature” to consider a ban reduction for Armstrong if he cooperates, but left the door open if Armstrong served up new evidence.

Armstrong claims that anti-doping authorities never approached him to cooperate in the investigation into doping practices at U.S. Postal Service that led to his lifetime ban in 2012. Tygart has countered that claim, saying Armstrong refused to cooperate.

“We invited him to come in June 2012 at the same time as we invited other athletes guilty of doping. He was the only one of the 11 that refused our offer,” Tygart told Reuters in November.

“We attempted to meet again in December and in January and February this year [2013] and so far he’s refused to come in and be truthful and answer all the questions under oath just like all the other athletes have done, so at this point we are going forward.”

According to Cookson, an inquiry into cycling’s doping past and allegations into possible wrongdoing within the UCI will move forward with or without Armstrong.

“I don’t think we can forget the past. We’ve got some serious problems that still need to be washed through,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to have the independent commission.”

The UCI has budgeted more than $3 million to fund the effort that will X-ray the worst years of the EPO era and investigate allegations that former UCI officials were complicit with cheaters such as Armstrong.

Cookson said recent comments by ex-pro Danilo Di Luca, who claimed that the majority of riders in the Giro d’Italia were doped, serve as a reminder why he’s pressing for an inquiry.

“It’s very sad, but it’s exactly why we have to have this process,” he said. “We want to give these people a manner to come forward to tell what they know and give information about the systems and the facilitators. … That will allow us to draw a line. And if people haven’t come forward in the process we’ve set up, they deserve what they get thereafter.”

Cookson also said riders who cheated, then denied it and fought charges, only later to come clean do not necessarily deserve much sympathy.

“It’s wrong to call those guys whistleblowers. What makes me angry is people who were positive, who deny it and challenge the science, challenge it in courts, and then years later admit they did it after all,” he said. “There would be more respect for those people if they told the truth right from the start. … I also recognize that humans are less than perfect, and we don’t always do what we should have done. I do encourage their cooperation.”

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