Phill Bates, a UCI Arbitration Panel member, has hit back at suggestions made by Dr. Michael Ashenden last month that he is partly to blame for the current doping-related tumult that is threatening to overshadow the sport of cycling in Australia.
Ashenden, in an opinion piece written for the Sydney Morning Herald pointed at Bates, as well as Cycling Australia's President Klaus Mueller, CEO Graham Fredericks and UCI Oceania President and Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur, as examples of facilitators of a system which ceased to be effective in the anti-doping fight.
"Not surprisingly, Australian cycling is in turmoil following Matt White's admission that he doped. However, we are missing the point if we bring only the riders to account," Ashenden wrote.
"Indeed, with obvious exceptions such as Armstrong, I consider them to be victims of a broken system, rather than evil-doers. It's time the organisations who oversee cycling are held accountable for what has transpired, and nowhere is that more evident than here in Australia."
The earlier doping confession of White following the USADA report into former teammate Lance Armstrong and his associates set off a chain of events in Australia that included Cycling Australia Vice President Stephen Hodge's own doping admission and stepping down from his position, and a government-led inquiry into the sporting organisation that is still to reach a conclusion.
Bates had earlier been critical of USADA's investigation saying, "While Armstrong may have opted not to continue with his legal fight, USADA, a signatory to the WADA code, has no jurisdiction to punish or impose sanctions against any rider," in an interview with The Australian. Bates also labelled USADA boss Travis Tygart as an "egomaniac publicity hunter".
The long-time administrator, from club-level to the world stage, now admits in a carefully considered response that he "may have been relatively naive when it came to drugs in sport" but says recent events, revelations and his own research has resulted in some clarity. He does however maintain that drug cheats should be caught through the testing process, rather than "innuendo and testimonies". Where Bates does check himself is in his comments regarding Tygart.
"History has proven that statement wrong and for me when Christian Vande Velde and George Hincapie both put their hands up, it was enough to convince me that the exercise was justified," he told Cyclingnews.
Bates staged the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic from 1982 to 2000, an event which became a victim of the 1998 Festina Scandal. While Bates was launching that year's event at New South Wales Parliament House in Sydney, cyclists were finding themselves in jail cells. Bates says that it was a turn of events which led to the Commonwealth Bank withdrawing their support for the sport, with the company only agreeing to honour the remainder of the contract. After 19 years, 'The Bank Race' ceased to be, ending one of the longest-running cycling event sponsorships in Australia, only being surpassed by the Herald Sun Tour.
"Despite paying tens of thousands of dollars to ASDA [Australian Sports Drug Agency] (now ASADA) [Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority] to undertake drug testing, they never caught one drug cheat, despite many of the disgraced riders from the Livestrong team having contested the event," Bates points out.
"Ashenden is one of the many doctors/scientists that are supposed to catch drug cheats through testing procedures but it appears that many world-class cyclists and sports people have escaped that net for far too many decades."
Bates also maintains that those blaming the UCI for the current state of flux regarding anti-doping are misguided. He suggests that while now with the benefit of hindsight that there were failings in the 50 per cent hematocrit threshold, at least cycling's governing body was doing something to curb the disturbing trend towards the use of EPO.
"I was well aware of the tragic circumstances of what EPO did to cyclists that self administered in the hope of being a champion and there was far too many deaths in a relatively short period of time through to the early 1990s in Europe," Bates explained.
"With no tests available to detect EPO what options did the UCI Management have but introduce the 50 per cent red blood count as a way of limiting self-harm and death? I believe that cross-country skiing and cycling were the only sports to undertake such a step with skiing opting for a higher red blood count than cycling.
"I also witnessed first-hand the UCI sending doctors and nurses to the Tour de Snowy to test the best women cyclists in the world in 1998 - all the way from Switzerland to the Snowy Region of Australia, displaying enormous commitment to the cause," he added. "Would the UCI have undertook such a costly step if they were not committed?"
Bates said that the recent admissions of the systematic approach to doping within the sport has resulted in a "greater empathy" for the likes of White and Hodge, but he maintains that the choice was still their own to do the wrong thing.
"I can understand their predicament but it is still little consolation for those that attempted to do it the right way," he said. "Brad McGee's article said it all!"
Like many, Bates believes that the current cathartic process that cycling is undertaking is far from over but he is encouraged by the steps, difficult as they may be, that are being taken. The imminent trial as a result of Operacion Puerto, seven years after police discovered the blood bags in the Madrid clinic, is seen as another opportunity by Bates as a way of finding clarity.
"Hopefully will take a little bit of heat away from a sport that needs to continue to focus on a drug-free environment," he suggested. "One has to ask why only the 30-plus cyclists were named in Operacion Puerto and more than 170 other sports people remain anonymous?"
In terms of the sport continuing to take steps towards discouraging the use of performance enhancing drugs, Bates said that it might be time to look at what the sport's athletes have to endure.
"When we had two organizations, one looking after professional cycling and the other the amateurs, the amateurs were restricted to averaging the maximum of 160 kilometres per day with the maximum distance 200 kilometres," he said. "Surely the organisers of our grand tours should be looking at achievable distances and terrain on a daily basis."
Bates told Cyclingnews that if there is a question mark, it is over the career of Jan Ullrich and he wonders what role Armstrong had in the German's palmares being stymied. But as for Ashenden, Bates wishes to inform his compatriot that he has no plans to leave the sport.
"I wish to advise that my devotion to the sport of cycling has never waned - I have been an administrator for 46 years, a cyclists, coach and promoter and have done so at my family's expense in a bid to improve our sport and never once looked at turning my back on the sport," he said.
"I now look forward to a season that does not boast the headlines that we have encountered in 1998 and 2012 and far too many years in between."
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