What did the CIRC report say about women’s cycling – and why is no one reporting on it?

I don’t have the time to write in-depth about this, but I wanted to mention it.  Actually, I don’t want to mention it, because it’s really depressing, and I’d rather focus on the positive side of this sport I love, but it’s important that we note it, in the context of shining a light into the dark corners, and committing to rooting this out of cycling.

Some background to the CIRC report (full text available here)

The Cycling Independent Reform Commission (“Commission” or “CIRC”) was established by the Union Cycliste Internationale (“UCI”) “to conduct a wide ranging independent investigation into the causes of the pattern of doping that developed within cycling and allegations which implicate the UCI and other governing bodies and officials over ineffective investigation of such doping practices.” (page 6)

It’s been all over the news in the UK at least because of the issues about doping, and the links to Lance Armstrong etc.  But I want to look at what it says about the women’s side of the sport, and specifically the bits I haven’t seen reported, including allegations of sexual and financial exploitation.  Hat tip to Mariska Tjoelker, who brought this to my attention.  From page 70, the specific section devoted to women’s cycling (bold sections my emphasis)

Women’s road cycling and other cycling disciplines

The Commission regrets that it did not have more time to examine all other cycling disciplines as it believes there are valuable parallels to be drawn and reasons to be examined as to why a discipline does or does not have widespread doping within it. The Commission did however briefly examine women’s elite road cycling. It believes that it is under-developed and potentially offers a great opportunity for cycling.

The Commission found that doping occurs in women’s cycling, although it most probably is not as widespread and systematic. This is likely because far less money is available in women’s road racing currently. The Commission was told of doping at the highest levels nevertheless, and it is logical to assume that when women’s cycling is finally developed to a status comparable to the men’s sport, it will attract the same problems as the men’s unless steps are taken now to protect it from that fate.

The Commission was told that women’s cycling had been poorly supported in past years, and was given examples where riders in the sport had been exploited financially and even allegedly sexually. The Commission was told that the managers were often from male cycling, and were not of a quality to get a job in men’s road cycling, and that glaring opportunities to recognise women’s cycling for its potential were tainted by a male-dominated sport that failed to realise the potential of women’s cycling.

So, it’s weird to me that this is the entire section on women’s cycling, and it’s even more strange that that line “..was given examples where riders in the sport had been exploited financially and even allegedly sexually” is just put in there with no follow-up or suggestions for action – let alone been ignored by all the media I’ve seen.  The thing is, this allegation is not surprising, and I want to say a couple of things about this.

I’ve written and spoken about this before (for example, about the allegations of sexual abuse here), and of course, there have been stories about financial exploitation for years (for example, the Estado de México-Faren scandal last year) and it is pretty much inevitable that the two things go hand-in-hand.  I absolutely don’t think it’s endemic in the sport, but I’ve heard stories about the corners of the sport, the team(s) with reputations, and it’s almost depressingly inevitable that if you have a situation where young people are being denied wages, living in team houses provided on the proviso that they keep their job, and having to compete with other team-members on all kinds of different levels to get to actually race, that unscrupulous bastards will also exploit them sexually.  And if riders are hundreds or thousands of miles away from friends and family, without the money to get home, the pressure is even greater.

(Edited to add this paragraph:)  And then the sexual abuse of children, teenagers an young adults by coaches is common across all sports.  The most high-profile cycling incidents I can think of is the young woman abused by Australian cycling coach Warwick Phillips, which I read about when his victim stabbed him in revenge (and when he was allowed to join a cycling club after his conviction, who seemed confused that people found this shocking) – and of course,  the tragic story of Geneviève Jeanson, who was given EPO when she was a young teen, apparently never raced clean, and in the book L’affaire Jeanson: l’engrenagedescribes being beaten, sexually abused and blackmailed” by her former coach André Aubut.  Update:  And the stories about the abuse of Tammy Thomas combined with pressure on her to dope. There are hundreds of stories across sports, and while some, like the Penn State child abuse scandal become international news, so many more remain hidden.

