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Q&A: Tygart on Lance Armstrong, death threats and catching the cheats

By:
Daniel Benson
Published:
October 17, 2013, 9:09 BST,
Updated:
October 17, 2013, 15:47 BST
USADA chief Travis Tygart (R) shakes hands with Senator Arlen Specter at a 2009 hearing in Washington, DC about screening dietary supplements for illegal steroids.

USADA chief Travis Tygart (R) shakes hands with Senator Arlen Specter at a 2009 hearing in Washington, DC about screening dietary supplements for illegal steroids.

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It's been just over a year since USADA released their Reasoned Decision into the doping practices utilised by Lance Armstrong and his US Postal team.

A year on and the sport has seen a number of monumental and subtle changes. The UCI has replaced Pat McQuaid with a new leader, and the Irishman's successor, Brian Cookson, is promising an investigation into the governing body’s previous behaviour. Meanwhile WADA have been drafting a new version of their own code, while USADA’s CEO Travis Tygart has been locked in cases still unresolved from the Reasoned Decision.

Twelve months after the Reasoned Decision landed Tygart sat down with Cyclingnews to talk about the case that changed the landscape of professional sport and the future of cycling’s fight against doping.

Cyclingnews: How much did the Reasoned Decision cost?

Travis Tygart: It didn’t have any effect on our program budgets. It was all within budget. It cost us right around $356K, $150K of which was spent defending the frivolous law suit that was filed against us. Through 2012, on a cost per case basis,it’s been far less than the average per-case cost to resolve other cases that result in sanctions. That figure ($365k) is for the whole cycling investigation, not just the final Reasoned Decision. That’s a lot lower than what some people have reported as ‘tens of millions of tax payer’s dollars’. Out of the total cost, less than $50K was spent from funds that we received from the Federal Government.

CN: Why is it taking so long to press on with the on-going cases?

TT: It’s all based on the evidence. Our powers are limited and we act on evidence that’s provable in court, not innuendo or speculation. We move as fast as we possibly can to obtain the evidence and when it’s in the arbitration phase, it’s up to the independent judges, not us. It’s also up to the defense councils and whether they want to file motions to delay the presentation of the facts. We were also hopeful that the UCI would provide a mechanism by which the information that we believe is out there would be more readily obtained. That hasn’t happened as quickly as we wanted it to, but we’re hopeful that it’s going to happen.

CN: Chris Horner, Freddie Rodriguez, two veterans of American cycling: are these two of the clean riders you're trying to stand up for and protect?

TT: From USADA’s perspective, all athletes are innocent and presumed clean, unless and until it is determined through the established legal process that they have violated the rules. Any attempt to speculate or insinuate that any person has doped, outside of the established process, is a disservice to the process, fair play and to those who love clean sport.

CN: Let me ask about rider 15 in the Reasoned Decision. There has been speculation and rumour that rider 15 is Chris Horner, something he hasn’t categorically denied. If you’re against speculation and it’s not Horner, is it in your interests and those of a clean Chris Horner to state that rider 15 isn’t that athlete?

TT: We don’t comment on speculation or innuendo. We don’t confirm or deny because otherwise journalists would then send us a list asking for us to confirm that rider 10 isn’t this rider or that rider 19 is this rider and before it’s all over there’s a list of riders who people speculate might fit the list. Out of respect for the process every rider is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proved otherwise by the legal process.

CN: Do you have evidence to bring a case against rider 15?

TT: Again, I can’t comment.

CN: Do you stand by the statement that US Postal ran 'the most sophisticated doping programme sport has seen' given what we've heard from Telekom, and Rabobank riders in the last year. Also in comparison to East German, state funded doping programmes.

TT: The evidence in the Reasoned Decision demonstrates that the US Postal Service team ran the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping program we had ever seen, but what is important now is holding the UCI accountable to fulfill its promise to take decisive action so the sport can actually break free of the past. It is vital we all remain focused on the effort to permanently clean up the sport's culture for the good of all the current clean athletes and the future generations of cyclists.

CN : What tangible success have you noticed and gained in the last 12 months? Is the sport of cycling cleaner, for example?

TT: We believe that athletes have more hope now than ever before that they can compete clean and win, and that they know that there are independent organizations here to protect their rights. We have seen a change in the UCI leadership happen which sends a strong message that those who love the sport, including clean athletes, want real action to be taken and will not settle for more of the same. We also know that there are a lot of people who care about clean sport that were extremely frustrated and concerned that it has now been a year since the previous leadership of UCI promised to take action to clean up the sport and then did nothing, but we are hopeful and confident that the new leadership will take that action and the sport will be able to move forward.

CN: Hope isn’t really tangible, you can’t measure that. I’m talking about hard facts, perhaps in testing results, riders coming forward and congratulating you.

