Mike Turtur – will an “absolute coup” turn into “quite a mess”?
Since late 2008 Turtur has arguably been the most powerful man in Australian cycling and his seat at the table of the body responsible for the world-wide administration of cycling makes him one of the most powerful in world cycling.
As The Advertiser reported at the time his cycling race was “in crisis” following the decision by seventeen of the eighteen professional cycling teams that formed the International Cycling Union’s “ProTour” circuit not to renew their ProTour licences for 2009.
The Tour Down Under had only received entry into the prestigious – though highly controversial – ProTour circuit in September 2007 and if the dispute between the UCI and the teams could not be resolved quickly Turtur’s planning for the 2009 Tour Down under in January 2009 would be, as he told The Advertiser “quite a mess.”
The one professional team that did not strike was the Astana team, which had banned from the 2008 Tour de France because of its history of doping problems.
As the photograph above illustrates, Lance Armstrong eventually rode at the 2009 Tour Down Under with the Astana team.
In the end the dispute was resolved and the 2009 Tour Down Under was the most successful since it first ran in 1999.
But for Turtur the rest of 2008 was a mix of tension and triumph.
Since early that year he had been engaged in intense negotiations with Armstrong’s management to get the retired American to return to racing at Adelaide in January 2009, enlisting then South Australian Premier Mike Rann and Tourism Minister Jane Lomax-Smith in support of his quest. Additional support came from formal submissions by Rann, Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon and head of Cancer Australia Ian Olver.
But by late August another serious glitch had arisen. In order to return to professional cycling after his retirement in 2005 and race in Adelaide the next year Armstrong was required by UCI rules to comply with the six month “return from general retirement rule“.
Armstrong said that he’d flagged his intentions of return to racing with the UCI “sometime in late July“, but he did not make a formal enrolment application until 1 August 2008.
Applying the UCI’s rule meant that the earliest that Armstrong could return to racing would be the end of January 2009, two weeks after the start of the Tour Down Under. Lomax-Smith hoped that “common-sense” would prevail and that Armstrong would be allowed to race in Adelaide, a return that organisers described as “an absolute coup.”
By early October the UCI had backflipped and agreed to allow Armstrong to race in Adelaide. Rann was “thrilled” and congratulated UCI President Pat McQuaid on making a “great decision.”
In a statement the UCI said at the time:
This decision has been made after a careful assessment of the situation, taking into account both the applicable regulations and the imperatives of the fight against doping, which is the UCI’s number one priority.
Five weeks later Mike Turtur was elected President of the Oceania Cycling Confederation, an organisation without a website, and according to some at least, an organisation in decay and without a purpose or future. Notwithstanding the merits or otherise of the regional Confederation, election to that position automatically gained Turtur a seat on the UCI’s powerful Management Committee, on which he sat for the first time soon after the running of the 2009 Tour Down Under.
Since late 2008 Mike Turtur has arguably been the most powerful man in Australian cycling and his seat at the table of the body responsible for the world-wide administration of cycling makes him one of the most powerful in world cycling.
But questions about Turtur’s role in getting Armstrong to Australia in 2009 – and more beside – remain. Following the release of the USADA Reasoned Decision in early October 2012, Klaus Mueller, President of Cycling Australia responded to questions about Turtur from the ABC’s James Bennett:
JAMES BENNETT: Have you spoken with Mike Turtur about his role in enabling Lance Armstrong to come to Australia in 2009 despite the fact that he didn’t have the requisite six months of biological passport data behind him?
KLAUS MUELLER: No, No.
JAMES BENNETT: Do you need to?
KLAUS MUELLER: Possibly.
Apparently Turtur is unable to speak on this issue, a spokeswoman telling the ABC that his position on the UCI Board prevented him from responding to questions about whether or not he lobbied the UCI in 2008 in relation to Armstrong’s early return.
In the years after Armstrong’s return in 2009 Turtur remained loyal and supportive to him during a period when many have cast serious doubt on Armstrong’s integrity. There can be no doubt that Armstrong was good for the Tour Down Under – financially at least – and that he has raised the profile of cancer awareness in South Australia.
Another lingering issue is Turtur’s possible involvement in or knowledge of the payments by the South Australian government for Armstrong’s attendance at the 2009, 2010 and 2011 editions of the Tour Down Under. You can read a number of my posts on that issue – where I have sought confirmation from the South Australian Tourism Commission and the South Australian government here.
As was revealed by Pia Akerman in The Australian in January 2010:
THE Rann government is refusing to disclose how much it pays cyclist Lance Armstrong to ride in South Australia’s Tour Down Under, claiming secrecy is necessary to stop other states “stealing” him away … Rann government minister Jay Weatherill yesterday revealed cabinet had not been informed about payments to Armstrong or tennis legend John McEnroe, who also made a public appearance with Mr Rann this week.
But with Rann gone for over a year it appears that Weatherill will continue to toe the party line. Last week he told local ABC Radio 891 that:
…he said would maintain the secrecy that surrounds financial arrangements between Armstrong, his two Livestrong entities, the Tour Down Under and a cancer research centre at Flinders Medical Centre which uses the Livestrong name. Weatherill said it was important to keep a confidential hold on how much the state was paying to lure big names to boost the Tour Down Under, lest it give an advantage to other states that may be keen to take, or compete with, the Tour. “We won’t be tipping our hand on how much we are prepared to shell out to celebrities,” he said.