I say “people” when I’m talking about this rather than “women” on purpose here.  These allegations come under the women’s section, but the stories of financial exploitation are all over the lower levels of the men’s side too, it’s just they’re talked about less because the guys have more incentive to suck it up and hope they get to the World Tour.  And there are such big taboos against talking about sexual abuse of men in (most of) Western society, that it’s no wonder men in any macho sport like cycling would keep quiet.  After all, the Floyd Landis doping trial showed what happened to Greg LeMond when he talked about being sexually abused as a child – it was used as a weapon to try to hurt him, which is incomprehensible to me.  So while it’s shocking that allegations about exploitation (and abuse) of women exist, as I’ve said before, at least it’s being talked about.

And then the fact I haven’t seen anything about this in the media – in fact until Festinagirl and Mariska added me to a twitter conversation, I didn’t even know women are mentioned at all.  I know the obvious story is Lance, but this is something huge, and something we ALL should be fighting to get stopped, and punished, right now.

The doping?  That’s not surprising, and I am pleased that while the three whole paragraphs on the women’s sport at least focus on the opportunities around the women’s sport, and the potential for development.

Re the men working in women’s cycling because they can’t make it in the men’s sport?  I really want to highlight that while this is true for some men in the sport (and some national Federations definitely treat their women’s national team as the place where some dude straight out of the men’s peloton can learn to DS on no experience before moving on to “better” things), it’s absolutely not the case for all the men.  The top male DSs in the women’s sport are experts in it, dedicated and skilled, who could move to the better-paid men’s side but prefer the women’s sport, and I wish that part had been phrased a little differently.

So what else was said?  I did a searched the document for mentions of “women”, and this is what turns up:

Page 35

“Under the rule, the UCI carried out blood tests before and during competition and any rider with a haematocrit reading higher than 50% (for men) or 47% (for women) was deemed unfit for competition and prevented from competing for 15 days from the date of the test.”

Page 61:

“The Commission heard that the problem of abuse of TUEs also exists in women’s cycling, where some riders would turn up at the race registration with extensive folders of TUE-related documentation.”

Page 84:

The MPCC initiative is a self-help initiative aimed at improving teams’ anti-doping credentials. This movement asks teams to sign up to a series of voluntary rules that are in addition to the existing formal and enforceable anti- doping rules. As of February 2015, 11 out of 17 UCI WorldTeams were signatories, 19 out of 19 UCI Professional Continental Teams, and 32 out of 145 UCI Continental Teams had joined, and 8 out of 36 UCI Women’s Teams had signed up.   Other, non-team members of MPCC included 8 national cycling federations, the European Cycling Union (UEC), 6 organisers, 8 sponsors of cycling teams and 7 agents.

Like I say, I don’t have time to talk more about this, but if people see these issues being talked about elsewhere, or reported on at all, please do leave me a link in the comments (you can do that anonymously too) or tell me on twitter, and I’ll make a follow-up post with the links, so I can at least share the conversations if I can’t join in right now.

13 thoughts on “What did the CIRC report say about women’s cycling – and why is no one reporting on it?

  1. There were probably “protected” women riders as well. There was a notable lack of pointed followup on things purchased from Joe Papp by Jeannie Longo’s husband.

    • I think it’s very interesting that the French Federation ending up getting Longo out of the sport on a whereabouts violation (even though it wasn’t upheld) – but her husband’s excuses that he bought the EPO for use in bed, (if I’m remembering correctly) was just flabberghasting – how was that accepted by the Fed? It’s always interesting seeing the responses of the young French riders (Pauline Ferrand-Prévot is the classic example) when they’re asked about Longo, because it’s basically “good riddance”. I don’t think there’s any current rider who’d cite Longo as a heroine – maybe someone who got them into the sport when they were a kid, but definitely not someone they want to be like.