TT: Let’s start at the top of the sport. The leader who oversaw and who was in place and when this dark, broad drug culture took over is gone. Primarily because he oversaw the sport during that period and secondly because he failed to take adequate steps to ensure and put a process in place to make sure that it never happened again. That alone is a monumental moment that should give clean athletes significant hope that their rights are going to be protected going forward. Outside of that, we hear from loads of athletes all the time. I got an email from a 15-year-old cyclist yesterday, thanking us for giving him hope that if he ever makes it to that level he’s not going to need to cheat or that if he felt that he had to, he now believes that there’s an avenue through independent organizations that he can turn to, to help to protect the clean culture.

 

 

CN: When did the relationship with the UCI start to break down? A few years ago we heard about the problems over testing at the Tour of California.

TT: In hindsight we had concerns going back to the Hamilton case in front of CAS in 2005, about how the UCI handled his situation. We were overly disappointed with their lack of cooperation in the Landis case and while they appeared to sit silently, they were not helpful at all in obtaining documents that we needed for the case, allowing additional test data to take place, and we began to see how they would not aggressively go after the truth in those particular situations.

Then we came to 2010 when all this information, all this Landis information came out and they were suing him, attacking him and others who came forward. We attempted, and frankly the Tour of California, wanted us to as an organization, to provide independent testing. During that period we began to hear more and more about how inept the UCI testing program was. We worked with AEG and we had in place agreements to do the testing but then at the last minute the UCI pulled the rug out from all of it.

So the relationship with the UCI further deteriorated as they attempted to stall and attack us at every turn during the cycling investigation, with assisting with the frivolous lawsuit and at the Olympic Games, where they attacked us and our board of directors in a press conference. They were not interested in the truth, only in protecting themselves. And now look, they’ve been held accountable for that and anyone who values clean sport can take great satisfaction that the rights of the clean athletes, in cycling going forward, are going to be upheld.

CN: So do you really think that Pat McQuaid would still be president if he’d handled the USADA report differently?

TT: Absolutely.

CN: Really?

TT: That’s why we were pushing so hard. The only reason that I have found was that they failed to fulfill the promise of taking decisive and transparent action because they were fearful about what that was going to reveal about themselves. I can’t think of another good reason, I never heard another good reason.

CN: Is that speculation or something that you know?

TT: Look I don’t know but it is a logical conclusion as to why they didn’t take action

CN: Even though you have the document from the Mike Plant report, you don’t know?

TT: We hear allegations all the time. Our job is to follow up with them and obtain the truth. If I had the quid pro quo of corruption from the leaders of the UCI in that time period we would provide it through the proper process. And certainly whether it’s bringing cases against those that were responsible for the system or otherwise ensuring that the ethics and the laws are upheld, we would act on that.

CN: Is it slightly hypocritical to speculation on the motives of the UCI but not to clear up the speculation about a potentially clean athlete?

TT: I’m not speculating. I’m just saying that they announced that they were going take decisive action to put in place a process to clean it up for future generations. We said that we support that and that we’re ready to participate if it’s a genuine process. That openly went nowhere and all we’ve said is that their failure to do that ultimately led to their ousting. We think that is a good thing for clean athletes.

What their involvement was in the past, I don’t know. All I can say is that their failure to act on their promise could lead someone to the conclusion that they had something to hide. That’s a logical inference.

CN: You have the dossier from Mike Plant, is that correct?

TT: We do have it.

CN: And what’s in that?

TT: Actually. We haven’t obtained it from Mike Plant but we do have a dossier that has been reported in the media. Others have said that they’ve provided it to us.

CN: And what’s in that?

TT: I can’t comment.

CN: Speculation or proof?

TT: Again as we do with all information that we receive or allegations that we receive we take them seriously and we follow up to investigate them.

CN: And how are you going to follow that up? The dossier.

TT: As we normally would.

CN: Sorry, what does that entail? You’re going to ask to speak to Pat McQuaid? Are you going to speak to Hein Verbruggen?

TT: Again, I can’t say.

CN: Moving on, would you have reached the Reasoned Decision if Lance Armstrong hadn’t come back to the sport?

TT: I can’t speculate on a hypothetical like that. What I know is that someone came forward with information. Our obligation was to follow up on that. We did that. It was quickly confirmed. A mountain of evidence was obtained and we applied the facts to the rules and we went forward.

CN: When you took over your role in 2007, I know you’d been with USADA for a number of years, but what were your personal impressions of Armstrong in that period?

TT: Anyone that liked sport was inspired by the story and the accomplishments. Just like any other person that loves sport.

CN: In 2007?

TT: From 1999 forward.

CN: Did you still feel that way in 2007 when you took over?

TT: Sure.

CN: I believe you had an American rider early 2000s and come into USADA and talk about the general practices in the peloton – without naming any names but just talking about the general practices [doping] did that not taint that impression somewhat?

TT: A lot of people talk and speculate and provide general information about cultures but our job is to hear that and follow up on it when it’s appropriate. At the end of the day, our decisions and our impressions and conclusions come down to evidence. We believed and wanted to believe in Armstrong’s accomplishments until we could believe no more. That happened at the point when we obtained the evidence in the summer of 2010 and moved forward.

