Arvia: Report connects Vande Velde to Armstrong case
PHIL ARVIA firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5949 July 5, 2012 7:34PM
Christian Vande Velde (right) and George Hincapie ride in the fifth stage of the Tour de France on Thursday. | Getty Images
“I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, because I hope that people give me the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want them snickering behind my back, saying, ‘Oh, he’s done this.’ Because the only thing I’ve done is hard work.”
Christian Vande Velde, in a January interview concerning performance enhancing drugs in cycling
Updated: August 7, 2012 6:26AM
Not quite a year ago, I sat in the family room of Christian Vande Velde’s Lemont home and asked him if he’d ever been questioned in connection to any investigation involving Lance Armstrong and performance enhancing drugs.
Vande Velde, twice a rider on U.S. Postal Service teams that supported Armstrong wins in the Tour de France, said he had not.
I expressed surprise. He assured me, no.
We moved on. We talked of the 2012 Olympics.
“Perfect scenario?” he said. “I would love to have a great Tour next year ... go to the Olympics, then, ‘Hasta luego.’ ”
In a January interview with Cycling News, Vande Velde seemed to have changed his mind not at all, saying, “I want to go to the Olympics really bad.”
Then, last month, USA Cycling revealed Vande Velde was among a group of four cyclists to withdraw their names from Olympic consideration. Thursday, all four, along with the manager of Vande Velde’s current team, were named in a Dutch newspaper’s report alleging they’d testified to the United States Anti-Doping Agency, acknowledging their own PED use and knowledge of Armstrong’s, in exchange for a six-month suspension from the sport.
The report, at first blush, was lent the hint of credibility if only for the fact that those riders begged off the Olympics. It gained journalistic heft when the New York Times, citing two sources, reported the quintet would indeed testify against Armstrong.
Before the Times weighed in, near midnight in France, denials were swift — if incomplete.
Vande Velde’s Garmin-Sharp team issued a statement first affirming its mission to compete “100 percent clean,” then adding, “we expect that anyone in our organization who is contacted by any anti-doping or government authority will be open and honest with that authority but at this moment, we — our organization, our riders and our staff — are focused on the Tour de France. ... We can confirm that our Tour team is entirely focused on the Tour and media reports of suspensions are untrue.”
So the reports of suspensions are untrue. But what about the reports of confessions?
The USADA didn’t exactly squelch that portion of the report with its own statement, which followed an accusation by Armstrong against USADA CEO Travis Tygart.
“So let me get this straight ... come in and tell them exactly what they wanted to hear and you get complete immunity AND anonymity? I never got that offer,” Armstrong wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “This isn’t about Tygart wanting to clean up cycling — rather it’s just a plain ol’ selective prosecution that reeks of vendetta.”
In response, Tygart emailed Velo News, “USADA’s investigation into doping in the sport of cycling continues. No individual cases have been finalized, and any attempt to guess at whom potential witnesses might be only leads to inaccurate information being reported and subjects those named to unnecessary scrutiny, threats and intimidation.
“It is important to remember that the truth would often be suppressed without witnesses who at great cost to themselves are willing to tell the truth under oath about what they saw and experienced, and any attempt to circumvent the proper procedures in order to bully or silence people who may or may not be witnesses cannot be tolerated.”
Now, what to think?
The voice in one ear says, “Believe in Vande Velde.” The voice in the other says, “Cycling is dirty. Why should the local guy be different just because he’s the local guy?”
But, since we have nothing to go on at this point but words, I offer these, also from Vande Velde’s January interview with Cycling News, about his time with Armstrong’s USPS team, and what cycling was like then:
“Those times ... you did question whether other people were doing, or how they got to that — if they went on a training camp, things like that, if they got away from racing, you always kind of questioned it,” he said. “Now, I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, because I was one of the people who just got a top five in the Tour, and I was an unknown, and I know what I did, and that was nothing.
“I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum now, where I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, because I hope that people give me the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want them snickering behind my back, saying, ‘Oh, he’s done this.’ Because the only thing I’ve done is hard work.”
Through five stages of this year’s Tour, Vande Velde, who had hoped for a podium finish, was in 57th place, largely because of a Tuesday crash.
The hard work is merely beginning.