      • FFC absolutely seemed to have been protecting Longo. Patrice Ciprelli, when he purchased the EPO from Eposino for delivery to France – it was after corresponding and msg’ing where he led me to believe quite clearly that the EPO was for Longo (though I must note he did not mention her by name but referred to what I took to be his wife, since there was no mention of his mistress (iirc?) Pitel iirc). Absolutely nothing he said indicated the EPO was for his own use and he went to quite some length to clarify that we would sell it even though he wouldn’t be the ultimate recipient, even though he was paying..

        The usefulness of all of this information, plus confirmation of Longo’s presence in the USA in-secret to train w/o being subjected to OOC controls, was developed by collaborating directly w/ USADA at the highest level in 2010. My understanding is that a basic dossier was prepared for FFC and passed on to them, but they took no action.

        In 2011, even though I knew USADA would try to target-test Longo if she returned for another secret training block in USA (which happened – hence her whereabouts failure since she wasn’t available for testing by USADA DCOs when she said she would be…) I was frustrated that FFC had taken no action and so a few times in the summer I mentioned on Twitter the EPO connection to Longo, and I also confided more detail to journalist Shane Stokes.

        Things developed quickly after she had that Whereabouts failing, for some Whistleblower from FFC (iirc) had covertly passed the dossier to Damien Ressiot, who at the time was still l’Equipe’s pretty amazing doping journalist (lol I mean journalist who investigated doping and wrote about it) and he had ALL of the pertinent info that USADA and I had collated, including verbatim copies of the entire email exchange. l’Equipe wrote a huge story about it and, even though the Whereabouts failings weren’t upheld as an ADRV and even though Ciprelli continued to deny the EPO was for Longo, she at least couldn’t ride the World’s that year, and then in Feb 2012 the French authorities themselves caught Ciprelli purchasing more EPO online and established he’d spent something like 15,000euro over 5 years doing so, which works out to potentially quite a lot of EPO.

        So Ciprelli was arrested and I don’t recall the final disposition of his case, but Longo also basically stopped performing at her previously high level once her presumed supplier was cut-off.

        Even though FCC seemed to defend her in unreasonable circumstances and simply ignored the initial dossier in 2010, at least Longo’s whereabouts violations were made public – something that rarely would happen if ever w/o a successful ADRV being formalized.

        Anyway just thought I’d go into a bit of the detail of what happened from my perspective…

  2. Maybe it’s only me, but a day on after first reading the following paragraph it still sits badly with me….. “doping…is not as widespread and systematic. This is likely because far less money is available in women’s road racing currently…. it is logical to assume that when women’s cycling is finally developed to a status comparable to the men’s sport, it will attract the same problems as the men’s”.
    The assertion being that if the prize-money went up that women riders will “likely” turn into a bunch of cheats…..on the basis that…..well, we saw that in men’s racing.
    I believe there is a genuine camaraderie and mutual respect in the heart of the women’s peloton that doesn’t solely exist because the financial gains are comparably low. I don’t think it’s naive to feel that way?
    I haven’t looked this up statistically but, as far as I know, as female athletics grew, both in profile and prize-money, female positive-dope tests in, say, sprinting just didn’t increase proportionally to reach that of the men?
    I started to voice that on twitter but ran out of characters!

    • Absolutely, I’m with you 100%, and it makes me really cross when I see it implied, and even directly said out loud that women’s wages should be kept low to keep the sport more “pure”. It enrages me, because it’s never “drop the men’s wages to stop them doping”, and it feels frankly paternalistic (in the parental sense rather than specifically male, though I’ve never seen a woman put forward this argument) that women should be paid low wages to protect them from themselves.