CN: What was the tipping point, the one bit of evidence in your own mind that meant going from ‘we need to investigate this’ to you thinking ‘this is the truth, this is fact’?

TT: It’s the totality of it. You hear the allegations from Floyd and the specifics and the level of detail. That was relatively quickly confirmed but we continued to investigate to see ultimately how it played out. It was the most powerful case of doping that we’d ever had. It’s all of it together, the consistency and the number of specific incidents and eye-witnesses. All of it together creates an undeniable picture. That was 2012 when we brought the case, when it all came together.

CN: What do you say to cycling fans now who look through the history books and see these crossed out names of Armstrong, and other American riders to some extent, in record books? When they see riders before Armstrong and this generation and in some cases perhaps after that generation, and they know that those riders cheated, admitted it, but still have those titles in their palmares? And how do you feel about that in an emotional sense? Because cycling fans, they do care about the sport, they are emotionally attached.

TT: As they should be. Look I don’t like it any more than anyone else. Major League Baseball has had to deal with the same issue. I think every culture that’s taken over by drugs unfortunately has to cross that bridge. While no one likes it, we certainly don’t either; it’s not an excuse to turn a blind eye to it. What I’d like a lot less and what angers me a lot more is all the athletes who had to leave the sport who weren’t willing to use the drugs, or those who were harassed and intimidated because they weren’t willing to use the drugs, and didn’t have success. Those are the people we ought to be more concerned about.

I think having an appropriate historical comment on those periods of time, like the Hall of Fame has done in Major League Baseball is totally appropriate. It’s not a reason not to do the right thing.

CN: Should we go back another ten years, or another 15 years or perhaps forward another five years?

TT: The statute is eight years unless there’s been fraudulent concealment. We said we should go back to 1998, Festina forward, to shed light on that generation and try to get all those who competed, and some before, but certainly that time period, until today. Those who learned to win by doping in that time period, who are now still in the sport, we have to do our best to clean out that system. Expose their behavior, have sanctions when that’s appropriate, because if they’re still in the sport, and many of them are, and they only won by doping, they are more likely to dope in the future if they feel they got away with it.

So we have to have a process by which we identify it and do our best to show that those who participated in the past don’t have to do it going forward.

CN: To draw one conclusion on that, and I know you can’t comment on specific case, but there are still redacted names from the USADA report who are still in cycling now, either riding or working for teams.

TT: Again I can’t comment on the redacted names. You know the sport well enough to know that there are people, some who have admitted it, and some who haven’t, who participated in doping in the past. That’s why we’ve pushed since the summer of 2012 and then renewed our call for it after our Reasoned Decision, for a truth and reconciliation process that finally allows the sport to clean itself up and unshackle itself from its immediate past of corrupt drug abuse and try and move forward and give hope to everyone who loves the sport. Especially all the clean athletes who want to compete in the sport and not have to use drugs to be successful.

CN: In your eyes can Armstrong play a part in that process?

TT: We’re open to it. We’d love to hear what he has to say. We’ve provided multiple opportunities for that. We have some hope but time is short obviously.

CN: Do you think that an entire generation of athletes was let down by the anti-doping community by a lack of testing and vigor to tackle doping? This includes USADA, WADA and the UCI.

TT: The people who chose not to dope and were robbed of their opportunity to realize their dreams were certainly the real victims of the doping culture in cycling, and we must all accept responsibility for what happened to those clean athletes and vow never to let that injustice occur again.

CN: So how did USADA fail in that sense? What mistakes did you make and where were you not able to advance?

TT: I think it’s a resource issue. Being able to have the ability to convince athletes from a preventative standpoint that we’re going to protect their rights is a resource issue. So if we had the sort of arsenal that a winner of the Tour de France had we would be in a much better position to protect athletes’ right. The amount of money coming into sports and going to those who win is huge. At some point we just have a harder time battling those influences and that natural desire of overly competitive athletes to do whatever it takes to win.

CN: Has that financial gap narrowed because you could argue that if the sport is clearing up then perhaps the incentive to cheat is even higher as fewer athletes dope.

TT: I think the incentive to cheat is only going up as more money is spent on the winners in global sport. That’s the reality of the forces we’re battling. But at the end of the day I firmly believe that athletes don’t want to have to use drugs to be successful. We have to maintain and develop the science. You see new pools of research money, we roughly have $3 million going to research and you finally have people who appreciate what happens if you don’t protect the rights of clean athletes. Sport otherwise becomes a complete fraud and people don’t like to see sport that’s not played by the rules.

CN: When you received death threats were you ever tempted to back off?

TT: No. You don’t like them and you hate having to sit down with your kids and warm them about why we have security outside of our house and why we have to do things differently in travel. It angers us as parents having to do that, and our staff here. We shouldn’t have to go through it. But at the end of the day, that is part of the oath that we swore to protect clean athletes, we have to have the resolve to endure those things. We don’t like it, but we’re happier it’s aimed at us and not others. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we let those things scare us off and stop us from doing what we have to do.


 

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