Doug Ellis, the chairman of Slipstream Sports, has backed the UCI’s proposal for a full and independent commission to examine the allegations surrounding the UCI's handling of the Lance Armstrong case. However, the American has warned that cycling has but one opportunity to rescue its image in order for the sport to regain credibility in the eyes of sponsors and fans.
"It feels like we’ve pulled the curtain on years of denial and wishful thinking and we’re staring at some very difficult truths, some that people always knew and some that they never knew or were denying. There’s a lot of blood in the streets. Some of it’s too bad but some of it is entirely necessary.”
The UCI announced they would initiate plans for a commission after USADA released their reasoned decision in relation to their case against Lance Armstrong. The former rider was stripped of his seven Tour wins – the UCI later ratified this – but the case has had far-reaching effects. Rabobank announced they were leaving the sport and a number of riders and staff from the professional peloton have found themselves on the end of bans or dismissals.
“This is our opportunity for all the interested parties and stakeholders,” Ellis continued. This is our chance to rebuild the sport that retains the beautiful aspects, to present a business model that can be operated and to win back the fans. I don't think we have a second chance, this is our chance.
“If it’s a truly independent commission with authority to look into things, then that’s a great step and what a lot of people are calling for. We all want credibility going forward and some steps need to be taken to demonstrate that the various bodies, the teams, the governance of the sport are credible. Otherwise it’s going to be hard to get people to believe in the sport. Now is our time to rebuild and hopefully we can do it in the right way.”
Ellis came into the sport as a financial backer for Jonathan Vaughters’ TIAA-CREF team in 2004. Since then the squad has reached WorldTour status, riding its first Tour de France in 2008 and wining this year’s Giro d’Italia through Ryder Hesjedal. The team have continuously aired a strong anti-doping stance but have simultaneously hired a number of ex-dopers.
“The way I look at it, we formed the team, understanding that there were a lot of people with compromised pasts and you couldn’t do the sport if you threw all those people away. We drew our line in the sand, saying 'you behave honestly and cleanly here,' and I think that a lot of people came here as a safe haven and I’m really proud of that,” Ellis said.
That line was reaffirmed in May of 2010 when Floyd Landis lifted the lid on the extent of cheating that was rife in professional cycling. Along with implicating Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel, a number of Garmin riders were either named or linked. Ellis had seen Garmin transform into one of the most successful teams in the peloton and used Landis' step forward to back his riders, stating that if they cooperated with the authorities and continued to race clean, Garmin would remain their home.
“I’m not surprised about any specific story but I didn’t know or have conversations," Ellis said when asked if he knew about the pasts of several of his riders.
"I didn't really start talking about that until Floyd’s letter broke this story open. We then had to decide what our reaction would be, how we’d support the guys on our team as long as they’d been clean on our programme and we’ve maintained that line in the sand.”
“If we can do a good job of knowing what the past was and rebuilding in a way that the fans can believe in I think we’ll find all kinds of sponsors.”