In 1990, former Irish professional cyclist Paul Kimmage published Rough Ride, his memoir of racing in the pro peloton. In it, he gave a detailed account of a sport in which doping was endemic.
In 1991, Hein Verbruggen became president of the UCI, a post he held until stepping down in 2005. He remains its honorary president.
In late April and early May 2010, Floyd Landis admitted doping throughout his career in a series of e-mails sent to the head of USA Cycling and others. The story was broken by the Wall Street Journal. In those e-mails, Landis alleged that his former team-mate Lance Armstrong paid the UCI to hush up a positive test in 2001; Landis said that Armstrong himself had told him this. The UCI denied the story, saying that no rider had tested positive in the Tour de Suisse that year.
In late May 2010, at the Giro d'Italia, UCI president Pat McQuaid gave a press conference where he appeared to regret the UCI having accepted Armstrong's donation. At that time McQuaid said there had been a single payment in 2005 of $100,000, which he denied was a bribe: “We didn't think there's a conflict of interest.”
At a subsequent press conference, in July, he affirmed that, in fact, the UCI had also received a personal cheque from Armstrong for $25,000 in 2002, which was used to pay for dope testing in junior races. The further sum of $100,000 came from Armstrong's management company in 2005, at the point at which the American had announced his first retirement, and only after a reminder from the UCI. That amount was used to pay for a Sysmex blood testing machine.
McQuaid said that he did not know why it had taken Armstrong “so long to eventually pay up”. Nor did he shed light on who had contacted Armstrong to chase up the payment.
In July 2010, Landis repeated his story in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. In November 2010, Paul Kimmage interviewed Floyd Landis. Their seven hour conversation became the basis for a Sunday Times article but the full transcript was published in early 2011 by the US website nyvelocity.
In it, Landis says that Lance Armstrong forced him to apologise to then UCI president Hein Verbruggen. The reason? A statement that Landis had made to the press over a contractual dispute he’d had prior to joining US Postal. Landis alleges that part of Armstrong’s persuasion that it was necessary to cowtow to the UCI was the revelation the Texan had tested positive at the Tour de Suisse in 2001 but that the governing body had suppressed the information.
In May 2012, Tyler Hamilton told CBS' 60 Minutes that Armstrong had shared the same story with him. In September 2012, he repeated the allegation in detail in his book The Secret Race. According to Hamilton's co-author, Dan Coyle: “What happened next was a call was made from cycling’s body, UCI, that this test should go no further, this matter should end here. There was a meeting between Armstrong, his coach and the lab and then there was also a $125,000 donation from Armstrong to the UCI.’’
Armstrong's lawyer Tim Herman responded by saying that Armstrong and his directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel had “no recollection” of any such meeting. The UCI has denied any cover up and any connection between Armstrong's suspect test and the anti-doping donations.
The now famous Usada report released in October 2012 contains the same account, backed by sworn affidavits from Hamilton and Landis. Usada also has testimony from the director of the Swiss laboratory, Dr Martial Saugy, who said that the UCI had confirmed to him that one of several suspicious test results for EPO use belonged to Lance Armstrong. Saugy also confirmed that, in 2002, he did meet with Armstrong and Bruyneel to discuss the implications of the Tour de Suisse suspect samples.
The Usada report also notes that: “Pat McQuaid, the current president of UCI, has acknowledged that Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel visited the UCI headquarters in Aigle in May 2002 and offered at least $100,000 to help the development of cycling.”
In a Swiss court in April 2011, the UCI launched defamation proceedings against Landis over the 2001/2002 bribe allegation. In October 2012, just days before the Usada report was released, the court found in favour of the UCI by default; Landis denied having been served the papers and did not appear to defend himself. Landis' lawyer has said that the Swiss court's ruling has no jurisdiction over the American.
There is precedent for the UCI's action here: in 2008, the UCI sued the former head of Wada, Richard Pound, after critical remarks he had made about the UCI's failure to tackle doping in cycling; the case was settled in 2009, without a retraction by Pound and with no damages paid.
In December 2011, the UCI started a defamation suit against Paul Kimmage. Kimmage said he did not receive notification of the action until January 2012 – coincidentally after he had been laid off by his employer, the Sunday Times, in a round of cost cutting measures.
Kimmage and McQuaid go back a long way. In 1985 – some 20 years before he became UCI president – Pat McQuaid was team manager for the Irish squad at the amateur road race World Championships. Kimmage finished sixth that year, behind Maurizio Fondriest. Kimmage says McQuaid has treated him as persona non grata ever since the publication of Rough Ride. But when it comes to the present lawsuit, Kimmage is in no doubt: “Verbruggen is driving this.”
As has been noted by Kimmage's former Sunday Times colleague David Walsh, himself a longtime crusader against Lance Armstrong's dope-cheating, the UCI is not suing any publication or media outlet that has aired the allegation – not the Wall Street Journal, nor L'Équipe, nor Bantam Press (Hamilton's publisher), nor CBS Television, nor any website. Instead, it has chosen to go after an individual journalist who is now unemployed and has no institutional backing.
Asked about the Kimmage case in a recent interview, Dick Pound commented: “Verbruggen and Armstrong and so on have resorted to the institution of legal proceedings. Not so much to collect money, but to stifle any dissent or opposition.”
In September 2012, a legal defence fund for Paul Kimmage was set up by the nyvelocity and cyclismas websites. Within weeks, it had raised over $60,000 through individual donations from grassroots cyclists and cycling fans. Kimmage says that the fundraising effort is not about him: “For the majority of people who've contributed to this fund, it's a total vote against the UCI.”
Kimmage was due to appear on 12 December 2012, at Vevey in Switzerland, close to the UCI headquarters in Aigle. Usada witness and Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters has indicated his support for Kimmage. And in a recent interview with the Guardian's Donald Macrae, Tyler Hamilton was asked about the UCI lawsuit.
"It's mind-boggling," he said. "I just hope journalists keep asking the tough questions and we stick up for Paul Kimmage and others fighting for a clean sport.”
The timing of the Usada report's release has raised the stakes enormously. What began as a petty vendetta for the sake of Verbruggen's vanity has now put the spotlight directly on the governance of the sport and the UCI's role in overseeing the sport's dirty decades of systemic doping pioneered by Lance Armstrong during Verbruggen's tenure.
On Monday 22 October, McQuaid convened a press conference at which he announced that the UCI recognised the Usada Decision on Armstrong. If you read the small print of the UCI report, you discovered how grudgingly that recognition was given. When challenged about the Kimmage case, McQuaid claimed it had nothing to do with the Armstrong revelations, was simply a private issue of defending his and his predecessor's reputation from defamation, and would proceed as planned.
By Friday, facing a tide of criticism and protest, he'd been forced to reverse this position. The UCI announced the formation of an independent commission into the UCI's role in the Armstrong doping history – and that the UCI's legal action (and, necessarily, Verbruggen's and McQuaid's) against Kimmage was being suspended.
Even before this preliminary humiliation, McQuaid must have been bitterly regretting ever going along with Hein's folly. And now, if Kimmage is never required to defend the action, it will probably be because the positions of the UCI president and vice-president have become untenable.
In any case, Kimmage is now mobilised – with a host of supporters and financing behind him. Regardless of the defamation case's suspension, he has promised to “unleash hell” on his UCI persecutors. And he will not now rest until the reforms he has always argued are necessary have come.
Matt Seaton is editor of Comment is Free America for the Guardian.