In June this year Peter Kogoy in The Australian ran a piece under the header “Lance Armstrong accused of doping at Tour Down Under.” Kogoy’s piece contained no direct evidence of Armstrong’s doping. Turtur declined to comment
But when the full USADA Reasoned Decision was released in early October, it contained the following references to Armstrong’s doping activity in 2009 and 2010:
USADA’s case against Mr. Armstrong does not turn on evidence of Armstrong’s doping during the 2009 – 2012 timeframe. However, the evidence from this period provides strong corroboration for the already overwhelming evidence of Armstrong’s doping from the period from 1998 through 2005. (footnote, page 82)
In addition to Dr. Ferrari, during 2009 and 2010 Armstrong surrounded himself with many of the key pieces in the U.S. Postal Service blood doping program, including Johan Bruyneel, Pedro Celaya and in 2009 Pepe Marti. Each of these individuals had an extensive background in, and experience with, blood doping Armstrong and his teammates. (page 86)
Finally, as more fully discussed in Section V.A., below, an expert examination of Armstrong’s blood parameters establish that the likelihood of Armstrong’s blood values from the 2009 and 2010 Tours de France occurring naturally is less than one in a million, and build a compelling argument consistent with blood doping. (page 87)
Turtur’s handling of recent revelations that in 2003 Italian ONCE-Eroski rider Giampaolo Caruso returned a positive sample during the Tour Down Under must raise further questions about his judgement.
Caruso’s offence wasn’t made public by Tour Down Under offiicials at the time and when Turtur was confronted with the issue earlier this month he looked very much like a frightened rabbit caught in the spotlight, saying that UCI was responsible for publicising such offences, not race organisers. It didn’t get any better when Turtur was asked if there had been any other riders that had tested positive in the history of the Tour Down Under:
“No, not that I’m aware of,” he said. “I’m pretty certain that he’s the only one that’s given a positive from a direct test at the Tour here. We’ve always operated in the regulations of what’s in place on the day.”
Turtur has remained shtum on the Armstrong doping revelations, saying only the it was “horrendous” and “I would prefer the UCI to make an official response before I make any comment.”
At the 2012 UCI Congress at Maastricht in late September Turtur sponsored a Motion that reads in part:
… The UCI was the first sports federation to introduce the athlete blood passport (2008), the most effective tool to prevent and detect blood doping ;
This testing programme of the UCI which was conducted independently, objectively and without consideration of any individuals has found many riders positive, including high profile riders ;
The comprehensive anti-doping programme of the UCI expresses both UCI’s awareness of the doping problem and its firm determination to do away with it ;
Yet various doping scandals have shown that athletes with the help of medical and other experts have managed to escape detection by the most effective doping programme ever implemented;
There is no point in continuing to reexamine the past of then undetectable doping and stigmatize the sport of the young generations now that the situation has considerably improved through UCI’s continued efforts. the Congress of the UCI confirms its confidence in the management of the UCI in its fight against doping over the years ;
Asks the Management Committee of the UCI :
– to deal with the ongoing cases according to the applicable rules ;
– to ignore attempts to exploit commercially or otherwise the painful aspects of cycling’s past ;
– to concentrate on the anti-doping effort for the future of cycling in order to provide a clean environment for the next generations of riders.
Some might call that a self-serving statement riddled with self-interest, indicative of an organisation that has lost its way and and appears condemned to repeat the errors of the past by failing to deal with them. Others may disagree. As Sam Lane wrote in the Fairfax press yesterday:
If the past was not re-examined so scrupulously by USADA, Armstrong would still be a hero.
The UCI official response to the USADA Reasoned Decision is due later today.
Sometime very soon Turtur may have to make a big decision. Is he now so conflicted by his membership with the wholly-discredited UCI that he has to step down from that position? Or will he resign from his position as Director of the Tour Down Under? It seems to me that he cannot remain in both positions, in part because of a number of past as yet unresolved issues, but also the potential that similar conflicts of interest may arise in the future.
There can be no doubt that Mike Turtur has made a valuable contribution to South Australia and Australian cycling. This much is clear from his Wikipedia entry:
Michael Colin “Mike” Turtur, OAM (born July 2, 1958 in Adelaide, South Australia) is a former track cyclist, Olympic gold medallist, and current race director of the Tour Down Under. Turtur won the 4000m Team Pursuit at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, coached by Charlie Walsh , with team members Dean Woods, Kevin Nichols and Michael Grenda, defeating the United States.
Michael Turtur is also the current President of the Union Cycliste Internationale’s Oceanian Cycling Confederation, taking over from Ray Godkin who retired from the position in late 2008 following 22 years as the President. As a result Turtur has a seat on the U.C.I. board (representing Oceania) on the Management Committee of the International Cycling Union.
He was named the South Australian of the Year in 2008, largely for his work with the Tour Down Under.
Since 2010 – and as recently as last week – The Northern Myth has sought a response from Turtur to a number of questions that go to his knowledge of past practices in Australian and international professional cycling.
To date Turtur has failed to provide a response.
Photo of Lance Armstrong & MIke Turtur at the Tour Down Under 2009 by CAS_KS’ @ Flickr