      I think you’re absolutely right, there’s a different feeling in the women’s peloton, and I think that’s because everyone knows that women have to give up a lot more than men to race – careers, the chance of having a family (because there are so many guys with kids looked after by their wives/girlfriends back home, but I can count the number of mothers in the top ranks on the fingers of one hand (maybe two, if I include cyclocross) and so on, and I also think the women have seen how the men’s doping has impacted on their own sport (see Rabobank, for example, wanting to drop the women’s team because of the men’s doping, until Vos changed their minds). And I think it’s a different feeling in the peloton too, the culture is different, so when we look at the women’s doping cases, it is a different profile, individuals doping, getting caught for different kinds of drugs, rather than the industrial-level team-sponsored programmes on the other side. I absolutely agree that the doping is there, but nowhere near the same extent, and to suggest that, I dunno, a big sponsor like Wiggle or Boels coming into the sport, or Marianne Vos getting endorsements, or a minimum wage being introduced, would lead to incremental doping increases is completely missing the cultural differences between the men’s and women’s side.

      I think another part of this is that so many of the staff in men’s teams are from the “bad old days” of the sport, and there are still members of ‘that’ generation of riders in their peloton, so there are still a swathe of people who see it as normal. I really believe that in the big women’s teams, it would take a major shift to suddenly encourage, I dunno, cortizone abuse, because their set-ups are so very different. This is part of why the three-paragraph-approach to the women’s sport is endlessly frustrating, and this part feels so glib – “men do it so women must want to”.

      (I feel like I could have hours and hours of conversations based on these three paragraphs. It’s almost tempting to grab a doping expert and podcast about it…. but I don’t have so much free time these days, and I want to focus on the positives. But there’s so much to say, too. I’m continually conflicted by all of this)

      • Hey Sarah, just wanted to apologize for my smart-alecky comment on Twitter last week, when I jumped into your conversation w/ the the pseudo-non sequitur reference to Valenti.

        Although I stand by my criticisms of her work (the latest installment of which I’d just read that morning via Guardian whilst waiting for their CIRC coverage to come online), I can see quite clearly how unconstructive it was to share that criticism in that context at that time. It didn’t advance the CIRC & media related conversation and, w/ hindsight, I certainly wouldn’t do that again.

        All of this is ironic (well, kind of) because I am first in line to testify to the really horrible things that elite women athletes who I know personally have had to endure – including my wife. And I don’t just mean underpayment or theft of wages or prize money, or having equipment taken away and used as leverage (for whatever), but also really monstrous stuff like being coerced to acquiesce to the abrogation of reproductive health rights and even experiencing lasting physical damage from inappropriate and/or unethical and coercive medical treatment (treatments/procedures that would never – could never – be forced upon a male athlete b/c of…well…the biological realities of the natural world, I guess).

        Although not reflective of some fundamental flaw in the nature of “men” “in general,” imo, it’s probably not surprising that, in the examples I refer to above, it was ultimately men who were the ones in the position of power to sanction these abusive practices…

        How messed-up is it to be forced to terminate a pregnancy whilst being denied the opportunity to take leave from your team, just so they can enter you in the World Championships or Olympics?

        Anyway, sorry again for my unwelcome sarcasm. It’s true that even though I’m older now I can still be a bit brash or impudent at times.


  3. When I first broke the pro ranks, I was verbally abused by my coach. He would keep me on the phone for hours making inappropriate sexual comments and forcing me to agree with him and conduct my professional life how he saw fit. I didn’t know it was wrong until years of increasing weirdness finally made me recognize I had to leave. The damage he did to my career lasted for years afterward. Later, after breaking up with a boy friend, I was coerced and sexually abused by a team owner. He threatened me with destroying my life. I’ve never been able to talk about it. I don’t know if I ever will. I am so glad this is finally being addressed.

    • No woman should have to have a story like that. No one should be allowed to put you in a position where you feel unable to talk about the situation you were in. It’s horrible, and disgusting. I hope with all hope that you can realise that those people don’t define you, and that you are strong and magnificent.

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