Raw Documents – The Verbruggen/Landis Exchange

Feb 4 2011

When Paul Kimmage released the full transcript of his interview with Floyd Landis earlier this week, it didn’t take a PR expert to predict what the UCI’s response would be. Pat McQuaid flatly denied all allegations made in the interview, claimed that “there has never been corruption in the UCI”, and went on to take a few swipes at “bloggers and so forth”.

While it may be true that a good deal of Landis’ allegations are difficult to substantiate, paperwork obtained by Cyclocosm indicates at least one claim happens to be very well-documented: Floyd’s back-and-forth with the UCI over unpaid wages from 2001.

In that year, Landis was riding for Mercury-Viatel, an American-registered squad that had just made the jump to Division 1 in hopes of gaining entry to the Tour de France. Due to some colossal mismanagement (you can read Whit Yost‘s fantastic first-hand account here and here), the team was in serious financial difficulty by March—the same point that Landis’ paychecks stopped arriving.

The UCI has a set of regulations concerning pro teams, and one of them involves a sizable bank guarantee, to be opened by the UCI to pay riders and staff in the event the team cannot make payments. Despite repeated requests, the UCI refused to draw from the guarantee to pay Landis, and after two more months, he hired a lawyer. This is where our paper trail begins:

First Document – 30 Jul 2001: An email from Michael P Rutherford, a lawyer representing both Chris Horner (Floyd’s teammate on Mercury) and Floyd Landis, to the UCI. It is addressed “Dear Sirs” but mentions prior conversations with “Mr. Rumpf” and “Mr. Verbiest” [most likely Alain Rumpf, the current director of the UCI ProTour, and Philippe Verbiest, a lawyer for the UCI, who threatened legal action against Landis after his confessions last year].

The message expresses Rutherford’s concern at his inability to contact the correct parties at the UCI regarding the bank guarantee (“I was told there was no one who can tell me the current situation”), and states firmly but politely that the rule obligates the UCI to pay (“the rule is quite clear that the UCI is required to draw upon the bank guarantee”). The letter concludes with a “request that the UCI contact me immediately”. [download document].

Second Document – 9 Aug 2001: A fax from Rutherford to Christian Varin, former UCI anti-doping co-ordinator. The message acknowledges a fax sent from Varin the previous day, presumably about the bank guarantee.

In this second document, Rutherford’s wording is more direct (“Therefore I once again demand that the UCI draw on the bank guarantee”), and details are discussed in greater depth. Mercury-Viatel manager John Wordin has apparently revealed his inability to pay to Horner and Landis, as well as the UCI, and “therefore it is continuing negligence of the UCI” to not draw on the bank guarantee.

Rutherford mentions that Wordin and Verbiest are attempting to forge “an alternative solution” with the riders, but forcefully insists that “Mr. Horner and Mr. Landis will not agree to the arrangement”, and thus the guarantee must be drawn on. Failure to do so, Rutherford reiterates, “is therefore subjecting the UCI to possible liability”; he goes on to question whether the bank guarantee even exists, and requests “satisfactory proof” of it immediately.

The fax’s final paragraph begins with an appeal to mercy (“Mr. Horner had to have a garage sale to pay his monthly bills and feed his children this month”), rolls into a cataloguing of the treachery of Wordin (he “continues to spend what money he has left on his personal bills and proposition new riders for the year 2002 while he simultaneously tells his riders to stick by him and he will provide them with jobs…”), before closing by asking the UCI to see that riders “will be taking care of [sic] rather than being further victimized”. [download document]

Final Document – 10 Aug 2001 A fax from UCI President Hein Verbruggen to Rutherford, insisting that Rutherford’s “aggressive approach might perhaps work in the USA, but it does not in Europe, and most definitely, not with me”. Verbruggen maintains that the UCI legal department has “explicitly followed the rules”.

The fax goes on to suggest that the amount of money involved is too small to worry about (“Your aggressiveness is not at all justified by a claim of $6,666.66”), and that because of the legal action implied by the letter, the UCI will now drag its feet on the claim (“I have given order to our legal department to take the tone of your approach into account when it comes to following up on your request”). [download document]

These documents reveal a UCI that isn’t as beyond reproach as McQuaid insists. Rutherford’s letters, for all their rambling, typo-rich freneticism, are hardly what most people would consider “aggressive” in stance, suggesting “possible” liability, and making no explicit threat of further action. The opacity Rutherford complains about is as frustrating as ever, and his most serious allegation—that the UCI might not actually have a valid bank guarantee—turns out not to be so crazy.

In fact, the legal standing of Landis’ complaint might be among the least-compelling things brought up in this exchange. I believe that this portion of the UCI rulebook currently lays out the protocol for drawing on a bank guarantee. With a decade of potential changes between this case and today, it’s tough to tell, but the immediacy with which the UCI must pay up doesn’t seem to be specified.

What’s definitely not present in the statute, however, is any clause saying that creditors will be paid by the UCI based on their attitude toward the governing body. While I’ll stop short of calling Verbruggen’s actions “corruption”, they certainly don’t inspire faith in the integrity of the organization—especially after that line about how this “might work in the USA”. In case you’d forgotten, this isn’t the first time Verbruggen’s used a comparison with the United States as means of derision.

Furthermore, Verbruggen’s reply fails to address any of the rather pertinent issues in Rutherford’s letters. While I admire the effort to mediate the Mercury disaster, that’s a matter for Wordin’s lawyers, not the UCI’s. The continued wheeling-and-dealing of an admittedly destitute team manager is just the sort of thing the UCI should be aiming to squelch. Is it any wonder that Landis took the UCI’s behavior in this case as a sign that it had no intentions of following through on its own guidelines?

Aside from starkly refuting the picture of the UCI presented by its president, these documents also go a good way toward restoring a bit of Landis’ battered credibility. His recollection of the events described run very close to the facts, and even Verbruggen’s mean-spirited reply does not seem to have been unduly slanted. While I wouldn’t interpret it as proof for his full battery of allegations, it certainly takes the “Floyd has zero credibility” rebuttal off the table.

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