Hearing what Matt White had to say last Sunday on Cycling Central TV, Anthony Tan felt compelled to write an open letter to him.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

White's lawyer also answered questions raised on the show by Tan, concerning the apparent delay in announcing his reduced six-month backdated suspension, awarded by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA), and what led to his sentence being reduced.

Dear Matt,

If my memory serves correctly, it was November 1996.

Organised by Phil Anderson, I was at a weeklong training camp in Victoria's High Country. Appealing to the masochists at heart, Phil thought it was a good idea to hold a cycling boot camp atop the 16-kilometre climb of Mount Buller. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and with firm plans to head off to race in Europe the following season, I signed myself up. (The next year, Phil moved the camp to the base of the mountain, probably because half the original participants carked it.)

A two-day stage race was also on that week. As you know the Mount Buller Cup (which you were down to race) consisted of a 250km road race from Melbourne to the top of Buller on the Saturday, then an utterly sadistic criterium 1,400 metres above sea level the following day, which, I'm sure you've tried to forget, included a 33 percent climb each lap.

33 percent?! Crikey!

Given the time of year, and as you know, it was raced by some of the top Aussie pros and a bunch of Euro Dogsâ„¢, as well as our best amateurs, including a crew from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). Patrick Jonker (then riding for Rabobank), Stephen Hodge (Festina), Grischa Niermann (German national team, later Rabobank) and Henk Vogels (AIS), to name just a few.

And you, Matthew White, then 22 years old, a year younger than I.

You may not have known this but for the non-professionals or non-AIS riders there was also a support race. Having set the fastest time up the mountain the day before and matched my mettle with a bunch of Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) riders, I was feeling rather cocky; confident I could podium and tell any AIS scouts afterwards, 'Show me the money, bitch!' Or something like that.

However, as karma would have it, my smugness transmogrified into litres of lactic acid coarsing through my veins and, not even halfway up, I blew like the Hindenburg, grovelling over the line in anything other than showroom condition.

I didn't even know who won. I didn't care. I was a right mess. 'Do I really want to do this? What was it going to take to turn pro?'

After Sunday's criterium won by New Zealander Glen Mitchell (second-placed Jonker, also the previous day's winner, took the overall), Phil had organised a chat session with VIS head coach Dave Sanders, who continues to hold the position to this day. The AIS guys (you included) would also be coming; despite my spirits taking a hammering, I was hardly going to miss it.

In typically laconic manner Sanders spoke about what it took to go pro, adding, "Imagine how Phil felt when he first went to Europe in 1979… It still brings tears to my eyes, what he did to put Australian cycling on the map."

My attention would normally be unwavering but I was deep-fried, encased in a light batter of salt. I couldn't be arsed having a shower; I didn't have the will or the energy. I rode up and down Buller like a lunatic that week, at least a dozen times, and paid for it dearly the day it mattered: the race. Amateur mistake.

As my eyes wandered I noticed one of the early escapees from the crit, happily perched on a railing inside the timber-panelled room.

It was you, Whitey.

Joking and laughing with your fellow AIS recruits you looked so carefree. But when you pinned a number on your back you would terrorise the peloton with unrelenting aggression. So damn strong, you never seemed to tire. You had the world at your feet. You were going to make it.

'I want what he's got – I want to be like him,' I said to myself.

I went to Europe the following year, but it was a tale of "two speeds", as FDJ team manager Marc Madiot said in August 2005.

The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy… It didn't matter where or what type of race, I just couldn't keep up.

As it turned out, neither could you, Matt.

"You would go to races and they weren't hiding anything," you told Cycling Central last week. "I was really shocked. I grew up racing for the AIS, racing for Australian national teams where we're not exposed to any of that sort of stuff.

"I thought that I needed to use performance-enhancing drugs to keep my job. And at the end of the day I probably did, because it was so widespread, it was ridiculous."

So ridiculous, you knew you were doing something wrong "but everyone around me was doing something wrong and I just felt that they were the decisions I had to make".

"At the end of the day, they (the decisions) were wrong."

Not quite everyone, Matt – Christophe Bassons was one of the few exceptions, treated like collateral damage – but just about all and sundry.

Still, you had a choice; no one was holding a gun to your head.

"I stopped in the last year of my career. I stopped because I had enough. I made a conscious decision to retire and join the team of Slipstream Sports at the time."

So, let me get this right: it took close to 10 years of pill popping, injecting and transfusing before you told yourself, 'Enough's enough'?

Save for one indiscretion that cost you your job at Garmin, where you referred Trent Lowe to a nefarious doping doctor for a health check (by the way, when you were at US Postal, did Dr del Moral assist you to dope?), I don't doubt you did the right thing there and later at Cycling Australia (as men's professional road co-ordinator) and Orica-GreenEDGE (as sport director).

In fact, I know you're sorely missed at OGE. Right now, I reckon they need you as much as you need them.

