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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition News for June 22, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Australia's track cycling scandal:

French gets life, but still offers to assist new enquiry

By Gerard Knapp

What next for Mark French?
Photo: © Mark Gunter
Click for larger image

Australian track cyclist Mark French today received a lifetime ban from the Australian Olympic Committee for doping offences, but at the same time has offered to cooperate with a new enquiry that will investigate his testimony that alleges another five cyclists had also taken part in doping at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) cycling facility in Adelaide, South Australia.

French, 19, is a four-time junior world champion on the track and was considered one of Australian cycling's brightest emerging stars. However, in December last year, cleaners found a range of used injecting paraphernalia in his room at the AIS and so began a process of investigations and hearings, culminating in the damning report issued by Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on June 9 this year.

At the CAS hearings, French alleged that he and another five cyclists at the AIS in Adelaide used his room to inject a variety of substances, ranging from vitamins and supplements through to equine growth hormone (EGH).

However, this testimony was provided in-camera to CAS and authorities have been prevented from following up on his claims. Excerpts from French's testimony - but no names -were quoted in the Australian Parliament last Friday by Senator John Faulkner and subsequently the case made headlines around the country the following morning.

By late Monday, French's solicitors agreed to provide qualified approval to cooperate with a new enquiry, announced in the Senate by the Minister for Sport, Senator Rod Kemp. Cyclingnews was told that this approval involves providing the names of the five riders to the enquiry - to be chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice the Honourable Robert Anderson QC - but only for internal use by the enquiry and that the names are not to be made public.

It's also understood that the terms of reference for the enquiry, to be finalised within the next two days, could also look at the processes involved in the administration of penalties and suspensions relating to doping offences in Australia. It may also extend to investigating how a confidential report was leaked to a politician (Senator Faulkner), who in turn used the material to launch a scathing attack on his political counterpart.

Australia is in the midst of a looming Federal election and combined with an Olympics years, a doping offence is making the headlines as the political forces go on the offensive.

Further, the enquiry may also investigate any unexplored forensic methods that could be used to determine the actual user of the EGH, the most serious doping substance found at the AIS.

While French admitted to injecting vitamins and the supplement Testicomp (which contains minute traces of the banned drug glucocorticosteroid), he denied using and indeed any knowledge of the EGH, or how the 13 used ampoules of the drug were found in his room.

However, in his ruling (aka the Partial Arbitral Award) released on June 9, the Queen's Counsel for the CAS, Malcolm Holmes, described this element of French's testimony as "implausible".

Not fast enough

The two bodies that took French to the 'sports court' over the doping infringements, Cycling Australia (CA) and the Australian Sports Commission (ASC), have faced criticism over the time taken to investigate the French affair.

While both CA and the ASC have maintained they followed the correct bureaucratic procedures in prosecuting French, it did not satisfy the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC).

Last Saturday, Simon Rofe, legal counsel for the AOC, said, "Cycling Australia has a duty to inform us of its doping prosecutions and the outcomes of them. For this to have gone on for so long without us knowing the seriousness of the allegations is a matter of concern."

Some 12 days after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced it had suspended French for two years and fined him $1000 for doping, the AOC weighed in with a headline-grabbing ruling that effectively ends any chance the cyclist had of representing Australia at future Olympic Games.

At a press conference in Sydney, Rofe said, "Bob Elphinston, the AOC secretary-general, has written to Mark French advising him that in light of the fact that two of the charges against him that were found proven involved trafficking, Mark is ineligible for life to represent Australia at the Olympic Games".

But the AOC provided French with further incentive to cooperate with the new enquiry. "I should add... that if Mark French was to give substantial assistance in giving evidence as to other people involved in these offences there is potential for his sanction to be reduced, but in any event it will be a minimum of eight years under the world anti-doping code," Rofe added.

Earlier, the AOC warned that it will not allow those cyclists named by French to be included in the Australian Olympic team for the Athens Olympic Games unless this new enquiry could fully investigate French's claims and clear their names.

"We have approximately 470 athletes in the team, we can't allow their reputations to be sullied by five possible drug cheats," Rofe said last Saturday.

Insufficient evidence

However, an investigation into the French affair chaired by Justice Stanwix in January this year found there was insufficient evidence to suggest widespread doping at the AIS, although two riders were reprimanded for injecting vitamins.

Further, it's understood that not all cyclists who are with the AIS actually live at the Del Monte, Adelaide, facility, but only use it as a training base.

However, the issue remains of identifying the actual user of the EGH, as French maintains he had no knowledge of this drug being taken in his room nor of the used ampoules being left behind in his own 'sharps bucket' (made out of a used protein powder container).

At a press conference last Saturday, Graham Fredericks, the CEO of Cycling Australia, said that even fingerprints and DNA testing had been ruled out. "The advice we received from the relevant police authority at the time was that nothing would be able to be gleaned . that could be used in any legal sense".

The irony in the French case is that the drug he did admit to using - glucocorticosteroid - was about to be made legal for use by athletes around the time of his admitted usage.

