independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Cycling: Race of truth keeps rolling

Paul Kimmage is continuing his fight with the UCI. Here, he explains why

My friend, David Walsh, has always insisted that libel suits are the Oscars of the journalist trade. He's right, of course, but ten months ago, on that wintry January morning when my latest nomination arrived, it did not feel like Hollywood. Barely a month had passed since I'd been made redundant by The Sunday Times and though the hurt had subsided, I was struggling with a hum in my ear that persists to this day.

You are still unemployed!

Ann, my wife, had just left for work; I made some coffee, spent an hour reading the papers and walked to the end of the drive to collect the post . . . a bank statement, a credit card bill, and a large white envelope that proved a real Trojan horse. It was the stamp from the Swiss Embassy that threw me; I thought at first it was a tourism brochure -- some promotion to rent a chalet or go skiing in Crans-Montana -- until I peeled back the flap and tipped the contents onto the table.

* * * * *

Dear Sir,

On request of the Federal Department of Justice and Police in Berne, Switzerland, I am forwarding you judicial documents (in French and with an English translation) of the "Tribunal Cantonal Vaudois", dated 2nd December, 2011.

I kindly ask you to date and sign the receipt which is attached to this letter and send it back to the Embassy as soon as possible. I will then forward it to the competent authority in Switzerland.

Bernardo Rutchi

Consul

* * * * *

Dazed and confused -- 'Jaysus! What have I done? When was I last in Switzerland?' -- I began scanning the documents.

"UCI and others versus Paul Kimmage . . . Claim addressed to the President of the District Court of Eastern Vaud . . . The amount in dispute is set at CHF 24,000 (twenty four thousand Swiss francs) . . . The Claimant Patrick (Pat) McQuaid has been President of the UCI since 27 December, 2005.

"The Claimant, Heinricus (Hein) Verbruggen was President of the UCI from 16 September, 1998 until 26 December, 2005 . . . The Respondent, Paul Kimmage was a professional road rider between 1986 and 1989 . . . Since 1989 Paul Kimmage has been writing a great deal about cycling in general and its various stakeholders of all kinds . . . often in negative terms ... In November 2010, Paul Kimmage interviewed Floyd Landis."

And finally, the penny dropped.

F**k! They're coming after me for Floyd!

In May 2010, a few days after his doping confession had made headlines around the world, I sent an email to Floyd Landis reminding him of some notes I had written at the Tour de France on July 13, 2006:

'We drove on to the summit finish at Val D'Aran. I watched from my usual position in the press pen as three riders -- Denis Menchov, Levi Leipheimer and Floyd Landis -- broke clear and sprinted across the line. One of the great joys of covering the Tour is access to the riders and I was so close to Landis, the new race leader, that I could almost touch him. A helper handed him a bottle of water; he pulled off the top, took a swig and poured the rest over his head.

He removed his jersey and towelled his sweat-covered chest; every fibre of his body was twitching. His American coach embraced him with tears in his eyes. Five television cameras and at least a hundred hacks were wrestling for a comment before he was taken away to the podium. I was more interested in how he looked than anything he had to say; I scanned his arms and legs and the crack of his ass; I was looking for needle pricks and bruising, the tell-tale signs of a guy who knows the game.

I reached for my pen and scribbled the following note in my pad: 'I would kill to interview Floyd Landis. He is one of the toughest athletes in sport and his background is fascinating. I want to tell the world your story, Floyd. But how can I be sure that what I am seeing is real? How can I be sure that I won't be betrayed?'

A few hours later he sent a reply.

'Well, I betrayed a lot of people for reasons that nobody will be able to put into words. I hope some good comes out of my attempt to clear my conscience but even if it never does, I love my parents too much to continue to lie to them. And I could never tell them the truth and ask them to keep the lie to themselves. Hopefully we'll get to have a beer (allegedly I like that stuff) one day and talk about it.'

* * * * *

Six months later, on a sunny afternoon in late November, I caught a flight to Los Angeles and drove to his home, a sparsely furnished log cabin in the San Jacinto Mountains. We chatted casually for a while over coffee and then he began the extraordinary story of how a young boy from Farmersville, Pennsylvania, who had been raised as a Mennonite (a branch of the Anabaptist Protestant religion related to Amish) and had once gone to church 400 times a year, had become the first winner in the history of the Tour de France to be disqualified for doping.

The key moment had come midway through the interview and some advice he had received from Lance Armstrong in 2002 about his (Floyd's) contempt for the UCI president, Hein Verbruggen: "Look Floyd, you have got to do what this guy says because we're going to need a favour from him at some point."

Having travelled all that way, there was one question I needed answered. "How many of the decisions you made after 2002 were coloured by your experience with Lance?" I asked. "How big a factor was that in the decision you made to dope?"

"That was all of it," he replied. "If I had any reason to believe that the people running the sport really want to repair it, I may have actually said, 'If I wait long enough I'll have the chance to win without doing this (doping)' but there was no scenario in my mind where in my lifetime I was going to get a chance to race the Tour and win clean . . . There was no good scenario. It was either cheat or get cheated. And I'd rather not be the guy getting cheated."

The interview took seven hours to transcribe and almost a month to write. There was a first draft (5,148 words), a second draft (5,936 words) and a third and final draft (6,537 words) with a sharper introduction. I had also settled on a title: "The Gospel According To Floyd."

'Four years ago, on the morning of Saturday, May 19, 2007, Floyd Landis took the stand at a courtroom in Malibu, California, raised his right hand and swore by almighty God to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about his life as a professional racing cyclist.

