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Reading the Ullrich Decision: What really happened here?

Blood_medium The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) handed down a verdict in what has been a simmering case involving former Tour winner (and 5-time runner up) Jan Ullrich. What? A case involving Ullrich? Didn't he retire back in 2007? Yes, evidently Operation Puerto, the 2006 doping case against Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes and his clients, is the gift that just keeps on giving. If you didn't hear, Ullrich was suspended for two years and all his results from 1 May, 2005 onwards were stripped.

The Ullrich case is a true labyrinth of legal proceedings. Really, it's convoluted. I don't know if I could have made it through the ruling without a glass(es) of wine. But! I did read the whole thing! And so you don't have to, I have a greatest hits, plus juicy tidbits from Ullrich's personal website in response to the ruling.

First, let us make a timeline of the big events in the Ullrich case. So, you know, we all understand exactly how a rider ended up in legal proceedings that began three years after his retirement.

2002: Ullrich tests positive for amphetamines in an out of competion test

23 May, 2006: The Spanish Guardia Civil raided the houses of Fuentes and others. Blood bags, transfusion equipment, and a list of cyclists were among the goodies found. Ullrich is one of the cyclists named and is forced to withdraw from the Tour de France on the day before the race starts. His contract with T-Mobile is promptly ended.

11 Aug, 2006: The UCI asks the Swiss Cycling Federation to open disciplinary proceedings against Ullrich based on evidence originating from Operation Puerto.

October 2006: Ullrich resigned his membership from the Swiss Cycling Federation.

20 May, 2009: The Swiss Olympic Federation, operating for the Swiss Cycling Federation, decides that statues in place in 2006 did not allow the Federation to initiate proceedings against an athlete who previously terminated his or her membership. Thus, Ullrich was the subject of no disciplinary action.

March 2010: The UCI asked the CAS to reform the Swiss Olympic ruling. The UCI asked for two outcomes: 1) Ullrich to recieve a lifetime ban; and 2) Ullrich's results to be disqualified from 29 May, 2002 onward.

Phew, that is a lot of dates. Good thing I had my trusty glass of wine to get me through that part of the legal speak. Unfortunately, that wasn't the hardest (i.e. least interesting) part to read.

How the case played out

Ullrich's defense was, oddly, entirely procedural. While there are a number of objections, they fall under two main arguments made by Ullrich's lawyers.

  1. The UCI Anti-Doping Commission did not make a clear, unambiguous assertion that the athlete in question had doped in their letter to the Swiss Cycling Federation from August 2006.
  2. Subsequent UCI procedures were not followed properly. In particular, the Swiss Federation did not send notice of summons within two days.

Ullrich's defense was that the violation of UCI regulations invalidated grounds for any disciplinary hearings. Really, his legal team said nothing about the evidence and assertions of dopage. Odd, isn't it?

The ruling the CAS laid forth earlier today judged that disciplinary procedures had not been violated; the UCI letter sent in August 2006 was sufficiently clear and the Swiss Cycling Federation's actions did not contravene UCI statutes. Given the preponderance of evidence linking Ullrich to Fuentes, the CAS found Ullrich guilty of violating UCI doping regulations. However, the CAS did not consider Ullrich's 2002 positive a previous positive test, which limited the applicable ban to two years. The key to this part of the decision is a change in UCI rules in 2009 which only consider a positive test for amphetamines a doping positive if it is recorded in an in-competition test. Sorry, Pat McQuaid. This decision also means Ullrich's results could only be stripped from the point at which he was definitively linked to the Fuentes doping ring, or May 1, 2005.

The Ullrich case is closed once and for all. But, at the same time, it raises a few questions. Why, in 2010, was the UCI so set on disciplining a rider who retired from the sport in 2007 and who had not held an active cycling license since 2006? Surely there are better uses of the UCI's resources, no? Why did Ullrich only object on procedural grounds?

We have an answer to only the second question. In a statement release on his personal website, Ullrich admits to meeting Fuentes before the 2006 Tour de France. Ullrich has remained silent on this topic since accusations arose, but he said today that the allegations had become so polluted he had to clear the air, after which he said "I hereby draw a line", hinting he will say little else on the issue from now on.