But on November 1 last year when you were dismissed by the team two weeks after USADA's Reasoned Decision, where you were inadvertently exposed as 'Rider No. 9', thus forcing you to come clean, OGE's primary benefactor Gerry Ryan said this: "Professional cycling is at a cross roads. The future of the sport is being determined by what we do today (…) It's time to put our values to work (…) OGE believes a hard-line approach is an essential prerequisite to continue in the sport with credibility."

It was also announced an internal audit of OGE would be conducted; your erstwhile team said: "Orica-GreenEDGE is proactively reviewing all riders and team members."

The public is still in the dark about such a review, other than that it is due sometime soon.

Without an amnesty or truth and reconciliation commission (TRC), both of which are looking increasingly unlikely due to the incompetence and/or bone-idleness of our administrators, your input becomes vital, in terms of constructing a knowledge base of how to prevent athletes from doping, and influencing those who may or may not be thinking about it.

Without an amnesty or TRC, no line in the sand can be drawn, thus making zero-tolerance ineffective.

Signing a piece of paper saying you did or didn't dope, as Team Sky has done? Your former boss Jonathan Vaughters answered it best to the London Telegraph: "It's just so difficult to ever figure out if a person signing the paper is telling the truth or not and it runs the risk of forcing people into a situation where they have to lie. You are given a piece of paper and told to sign and if we find out you were lying, then you are sacked. But if you don't sign it you are sacked as well. You are pushing people towards dishonesty."

As I wrote in a recent column in Bicycling Australia magazine, "Zero tolerance is simply a knee-jerk response that sweeps what we don't want to see under the carpet, allowing omertà to remain and fester, untreated – leaving no option but for the past to repeat itself."

So, yes, we can learn from people like you; educate current and future generations the right way forward. Instil values that were left wanting during Generation EPO. That you left behind. As you said yourself, "Things can easily go back to where they were but we're certainly going in the right direction."

But I think it's also fair for people to ask: 'How many people like you do we need to teach said generations as such? 10? 20? 100?"

If, like Vaughters and David Millar, you are willing to speak openly about what you did, and, more importantly, what you can do to effect a shift in culture that I feel we are currently on, then I say welcome back, Whitey. I really mean that.

In case you're wondering, do I feel you displaced people like me in turning pro?

Nah, mate – I wasn't that good, anyway.

White's lawyer responds

In Sunday's edition of Cycling Central TV (May 5), when Kate Bates's interview with White first aired, host Mike Tomalaris asked me what I thought of his confession of sorts.

I responded by saying that despite a tainted past, I thought he was a valuable member of Orica-GreenEDGE, and I would welcome him back, but with certain caveats. One was that I would like to be able to raise the subject of his past with him or his management without fear of reprisal by way of being blacklisted from access to the team's riders.

Another question I raised was why it took one week for White to publicly announce the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) had awarded him a six-month backdated suspension, and what sort of cooperation with ASADA led to his sentence being reduced.

Christopher Johnstone, the lawyer acting for White throughout his dealings with ASADA, emailed me a swift reply later that evening.

It directly answers my questions, so I asked Mr Johnstone authorisation to reproduce his response on the Cycling Central website, to which he kindly agreed. It appears in full below, unedited.
___________________

May 5, 2013

From: Christopher Johnstone
To: Anthony Tan

Dear Mr Tan

I am the barrister who has acted for Mr White throughout the process involving ASADA.

I saw your comments on Cycling Central today and in particular refer to the question you say you wished to have answered as to why it took Mr White a week to admit that he had received notification that the ADRVP and ASADA had recommended that he receive a sanction of six months backdated to commence on 13 October 2012.

The answer is quite simple. The WADA/ASADA sanctioning process requires the governing body of the relevant sport, in this case Cycling Australia, to implement any sanction recommended by ASADA/ADRVP. Both the athlete and the governing body have a period of time set under the WADA Code to appeal any sanction recommendation to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The time for lodging an appeal has not passed.

WADA separately has an entitlement to appeal and the time for lodging that appeal has not passed.

Further, because Mr White continues to work with ASADA, there remains a matter which ASADA and we wished to finalise this coming week before saying anything to the media.

Naturally, it is not our expectation that appeals will be lodged, but out of professional courtesy to those institutions, and to the process generally, it had been Mr White's intention to wait until he had received confirmation from Cycling Australia that it did not intend to appeal the sanction, or the time for appealing had lapsed, and the matter with ASADA was finalised.

This then would have meant that the process as it applies to Mr White was absolutely final.

Unfortunately because of a media leak the source of which remains a mystery to Mr White, Mr White was forced to respond on Friday by releasing the statement which he did.

This has apparently given rise to your concern and I hope this e-mail has addressed that.

Your other question was about which people Mr White had discussed with ASADA. This topic remains confidential and Mr White will not discuss this with any person.

Sincerely

Christopher Johnstone
Barrister