USA Cycling was due to name its team for the UCI Track World Championships on Friday, but the announcement was held up in legal limbo as the federation grapples with rules and looming deadlines after Bobby Lea appealed his 16-month doping ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Lea, 32, was a bronze medalist in the 2015 world championships in the scratch race, but tested positive on August 8 last year for noroxycodone - the result of an ill-timed dose of a painkiller the night before the USA Cycling track championships. He has hired Howard Jacobs, famously the attorney who defended Floyd Landis in his Tour de France doping case, to handle the case which goes before CAS on February 19.
Jim Miller, USA Cycling's Vice President of Athletics explained the situation to Cyclingnews, saying the timing of the case is very difficult. "[Lea is] going to CAS on the 19th, we have to inscript a team with the UCI by the 21st. He won't hear from CAS (with a decision) until the 26th," Miller said. Complicating matters is the fact that if CAS deems Lea eligible to compete at Worlds, USA Cycling is required to allow him to under the Ted Stevens Act, which protects all athletes' right to compete.
Lengthy discussions between Lea's, USA Cycling's and the USOC's attorneys led the team announcement to be delayed until the CAS hearing. "If he is deemed eligible by CAS, then he is the automatic nominee for the scratch race by our criteria, and for the points race as a result of Jake Duehring declining his selection, so that's where we're stuck."
Duehring was second to Lea in the national championship omnium, and will compete in the race at the world championships. Because the points race falls during the omnium schedule, he declined to compete in that, but could race the scratch race should Lea be declared ineligible. Lea, who hopes to compete in the omnium at the Olympic Games in Rio, is not allowed to compete in the discipline under UCI rules because he did not race it at any of this season's World Cups. He wants to compete in the scratch and points race instead.
"[Lea's] attorneys have asked that he's listed as a reserve. If he's not on the inscription he can't compete, even if he's deemed eligible. If you're on the inscription you have up to 48 hours before the first event to name your starters, so that would buy the time," Miller said. If USA Cycling failed to add Lea to the roster, and he is declared eligible by CAS, then they could argue USA Cycling neglected to provide avenues for Lea to compete.
At the same time, the USA Cycling selection criteria prevent riders who are not in good standing with USADA to be nominated for the team, so it has been tricky to navigate the legalities. "I tried to figure out what my obligation is, what's the right thing to do and how do we go about it," Miller said, agreeing it was a Catch-22.
"We're definitely not trying to help him, we're just trying to do the right thing by the Ted Stevens Act and protect an athlete's right to compete. You have no leeway with that," Miller said. "This is really tough. There are five other guys who submitted a rider petition for scratch and points." Lea would have precedent as last year's bronze medalist for the scratch race, but Miller said, "it does affect other guys in the points race."
Lea training while lawyers work his case
Lea has had a difficult seven weeks since USADA announced his doping ban, but he continues to train at the velodrome in Carson, California in hopes of having his ban reduced.
"I've been keeping my foot on the gas because if we're lucky enough to get a reduction that allows the Olympics to be on the table, then I would have done myself a disservice if I just sat on my hands waiting for CAS," he told Cyclingnews.
"The only way I've been able to get through these last few months is keep the focus squarely on next week and then wait for the decision and reassess and see what we have from there."
The tight deadlines make it unlikely that Lea will be able to race at the world championships, but Lea says the process has been limited by the court's schedule. "If all of us had our way this would have been done a month ago," he said.
He says he has not personally been in touch with USA Cycling, but has been letting Jacobs handle the specifics.
"He's been working with them, trying to figure out what exactly are the legal issues surrounding selection that we're going to have to work with if we're so lucky to get cleared by CAS, so that we don't run into the situation of getting a reduction but missing critical bits of information that would preclude me from racing the Olympics."
Meanwhile, Lea has been surprised by the support he's gotten from the cycling community since the announcement of his ban and his subsequent explanation in an open letter to taking a dose of Percocet to help him sleep, unaware it would still be in his system during competition the next day.
"The community support has been wildly positive. I've been pleasantly surprised with the support I've received straight across the board. It's gone a long way toward showing me what my time in the sport has meant. Clearly it's meant more than pedaling a bike fast and standing on a podium now and then. It's given me an insight into the impact that I've had on other people's lives and other people's time in the sport that I never would have seen otherwise. There have been some nice realizations, and a healthy dose of perspective that's come along with it."