He lied.

A month later, Landis solicited thousands of dollars from ordinary bike fans to fund his burgeoning legal fees and wrote a book, 'Positively False', which promised to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about how he had won the 2006 Tour de France.

He lied.

In April 2010, Landis sent a series of emails to US cycling officials that purported to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the sordid reality of professional cycling and his three-year apprenticeship with Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal team. The emails were leaked to the Wall St Journal and three months later, a federal investigation into doping in cycling was launched.

The investigation is being led by Jeff Novitzky, a special agent in the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations, whose previous work in this field has resulted in the shaming of Barry Bonds and the jailing of Olympic track star Marion Jones. This time Armstrong is in the firing line and Landis, his former lieutenant, is the star witness.

Why should anyone believe him now?'

The Editor didn't like the length (it was cut in half) or the title (it became: 'The Loneliness of the long-distance cyclist.') The lawyers didn't like the references to Lance (he was cut from the introduction). But after a week of tweaking and polishing, it was deemed fit for the Sunday Times Magazine.

I hated it. The layout was fine but the words were absolute tripe.

"I betrayed a lot of people for reasons that nobody will be able to put into words," he'd said. But the betrayal was mine.

There was a two-week lag before the story appeared in the paper. I edited the transcript to 30,000 words, wrote a short introduction, and suggested we run it online as an extra to the magazine piece. There was no interest. The pursuit of Armstrong had cost the newspaper almost £500,000 in an out-of-court settlement and they weren't going to breach the terms for Floyd. But not everyone was constrained.

On January 31, 2011, a day after the varnished truth about Floyd appeared in The Sunday Times, the unvarnished truth -- the 30,000 word transcript -- was published by the brilliant New York website, NYVelocity.com. The response was staggering, and almost two years later, people are still tuning in and leaving comments: "Hope (Floyd Landis is) happy and feeling vindicated. He should be. The truth will out!" -- Dylan Axle.

Pat McQuaid wasn't quite as enamoured. On February 2, two days after the transcript was published, he gave an interview to Cyclingnews: "I read some of it. It got boring halfway through," he told the reporter, Daniel Benson. "I'll read the rest on a plane some time. I got about a third of the way in. It was just boring, the detail he was going into about Landis, his background and his philosophy about life."

So it was a surprise, 11 months later, to open a package from the Swiss Embassy and learn how hurt and aggrieved he was.

The hours that followed were a blur. There were 16 pages in the complaint; I'd pick it up and put it down again, and pick it up and put it down again. I chewed my nails and plucked my eyebrows. I couldn't think.

"How will I tell Ann?"

"You're still unemployed!"

"How will I find a Swiss lawyer!"

"You're still unemployed!"

"How will I pay for witnesses and a defence team to travel to the court?"

"You're still unemployed!"

"What if I lose?"

"You're still unemployed!"

"This could cost a hundred grand!"

"You're still unemployed!"

"How do I defend this?"

"You're still f**king unemployed!"

I called Tony Williams, a solicitor friend from Dublin, and asked for advice. "The one thing you can't do is ignore it," he said. I decided to ignore it; the US Federal Investigation into Armstrong was gathering pace and it was rumoured that indictments were imminent -- bad news for the UCI, but good news for me.

But two weeks later, inexplicably, the Feds dropped the case. "We are obviously very happy to learn it, bearing in mind how much cycling has suffered over the last two years, especially in terms of image and credibility," McQuaid announced. "I think our sport didn't deserve it -- just like in many other similar situations -- and today I can only say that the past is finally behind us. We just want now to keep looking forward to the bright future of cycling."

Four months passed before I heard from them again, a letter sent directly from the court this time reminding me that I had two weeks to respond or a judgement would be made against me. I drafted a cursory defence -- a two-page letter addressing the key points of their claim and sent it back. They weren't happy. My response had contravened Swiss law because it wasn't in French. We had it translated and sent it off again.

USADA were pressing forward with a new investigation and when it was announced in August that they were stripping Armstrong of his titles, I did not expect to hear from the UCI again. The truth was finally out. Floyd had been vindicated. But two weeks later, I received a subpoena from the Swiss court advising me that the case would be heard in Vevey on December 12.

The timing could not have been worse for me. After just two commissions since January, I'd spent the summer researching a book and was about to start writing when the court summons arrived. I felt sick and incredibly lonely. But mostly I felt angry. Twenty-two years had passed since I had tried to change the sport with a book, Rough Ride, but what difference had it made? None. What had it achieved? Nothing.

All your fucking morals and your high-minded principles . . . you are still unemployed!

Then some crazy things started happening.

People I had never met or spoken to before, journalism fans and cycling fans and sports fans, began contributing to a fund that had been set up for my defence. It shook me to the core; I felt grateful and humbled and extremely rattled. I also understood that it's not about me.

It's about justice for the kids who entered the sport with dreams and left it in coffins; it's about justice for those who were driven from the sport because they never had a shot without doping. It's about the USADA witnesses, Betsy Andreu and Emma O'Reilly and Stephen Swart and Frankie Andreu and Jorg Jaksche and Jonathan Vaughters and Dave Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vande Velde and George Hincapie and Michael Barry and Fillippo Simeoni and Tyler Hamilton and Tom Danielson.

It's about Christophe Bassons and Gilles Delion and Nicolas Aubier and Graeme Obree and every cyclist who stood up for the truth and was dismissed as a scumbag or a coward. And it's about Floyd, yeah, it's most definitely about Floyd.

So my fight with the UCI continues, because sport matters. And the truth counts.

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