In September last year, the health medical research commission of the World Anti Doping Authority (WADA) proposed to remove glucocorticosteroid from its list of banned substances. However, this proposal was over-ruled by the WADA Executive Committee and the drug has stayed on its list.

The drug also remains on the list of banned substances as issued by the International Cycling Union, and that list is applied to doping cases by Cycling Australia.

Despite his denials, CAS still found French guilty of possession and trafficking of the EGH.

It's expected that terms of reference for the latest enquiry will be finalised within the next two days, and Cycling Australia has only three weeks to clear up the matter as it has to name the final cycling team for the Athens Olympics by July 9.

In the Senate on Monday, Senator Kemp said the enquiry "will inquire into and provide recommendations on the allegations made by Mr French in his evidence given to CAS".

Further, the Minister "asked that the investigation also examine and provide recommendations on whether there was any failure of management, systems or supervision at the Del Monte facility; and whether the processes put in place by the ASC and other organisations in dealing with this matter were appropriate and effective".

The emphasis and driver of this third enquiry is of a political, rather than scientific, nature; it was demanded by the Federal Opposition in the Senate and on Monday the Government agreed to its demand. However, the other issue is the still-unresolved serious doping offence, but there appears little chance of the enquiry determining who is guilty of using the EGH found in French's room back in December.

Cycling Australia's Fredericks said that because there is no test to detect EGH, any successful prosecution will require corroborating evidence from a third party that can identify the rider/s who used the EGH - and also clear the names of the other riders. "Otherwise, it's going to be one statement against another, and that's probably not going to get us very far."

Court setback for Armstrong

A French judge has rejected the request by Lance Armstrong's lawyer to force the publisher of "LA Confidential" to include in each copy of the book a statement by Armstrong denouncing the book's accusation that he has engaged in doping during his career. The book by Pierre Ballester and David Walsh hit shelves a week ago, and Armstrong's legal team reacted immediately, beginning legal proceedings in France and the United Kingdom against the authors and publishers.

"By ruling against Mr. Armstrong, the judge has understood perfectly that Armstrong has attempted to respond through the courts to the journalists' questions he previously refused to answer," commented Arnault de Montbrial, lawyer for the book's publisher, Editions de la Martinière.

With this initial setback, Armstrong must pay each author and the publisher a symbolic fee of 1 euro each for "abuse of procedure" and 1,500 euros to cover court expenses.

"This decision guards the right of journalists to engage in serious investigations, and reminds us that a person who is object of such an investigation cannot use his refusal to answer questions to have a judge impose censure," de Montbrial added."

Pierre Ballester, one of the book's co-authors, said simply "we're pleased that the judge considers this is a question of investigative journalism and not sensationalism."

Meanwhile, Armstrong's lawyer Christian Charrière-Bournazel has entered an appeal to the decision.

"I'm very upset and I don't share the opinion of the court," he told AFP, adding that he and Armstrong were not seeking the suppression of the book, rather a chance to provide the statement to readers asserting Armstrong's denial of the most serious charges.

Quick.Step names Tour team

The Quick.Step-Davitamon team, thus far the most successful team of the 2004 season, has named its roster for the Tour de France. Juan Miguel Mercado and Michael Rogers will be the team's primary men for the general classification, while Paolo Bettini and Tom Boonen will fight for stage wins. Richard Virenque has targeted a seventh polka dot jersey of best climber, which would make him the absolute record holder. Supporting these riders will be Davide Bramati, Laurent Dufaux, Servais Knaven (stage winner in 2003), and Stefano Zanini. Two riders held in reserve are Laszlo Bodrogi and Pedro Horrillo.

Saeco for Italian championships

Giro d'Italia winner Damiano Cunego will be among Saeco's riders to compete in the upcoming national championships in Italy. Cunego will be joined by Danilo Di Luca, Gabriele Balducci, Leonardo Bertagnolli, Giosuè Bonomi, Antonio Bucciero, Paolo Fornaciari, Nicola Gavazzi, Alessandro Spezialetti and two-time national champion Salvatore Commesso.

While the Italian riders will be racing in Tuscany, Saeco's international riders will be competing in their respective national championships. Juan Fuentes will be in Spain, Gerrit Glomser and Andreas Matzbacher in Austria, David Loosli in Switzerland, Jörg Ludewig in Germany, Evgeni Petrov in Russia and Sylvester Szmyd in Poland.

Lampre for Italy and elsewhere

The Italian Lampre team will also field a sizeable team for this weekend's national championship road race. Francesco Casagrande, who made his return to competition at the Tour de Suisse after a lengthy battle with tendinitis, will lead the team along with Alessandro Ballan, Sergio Barbero, GianLuca Bortolami, Paolo Bossoni, Simone Bertoletti, Matteo Carrara, Francesco Casagrande, Alessandro Cortinovis, Marco Pinotti, Manuel Quinziato, Michele Scotto d'Abusco, and Daniele Righi.

Marco Pinotti and Manuel Quinziato will also contest the time trial on Thursday.

Outside of Italy, Olexandr Kvachuk will race for the Ukrainian title, Romans Vainsteins in Latvia, Jan Svorada in the Czech Republic, and Andrej Hauptman will race in Slovenia.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)