Steve Johnson, USA Cycling's president and CEO, has found himself at the centre of a media storm after the book "Cycle of Lies" drew attention to his role and conduct during the Lance Armstrong years. In the book, by the New York Times' Juliet Macur, Dave Zabriskie says he informed Johnson of the widespread doping culture within the US Postal Service team several times, but nothing was done. Johnson has stated the conversation with Zabriskie never took place, but has been unwilling to answer further questions when Cyclingnews contacted USA Cycling.
Johnson was recruited by USA Cycling in 1998 and worked his way up through the ranks until he was made USA Cycling CEO in 2006. A large proportion of that rise and work was helped by Thom Weisel, who pumped millions of dollars into cycling, while at the same time running Tailwind Sports, which managed the US Postal team.
Zabriskie agreed to answer Cyclingnews' questions via email, and when asked to re-tell the first episode which took place in 1999. Zabriskie said, "at the Olympic training center I had reservations about going into professional cycling because I had been beginning to hear stories about the drugs in the sport. I went to Steve to ask his advice because I didn't want to give up college and a whole other life if it meant having to do drugs."
"Steve said it was a great time to enter the sport because it was getting all cleaned up. So I continued to pursue professional cycling. I gave it my full effort and was doing very well - got onto Postal Service - had just gotten fifth in a big race - and out of nowhere Johan [Bruyneel] comes to me with drugs."
The second conversation took place in 2004, when Zabriskie was in the midst of leaving US Postal for another team.
"I became more and more frustrated over the whole scene on Postal Service as it was the exact opposite of the clean sport I was hoping for so I told Steve in 2004 what had happened to me on the team. It seemed befitting to tell him because he had told me 'no worries' about drugs. I just assumed he would do what needed to be done, but he did nothing."
Zabriskie also told Cyclingnews of a third instance in which he claims Johnson was told about doping within the sport after another former US Postal team rider, Frankie Andreu, had confessed to doping at Postal.
"In 2006, I had another conversation with Steve - this time in conjunction with the news about Frankie. The subject came up and I again talked to him about my personal experience on Postal and Johan and what had happened. He showed no expression and gave no response."
Cyclingnews spent several days trying to talk to Johnson directly, however, all requests to answer our questions directly, yet fairly, were rebuffed. Instead the organisation was sent a statement from USAC spokesperson. When pressed for Johnson to give us an interview we were again declined.
"USA Cycling has a consistent practice of directing athletes who come to us with information on doping to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, as USADA has exclusive authority in the United States to investigate alleged doping violations. Our CEO has already gone on record to indicate that the alleged conversations between him and David Zabriskie, as described in Juliet Macur's book, never occurred. If they had, the athlete and the information would have been directed to USADA," read the statement.
Upon contacting Zabriskie for further information, he would only write back to say, "I don't really have anything more to say. The situation speaks for itself."
The first sentence from the USA Cycling statement stands out in stark contrast to the actions of the organisation in August of 2012, when they sided with the UCI and Lance Armstrong in fighting USADA over jurisdiction in the US Postal-Lance Armstrong case.
On the 12th of that month, provided by Armstrong's lawyers to US District Judge Sam Sparks was a letter from USAC lawyer Stephen Hess. The letter was addressed to William Bock, General Counsel of USADA, notifying USADA of USAC's stance with regard to jurisdiction in the case. Within the letter USAC state that the UCI has the appropriate jurisdiction to handle the matter.
Cyclingnews contacted USADA and asked them if USA Cycling had been supportive during the investigation and whether they handed over any information upon request. It took over 24 hours but USADA finally responded with a flat "no comment at this time".
Zabriskie is not the only former US Postal to have a similar experience with USA Cycling. Frankie Andreu, who admitted to doping in an interview with Macur in 2006, also spoke to Cyclingnews about USA Cycling and their stance towards the fight against doping. In 2006, Andreu confessed to doping during his time at US Postal in the interview with the New York Times. At the time of his confession, he was on the board of USA Cycling, but after his confession came out he claims that he was asked to resign.
"I didn't tell Steve Johnson anything. I came clean about my doping in 2006 in the newspapers and I was on the USA Cycling board of directors at the time. I then received a call from Jim Ochowicz. He didn't say who but he said that there were other members of the board who thought I should resign after coming out," Andreu told Cyclingnews.
Ochowicz wrote to Cyclingnews, saying, "Yes, I did have a conversation with Frankie to get his opinion about whether or not he should resign. It was not a demand from the board, or even a request that he do so. Frankie thought that his resignation was not necessary, and ultimately he did not resign."
Andreu admits that he was not asked a single question in relation to his confession, neither when he was asked to resign nor at the next USA Cycling meeting.
"I pretty much said no to resigning. I came out to highlight a problem in the sport and I was trying to draw attention to it and make some changes. I didn't resign and I said no. Then in the next meeting everyone acted like nothing happened."
Andreu was later one of several witnesses against Armstrong, Bruyneel and four others in the benchmark USADA case, one which would ultimately lead to Pat McQuaid being replaced by Brian Cookson as president of the UCI, and to the establishment of the new independent commission, known as CIRC (Cycling Independent Reform Commission). On March 12, 2014, USA Cycling released a statement asking "any USA Cycling members to come forward with any information that can assist the CIRC in its inquiry".
"It's nice that Steve Johnson came out with a statement urging everyone to cooperate with the UCI commission," Andreu said. "But why didn't he come out with that statement earlier, urging everyone to cooperate, when USADA was investigating?
"I think that they know more than they put on. I think that at the start they weren't that cooperative with USADA during the investigation. Which you would think they would have been the opposite policy on. I heard that they were not willing to give information and blocked information and requests."
On Zabriskie's version of events, Andreu added: "I'm surprised that Steve Johnson has denied it all. To say that he only became aware of it in 2010, only he would be aware of when he came to know, but all the DZ stuff was before 2010."