Three-member panel to probe UCI, Armstrong links

GENEVA (AP) — British judge Phillip Otton will chair the three-member panel investigating the International Cycling Union's links to the Lance Armstrong doping case.

The UCI, cycling's governing body, announced the independent commission on Friday, saying British Paralympic great Tanni Grey-Thompson and Australian lawyer Malcolm Holmes also will serve on the panel that will meet in London from April 9-26 and issue a report by June 1.

"The appointment of these three eminent figures demonstrates clearly that the UCI wants to get to the bottom of the Lance Armstrong affair and put cycling back on the right track," UCI President Pat McQuaid said in a statement.

Otton's sports legal cases include a Premier League relegation dispute involving Carlos Tevez, and Chelsea's tactics in trying to lure Ashley Cole from Arsenal. Grey-Thompson, a 10-time Paralympic gold medalist in wheelchair racing, is a lawmaker in the upper chamber of Britain's Parliament.

The UCI asked Court of Arbitration for Sport board president John Coates to help create a panel to investigate suspicions raised by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's damning report of widespread doping by Armstrong's teams during his seven Tour de France victories from 1999-2005.

Armstrong recently was stripped of seven Tour de France titles and banned for life.

McQuaid said the UCI had no part in choosing the three officials, who have drawn up the parameters for their investigation.

The commission will closely scrutinize McQuaid, who was elected as UCI president weeks after Armstrong first retired in 2005, and his predecessor, Hein Verbruggen, in their working relationship with Armstrong.

The governing body denies claims made by former Armstrong teammates to USADA that it covered up suspicious samples from Armstrong in exchange for cash, or that the American rider enjoyed special protection.

"The commission's report and recommendations are critical to restoring confidence in the sport of cycling and in the UCI as its governing body," McQuaid said. "We will cooperate fully with the commission and provide them with whatever they need to conduct their inquiry and we urge all other interested stakeholders to do the same."

The UCI pledged to fund the commission's work and will be legally represented at the London hearings. It did not say whether the sessions will be held in public or behind closed doors.

"The costs of the independent commission will be a significant burden on the UCI," McQuaid said. "However, it is clear that only such a decisive and transparent examination of the past will answer our critics by thoroughly examining our assertion that the UCI's anti-doping procedures are and have been among the most innovative and stringent in sport."

The panel will examine whether the UCI's doping rules "were inadequate or were not enforced with sufficient rigor"; if the UCI had "any reliable evidence or information" that Armstrong was doping; and if it "adequately cooperated with, assisted in and reacted to the USADA" investigation.

A potential conflict of interest between the UCI's role promoting the sport and its duty to police anti-doping will be examined.

The announcement came two days before a group of the UCI's and Armstrong's fiercest critics, including three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, meets in London to press for changes in cycling.

Following the USADA report, LeMond denounced McQuaid and Verbruggen as "the corrupt part of the sport" and called on them to leave the UCI.

LeMond, now the only American winner of cycling's biggest prize, will be joined in London by campaigning journalists Paul Kimmage and David Walsh, and Australian anti-doping scientist Michael Ashenden, who helped the UCI develop its biological passport anti-doping project.

Under the "Change Cycling Now" banner, the group will meet for two days.