tip off

Stephen Hodge, Cycling Australia and “when things changed and it all went bad”

Hodge remembers the ONCE team being a very tight unit, several years before “things changed and it all went bad”.

Just how well connected Stephen Hodge is  inside the Canberra beltway is illustrated by a series of photos -  including this one with Mark Dreyfus, Hodge, Julie Owens and Greg Kache -  at the Parliamentary Cycling Group’s “Riders on the Hill” page at the “SqadraH” website.

As I noted here yesterday, Cycling Australia is an institution in crisis. Overnight the word was out that at least one member of the board of CA would be stepping down very soon.

By lunchtime today – when CA issued this statement that confirmed the widespread rumour that CA Vice-President Stephen Hodge would resign -  CA was in meltdown.

The CA statement contained a letter from Hodge that said in part:

Prior to the CA Board meeting on the 16 October 2012 I advised Graham Fredericks and Klaus Mueller that during a stage of my career as a professional cyclist I took performance enhancing drugs—a decision I am not proud of.

I am sorry I did it. It was wrong. I apologise unreservedly to CA, my family, friends, colleagues and cycling fans.

When I made Graham and Klaus aware of my situation I offered to resign. It was agreed that I would immediately stand aside from all CA Board duties in advance of submitting a formal resignation. At no point have I been involved in any CA Board meetings or discussions in relation to the termination of Matt White’s contract.

I am sorry I did it. It was wrong. I apologise unreservedly to CA, my family, friends, colleagues and cycling fans.

Hodge’s fall from grace was perhaps inevitable as his past cycling associations were widely known. But his loss will be keenly felt within the Australian cycling community and by CA, where Hodge had been on the Board of Cycling Australia since 1999 and had been a Vice President since 2007.

Hodge was also on the High Performance Management Committee of CA/Australian Sports Commission and was a member of  the committee responsible for organising the 2010 UCI World Road Cycling Championships in Geelong and sits on a number of cycling-related boards and committees. He is a partner in the PR and Communications company Day & Hodge Associates.

As Hodge noted in his letter, his doping was historical. From 1990 to 1993 – he hasn’t yet set out the when, where and with whom he doped – he rode as a domestique with the Spanish ONCE team.

For the last two of those years he rode with compatriot Neil Stephens  and now disgraced Lance Armstrong manager Johan Bruyneel. The ONCE team was run by Manolo Saiz, described as very much a hands-on manager and directeur sportif.

Of his time with ONCE this 2011 “where are they now” article at Cycling Tips records that Hodge:

… remembers ONCE being a very tight unit, several years before “things changed and it all went bad”.

Run by Manolo Saiz, ONCE introduced a new management style to cycling, more professional management, with very close supervision in coaching, equipment choice and training.

A strong personality with emotion always close to the surface, Saiz was very loyal to his team, who in turn were also very loyal to each other.

They worked as one on the road for their GC leader, and the number of times the team would “blow the race apart and create havoc” was another great memory for Stephen.

Australian legal academic Martin Hardie referred to Saiz’s later role as directeur sportif of the Liberty Seguros team in the 2006 – and continuing – Operacion Puerto doping scandal in his paper “It’s Not About The Blood: Operacion Puerto and the End of Modernity”:

Saiz was the mentor (or, at least, inspiration) for Lance Armstrong’s Director Sportif, Johan Bruyneel, who rode and served his cycling apprenticeship with Saiz during the 1990s.

Saiz also has close connections with ex-Australian professionals and cycling powerbrokers such as Neil Stephens and Stephen Hodge.

In Spain his followers and contacts are known collectively as the ‘Manolo-istas” and they are anecdotally regarded as being closely linked to those that broker the power behind the UCI. It is of no surprise then that Saiz was also significantly a prime mover, along with former International Cycling Union (UCI) President Hein Verbruggen and his protégé Alain Rumpf, in the creation of the Pro Tour model adopted by the UCI.

Earlier today Cycling Australia’s President Karl Mueller said of Hodges:

“I would like to personally thank Stephen for his immense contribution to the sport in a volunteer capacity,” said Mr Mueller. “When his professional cycling career ended he became a tireless worker for the sport and for almost 15 years has freely given up his time as an advocate for the rights of athletes and to promote and develop the sport in Australia.”

What effect Hodge’s departure will have on CA and the broader pro-cycling community in Australia remains to be seen.

But Matt White’s sacking earlier this week as CA’s Elite Men’s Road National Coordinator – and his confessions – may have started a cascade of which Hodge’s admissions are but the first trickle.

If this happens the real measure of institutions like CA and its international counterpart the International Cycling Union (UCI) will be whether they are capable of  lancing the boil that has hidden for too long under cycling’s skin.

Martin Hardie wrote of the difficulty that cycling’s administration faces in resolving these issues in the conclusion to his “It’s Not About The Blood” paper:

Fixation on the allocation of blame is not the answer … Rather than creating scapegoats or engaging in witch hunts, a policy of engagement on all sides based upon a thorough and sober assessment of the relevant issues should be pursued.

But all of this seems to have become lost in the current evangelising character of anti-doping, which only results in a moral condemnation worthy of a medieval inquisition, rather than the mores of modernity.

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