Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) held a short conference call with the British press on Monday afternoon to discuss her final preparations for the weekend's Olympic Games road race in Rio de Janeiro, where she lines up as the favourite for gold. The topic of her abandon at last month's Giro Rosa, ostensibly due to illness, was touched upon only briefly. "I can be pretty confident: my health's good, everything I've been able to control I've done to the best of my ability and I feel ready," Armitstead said.
At that point, as far as the reporters on the call were aware, Armitstead's abandon in Italy and subsequent absence from La Course in Paris had been the only twists on her road to Rio in a season where she has been the dominant force in the women's peloton. Only on Monday night did it emerge that the world champion had taken a rather more convoluted detour via the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne.
The Daily Mail's Matt Lawton reported that Armitstead had missed three out-of-competition anti-doping tests in the space of twelve month months – on August 20 and October 5 last year, and on June 9. On July 11 – three days after leaving the Giro Rosa – UK Anti-Doping charged Armitstead and provisionally suspended her. At a CAS hearing on July 21, however, the Briton succeeded in having the first of the three missed tests expunged from her record and she was cleared to compete in Rio.
Armitstead and UKAD have since issued statements outlining their respective positions on the case, though there have only been informal briefings from British Cycling rather than an official response, and CAS has yet to make any comment. It is a case that so far has raised more questions than answers.
Why did Armitstead not challenge the first missed test at the time?
In her statement on Monday evening, Armitstead accepted responsibility for the second and third missed tests. Her representatives cited "an administrative oversight" for the October 2015 filing failure and said that the June 2016 missed test was the result of Armitstead not updating her whereabouts because of an "emergency change of plans due to a serious illness within her family."
It was only after her third and final strike, however, that Armitstead then decided to lodge a formal challenge to her first missed test, which took place on the eve of the Open de Suède Vårgårda World Cup race in Sweden last August. Armitstead said that her phone was on silent and that hotel staff had refused to give the tester her room number.
"Ms Armitstead chose not to challenge the first and second Whereabouts Failures at the time they were asserted against her," UKAD pointed out in a statement on Monday. "At the CAS hearing, Ms Armitstead raised a defence in relation to the first Whereabouts Failure, which was accepted by the Panel. We are awaiting the Reasoned Decision from the CAS Panel as to why the first Whereabouts Failure was not upheld."
It appears that Armitstead's legal team successfully argued to CAS that procedures had not been followed in attempting to locate her in Sweden, but it begs an obvious question: why did she not dispute that missed test at the time?
It's relevant to note that athletes can challenge the missed test right away (and do not need to go to CAS and spend money to do so). According to the WADA's website, "If they [athletes] miss a test, they have the opportunity of providing a reason. If this excuse is accepted by the relevant anti-doping organization, then the missed test is not part of any record and does not count as one of three missed tests required within 18 months before any sanction is considered by the relevant ADO." [WADA reduced the length of time from 18 months to 12 in 2013, ed.]
How could an athlete miss three tests?
In recent years, WADA has taken steps to make it as easy as possible for athletes to update their whereabouts, even in emergency situations, using the Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS). For example, athletes can update their 60-minute time-slot and their whereabouts at all times, by updating their file on the website, emailing or text messaging their relevant anti-doping organization.
Athletes can also have their agent or another representative submit their whereabouts information on their behalf. "In team sports, whereabouts information can be submitted by team officials on a collective basis as part of the team's activities," according to WADA's website. Although, athletes are ultimately responsible for their whereabouts.
In addition, athletes can leave relevant details with regard to their whereabouts such as the best way to reach them, including detailed directions or GPS co-ordinates should the athlete be in a remote location or at a location that has no appropriate address.
Missing a test can and does happen for legitimate reasons, which is why WADA allows for three missed tests within a 12-month period before a sanction is placed against the athlete.
Given the ease and number of methods available for an athlete to keep their whereabouts up to date, combined with the likelihood that an athlete might be hypersensitive to properly updating their file after missing one test, prompts the question: how could an athlete miss three?
What was British Cycling's precise role in Armitstead's defence?
According to the Daily Mail, Armitstead was represented at CAS by "a legal team backed by British Cycling" and in her statement on Monday night, Armitstead thanked British Cycling "for all of their help and support."
British Cycling has confirmed that it paid for legal consultation on its own position regarding Armitstead's availability for Rio, but refuted reports that it had funded the rider's defence, saying that she paid her own costs. British Cycling did, however, share information with Armitstead's legal team and must now explain this seeming conflict of interests.
How and why was the case kept out of the public domain?
Considering the lip service paid to the concept of transparency in both cycling and Olympic circles, it beggars belief that the world champion and favourite for Olympic gold was provisionally suspended for an anti-doping offence in the build-up to the Games without the information being made public.
Indeed, only for the work of the Daily Mail, it seems that Armitstead's case might never have been made public at all. According to UKAD rule 8.4.2, "Where the hearing panel has determined that an Anti-Doping Rule Violation has not been committed, the decision shall not be Publicly Disclosed unless the Athlete or other Person in charge consents to such disclosure. Where the Athlete or Person charged does not so consent, a summary of the decision may be published, provided that what is disclosed does not enable the public to identify the Athlete or other Person charged."
Likewise, according to the UCI's anti-doping rule 14.4.3, in cases where an athlete is cleared of an anti-doping violation, "the decision may be publicly disclosed only with the consent of the Rider or Other Person who is the subject of the decision."
And so, while CAS last week published a list of pending arbitration cases involving Russian athletes who were seeking to compete in the Rio 2016 Olympics, there is no mention anywhere on its website of the confidential Armitstead hearing.
Who was on the CAS panel and how do they explain their decision?
Contacted by Cyclingnews on Tuesday morning, CAS said that it does not field questions from journalists over the telephone and an email seeking clarification on the Armitstead case has so far gone unanswered.
With the case now in the public domain and its outcome acknowledged by Armitstead, it is beholden on CAS to name the arbitration panel that ruled on the matter and release a full Reasoned Decision.