USA Cycling, the governing body of cycling in the USA, has confirmed that Lance Armstrong or any other banned athlete cannot take part in this weekend's Gran Fondo Hincapie charity event in Greenville, South Carolina.
Although the Gran Fondo Hincapie is not a race, it is a sanctioned event, and the World Anti-Doping Code and the UCI Anti-Doping rules make it clear that any person declared 'Ineligible' cannot "participate in any capacity in an Event or activity (other than authorized anti-doping education or rehabilitation programs) authorized, recognized or organized by UCI, a Continental Confederation, a National Federation, or any other Signatory."
Armstrong was banned for life and disqualified from his seven Tour de France victories by the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the UCI in 2012 after a USADA investigation revealed a complex and sophisticated doping programme carried out over many years. Armstrong initially refused to confess or appeal, leading to his life ban. He finally admitting to doping in a television interview with Oprah Winfrey in January 2013.
USA Cycling had been under pressure to clarify its position on the event following questions and growing pressure from USADA (the United States Anti-Doping Agency) and questions were raised by Velonews and Cyclingtips. It finally issued a statement on Thursday after consulting with the UCI.
"USA Cycling has been asked by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to look into the Hincapie Gran Fondo in the face of questions concerning rider eligibility. USA Cycling has informed USADA that the Hincapie Gran Fondo constitutes a cycling "activity" that is "authorized" by USA Cycling as those terms are used in the World Anti-Doping Code and in the Anti-Doping provisions of the UCI (International Cycling Union) Cycling Regulation," USA Cycling said in a statement sent to Cyclingnews.
"Under these provisions, an athlete's suspension bars participation in an authorized activity such as this. The UCI has confirmed USA Cycling's interpretation."
Although it would difficult to stop Armstrong from riding on the open road during the event, USA Cycling warns that WADA could consider if Armstrong has violated his life-time suspension.
"The World Anti-Doping Code vests jurisdiction in UCI and in USADA to determine whether an athlete has violated the terms of any suspension, as well as to assess any sanctions that might accompany an adverse determination" USA Cycling said.
Many US riders set to ride
Armstrong’s participation at the Gran Fondo Hincapie was first announced in a newsletter email issued October 10th according to Cyclingtips. The email also confirmed the participation of several of his former US Postal Service and Discovery Channel riders including Hincapie, Kevin Livingston, Tom Danielson, Michael Barry and Christian Vande Velde.
Many of Armstrong's former teammates testified against him in the USADA investigation and during a Federal investigation. They were banned for six months and either retired or ended their career's soon after. Only Tom Danielson is still competing as part of the Garmin-Sharp team.
Other American riders expected to ride the Gran Fondo Hincapie include Tejay van Garderen, Brent Bookwalter, and Larry Warbasse of the BMC team, plus Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp) and Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing).
Armstrong explained why he wanted to ride the Gran Fondo Hincapie in an email to Velonews earlier this week.
"I’m going because George is a good friend and he asked me to come. He’s been awfully supportive of Anna and mine’s work with Wapiyapi [a small private fundraising dinner and ride], so I wanted to return the favor. Regarding the others, I’m ambivalent,” Velonews quoted Armstrong as saying.
Tejay Van Garderen justified his decision to ride the event, telling Velonews: “I can see the curiosity of people, wondering why we would choose to associate ourselves. It was frustrating for me to learn about all the stuff that happened in the past, and I think I was right there, with a lot of people, being angry about the news that had come out. But after a while, after I had had some time to digest … Thor Hushovd said to me once, in regards to Lance, ‘If I had a family member, or friend, who committed a crime and went to prison, I wouldn’t support what they did — but I would still go visit them in prison.’ And I agree with that."
Hincapie justified his role in the event by saying: "The Fondo is not supposed to have an intended or implied message; at least that’s not what we are shooting for. It’s just a celebration of cycling with friends and fans that also supports what we feel are important causes. Last year we hosted 20 or so veterans from Operation Shift Gears, and financial proceeds purchased more than 6,000 meals for our Meals on Wheels chapter.
"I know I’ve made mistakes along with some of the other riders in attendance, but I believe in, and hope for, second chances for everyone. I’m very fortunate to count many former and current professionals as friends, and will leave it to my peers to decide how they regard me, and the event."
There was no initial reaction from Armstrong or the riders following the statement from USA Cycling.