In contrast to its policy in the 2010 Amgen Tour of California, organizer AEG announced today that it will not exclude riders, teams or staff who are under open anti-doping rule violations from the 2011 race.
US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) CEO Travis Tygart explained that such an approach goes against the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code and that all riders should be considered innocent until proven guilty. He said USADA had never agreed with the policy of excluding riders until they have gone through a fair and impartial proceeding.
Had it been continued, the rule could have prohibited Lance Armstrong from competing in the event, as he is reportedly under investigation by the federal government over alleged doping in his former US Postal team.
"Until an athlete through our process has been shown and proven to have committed an anti-doping rule violation, they are free to compete: whether pending indictment, pending investigation, whether some blogger thinks they cheated," said Tygart.
"[It was] USADA's recommendation to us that we remove that rule," said AEG president Andrew Messick. "It is not consistent with the WADA code, and USADA believes that it is not consistent with due process and the rights of athletes, either. The UCI (International Cycling Union) is no longer enforcing that rule is what we've been told. We feel it is inappropriate for us to be out of compliance with both USADA and the UCI with regard to issues relating to the eligibility of athletes."
The change was in stark contrast to the 2008 event, when AEG steadfastly barred Rock Racing's riders Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla and Santiago Botero from being included in the team's roster for the Tour of California. The trio protested by following the race route in advance of the field.
Messick defended their past decision, saying, "We followed our rule in 2008 and, based on the landscape at the time, we felt - and continue to feel - that we behaved appropriately."
Tygart said the practice ran counter to the policy of USADA and WADA that "all athletes are innocent unless and until they're proven otherwise, through the established legal process".
"The UCI rule or practice that was in place in the past frankly ran counter to that. While there might be some good reasons behind it, it had unintended consequences that we think were negative and unfair. That unfairness far outweighed the arguable good purpose behind the rule. We've never agreed with that rule, it's not in the WADA code, it's not in our rules, and there's good reason why - every athlete is entitled to full and fair due process prior to being removed from the playing field."
While the policies of AEG will not prevent Armstrong from competing, Messick said that RadioShack has yet to confirm his participation in this year's event.
"RadioShack owes us their 12-person provisional roster and we'll see who's on it," he said. "We have no firm commitment from [Armstrong], no commitment from RadioShack. The last we heard was that he didn't know.
"I don't think it hurts the race whether [Armstrong's] in it or isn't in it. I think we're going to have a fantastic field of athletes. Lance Armstrong brings a lot of attention to the sport and has many people who believe in him passionately. I think that having him as part of the race would ensure that a lot of the media would follow the race, and there's something to that even if they're not as focused on what is happening in the race."