Independent investigator advised on Neben’s appeal, USAC’s Steve Johnson says

USAC boss comments on Armstrong decision

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BOULDER, Colo. (VN) – The decision Thursday night by the USA Cycling selection committee to replace Kristin Armstrong with Amber Neben for the world championships time trial has drawn fire Friday. CEO Steve Johnson told VeloNews Friday afternoon that a third party investigator requested by the federation recommended the committee revisit the selection, which resulted in the last-minute roster change that left the Olympic gold medalist heading for home.

Johnson said that Neben’s appeal was not out of the ordinary when compared against previous selection reviews. While he refused to discuss specifics of the case, citing USA Cycling policy, Johnson said that Neben pursued the first level of a “fairly informal administrative grievance process,” which does not require an attorney to represent the athlete.

Through this process, which is outlined by the United States Olympic Committee and USA Cycling, an athlete can file a protest if they feel they’ve been unfairly excluded from a protected event. Protected events are those for which discretionary team members are selected by the federation’s selection committee: Olympic and Pan-American Games and world championships are all protected events.

The current selection committee is comprised of former worlds or Olympic team members Dylan Casey, Jeanne Golay, Jeff Pierce, Mike McCarthy, Dede Barry, Anton Quist and Eric Rupe.

During a selection process, staff members like vice president of athletics Jim Miller, Armstrong’s coach, and Marc Gullickson, the mountain bike and cyclocross program director, make recommendations to the committee and then implement the group’s roster decisions. According to Johnson, when a conflict of interest arises like in the case of Miller’s relationship with Armstrong, the federation manages around it.

“That kind of stuff is always a concern because it’s a potential conflict of interest,” said Johnson. “When the potential for conflict exists we disclose the conflict and make sure everyone’s comfortable before we move forward.”

One question surrounding the case was whether the conflict impacted Armstrong’s selection or Neben’s appeal. When asked if the involved parties were “comfortable” before the initial team selection, Johnson said he could not comment on the specifics of the case.

In response to Neben’s appeal, Johnson appointed an independent investigator to review the request.

“We appointed an independent investigator to review the protest and they make a recommendation based on that review,” Johnson told VeloNews. “In this case, the investigator asked the committee to reconvene and basically start over from scratch, which they did.”

Johnson would not name the investigator, but did say that such a role is ordinarily filled by someone that is familiar with USAC regulations and law, most often a race official.

When the selection committee reconvened to address the investigator’s recommendation, the group chose Neben instead of Armstrong to represent the United States in the time trial next week.

The timing of the committee’s decision to replace Armstrong with Neben in the time trial was unfortunate with the former en route to worlds at the time. Johnson did address this issue, claiming that USA Cycling informed Armstrong earlier in the week that the appeal decision would come Thursday night, which it did.

“Kristin was aware of the timing, that a decision was going to be made Thursday night, and declined to be re-ticketed,” said Johnson.

When she learned of the selection committee’s decision Friday, Armstrong boarded a plane for home. She was on the ground for just three hours in Denmark. She was initially selected as a member of the national team for the road race, but it appears likely she will not join the squad.

“That is certainly her decision and I don’t know that it’s been finalized,” said Johnson. “That appears to be the case and if it is we have alternatives who can step in.”

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