After an extended legal battle Johan Bruyneel, former manager of Lance Armstrong's US Postal Service team has been banned from active involvement in professional cycling for life by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after a successful appeal by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
The 54-year-old Belgian was initially banned for 10 years in 2014 by the American Arbitration Association North American Court of Arbitration for Sport (AAA) for helping orchestrate an elaborate doping program that helped Armstrong to seven Tour de France titles.
In its ruling, CAS also said doctor Pedro Celaya was handed a lifetime ban while trainer Jose “Pepe” Marti had his period of ineligibility increased to 15 years from eight.
The trio all worked for Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team (USPS), which changed its name to Discovery Channel after a change of sponsors in 2005, and opted for arbitration when the charges were originally levelled against them in June 2012.
“If a lifetime ban is a possible sanction, as it is, the Panel sees no reason why it should not be imposed in this case for Mr. Bruyneel’s active involvement in widespread, systemic doping in the sport of cycling spanning many years,” CAS said in its ruling.
Celaya was the team’s doctor from 1997 to 1999 and then again from 2004, and CAS said he was a willing and indispensable participant in the system which required medical supervision. He also did not appear contrite when he testified before the panel.
“Quite the contrary, he continued to maintain his innocence,” said CAS. “As far as the Panel is aware, he is the only remaining member of the corrupt world of cycling during those many years to respect the ‘omerta’.
“His attitude offers a serious threat to a future of clean cycling and sport generally.”
Marti chose not to testify, but CAS there was no previous evidence from which it could infer contrition or any change of heart by the trainer.
WADA Director General Olivier Niggli welcomed the decision.
"It is the result of a long process, which was resisted at every turn by these men, who by their actions did a great deal of damage to their sport," Niggli said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
"It was always our contention that the sanctions handed down by AAA were not strong enough and, in order to stand up for clean competition and to protect the sport of cycling, we demanded more."
The United States Anti-Doping Agency, which in 2012 said the USPS team had run the most sophisticated and successful doping programme the sport has seen, also welcomed the decision.
"Bruyneel, Celaya, and Marti pulled out every trick to avoid the truth and continued, even at the hearing and even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to present a false narrative," USADA Chief Executive Officer Travis Tygart said in a statement.
"This is another powerful example that playing by the rules matters and doping is never justified and always inexcusable."
In response, Bruyneel published an open letter on social media which, in normal circumstances, should bring an end to a tumultuous chapter in professional cycling but probably won't.
Why? The issue of proportionality remains given the new UCI Road World Champion, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is himself a rider of the same era and served a two-year ban coming out of the Operation Puerto case and the sport is riddled with ex-doper and other identities running teams and coaching riders.
Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds but asking why a rider like Valverde is allowed redemption and others like Armstrong and Bruyneel are not, is a legitimate question which needs to be properly addressed by the authorities. Otherwise, it just looks vindictive and stupid.
The full text of his open letter is below.
"This afternoon, I received an email from the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) in Lausanne, announcing that the 10-year ban, imposed by the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) in 2012, has been increased and is now a lifetime ban. The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) had appealed against the original 10-year ban and instead demanded I be banned for life. Their request has been granted by CAS and I am now banned for life from cycling.
"Although there's effectively nothing I can do against this sanction and at 54 years of age, a 10-year ban or a lifetime ban is practically the same I would still like to take the opportunity to highlight a few key elements in this long process.
"First and foremost, I want to stress that I acknowledge and fully accept that a lot of mistakes have been made in the past. There are a lot of things I wish I could have done differently, and there are certain actions I now deeply regret. The period I lived through, both as a cyclist and as a team director, was very different than it is today.
"Without going into details in this letter, I would simply like to observe that we were all children of our era, facing the pitfalls and temptations that were part of the culture at the time. We didn't always make the best choices.
"In terms of the whole sports-legal process, however, and trying to keep this letter as brief as possible, there are elements which I feel the need to highlight, as even today, after all these years, I find them incredibly frustrating.
"USADA: I have said from the beginning that this American agency had no jurisdiction over me. I am a Belgian citizen, living in Spain, and I have never had any contractual agreement, let alone an arbitration agreement, with USADA. Yet this agency disregarded all normal judicial limitations to crucify and demonize me, making me a key protagonist in their Hollywood version of events.
"In spite of the CAS decision, I firmly maintain my position that USADA does not have - and never had any legal authority over me. Thus, USADA never had the power to open a case against me, and less still any power to issue me with a ban of any duration.
"In terms of the whole CAS appeal process, my principal defence rights, namely:
1. That there has never been any arbitration agreement between me and USADA
2. The respect of the statute of limitations
3. The right to equal treatment
4. The proportionality of the sanction have all been completely disregarded.
"This whole process has been a difficult, very painful and complicated learning process for myself, but after too long a time, it is now time for me to move on. I can finally close this chapter and focus on the positive things in my future. I am still in good health, I have two beautiful, healthy children, a lot of very good friends as well as plenty of energy and ideas for the years to come.
"After everything that happened, and I repeat, many of things I regret, I still love cycling with the same passion and intensity I had when I fell in love with it as a 14-year-old boy. In spite of the CAS decision, it is still my goal and my wish to contribute, to help grow my sport and make it better in the years ahead."