We brought Paul Kimmage to New York for our Roller Race on November 29th, not realizing that a documentary crew would accompany him to New York. The producer of that documentary, Tony Whelan, asked me if I could line up some interviews for Paul while he was in town. One of the reporters I contacted, Matt Seaton, turned the request around and offered to do the interview for us.
Below is Matt’s interview with Paul, conducted over Skype after Paul left New York.
Matt Seaton: So much has been happening in recent weeks, let’s start at the most recent events and work backwards. Tell me first what this documentary is going to be.
Paul Kimmage: I lost my job in January [at the Sunday Times], and I received the first summons from the UCI about a week or two later. Tony [Whelan], whom I’d worked with at Setanta, came round to my house with a camera about a week later, and just started asking about this and how things were; and he’s been coming back and forth ever since — because obviously things have developed considerably since then.
So, every time there’s a development, he comes out and we do some filming. And obviously, in the last two months in particular, he’s been very busy. His plan is to go to the Tour de France next year with me and to set the story of A Rough Ride and my life since in the context of the 100th Tour de France. They’ve got to get some funding for that from the Irish Film Board, so they’re making a pilot to try to get the funding for it. I won’t be going unless we have that. At the moment, I won’t: there’d be no reason for me to go. We have to get funding or I won’t be going.
MS: In a way, Tony’s instincts proved to be great, because the story has just got better and better…
PK: It is ‘interesting’. Even in the last ten days, it’s been absolutely crazy. I was on a flight from London yesterday after being at the Change Cycling Now conference, and I was absolutely shattered. I’d given this charity talk the night I’d got back from New York, then flew out from Limerick to London to be at the conference on Sunday morning. I got there about 9.30am, and we were at it until 8pm that night, and it was full-on. And everybody there really wanted the same thing: wanted what was best for the sport. Obviously, via very different ways, very different ideas on how we can get there. But really, everyone in that room is 100% committed; I fully believe that.
I know people have been questioning Jaimie Fuller’s motives [of SKINS], but I think I’m a good judge of character and if he was acting, he deserves an Oscar for it, because he was being terrific. And everybody in the room, as I say, was totally committed to do this for the good of our sport. That’s the only item on the agenda; there are no ulterior motives here. I know people are suggesting it’s all about revenge, but it wouldn’t take very much for me to say, "you know, if that’s how you feel, I’ll get out of here," because my life would be a hell of a lot simpler…
MS: Tell me more about what happened at the conference.
PK: We spent the day brainstorming ideas about what we can do, and how we can move forward with the sport, focusing on key areas. First, the reconciliation step that need to be taken, to start with a clean slate. Of course, that’s a very, very complicated thing, because I would have always been a root-and-branch surgery kind of guy, with no second chances for anyone — clean everybody out and start from scratch. But that’s a bit radical, I suppose. So some of what we spoke about was about the truth and reconciliation process, and allowing second chances or an amnesty for guys who are fully truthful about what happened. It was difficult for me, but I accept that in order for the sport to start again, and in order to encourage guys to tell the truth, you’ve got to make some allowances, some compromises. So I’m prepared to do that.
Another aspect is the independent commission, and raising the question about who actually drew up the terms of reference for the commission, because there are some very obvious things that aren’t in there, like the Tour of Switzerland ‘positive’, and things like that. So that’s another area of concern for us.
Then there’s UCI governance. Item one for all of us would be the removal of Verbruggen. During this process of the independent commissioners looking at the sport, McQuaid and Verbruggen should step down for that period. Ultimately, they should be removed from the sport, because I don’t believe the sport can move on with the same guys in charge. They need to be held to account for that.
We had some great people there. Michael Ashenden is a really impressive man. If the riders themselves could sit with him as I did, they would really appreciate how much he has their interests at heart, their livelihood and their wellbeing. There are a lot of people in the room like that: Jonathan Vaughters, Joerg Jaksche, Antoine Vayer, David Walsh, Greg LeMond, Eric Boyer … Eric told us some incredible things about his dealings with the UCI, when he was the AIGCP chairman. It would have been great to have got some riders there.
We’re not in any shape or form proposing Greg LeMond for the presidency of the UCI for any indefinite period, but he would be prepared to do that for a few months, until we got it sorted out. It’s a good headline, but it’s not really a runner, I think — especially when you look at how the constitution is set up and how the presidents all have to be federation officials.
MS: So it’s more a symbolic, PR move than a plausible electoral proposal?
MS: Tell me, then, what your attitude is to the commission and what you make of the terms of reference, the selection of the panel, the people on that panel — how much confidence do you have in the whole process?
PK: Given what’s happened before, with the Vrijman Report, I had absolutely no confidence whatsoever when they announced this. But I think there’s been so much heat on them now that they have to be seen to be doing it right. And when you look at the people they’ve got there now — Tanni Grey-Thompson and the two guys — they’re good people, they’re honest people, and they can do a really good job.
They don’t know very much about cycling and they’ve been given these terms of reference, which I hope are not fixed in stone, so that when it’s suggested to them that they need to be broadened, they can be broadened, to include things like the Tour of Switzerland ‘positive’, and to bring on board a forensic accountant to examine the UCI books, but also outside of that McQuaid and Verbruggen’s finances. If they can address those issues, I’ll be very, very happy with the commission.
Indeed, I would be hopeful that I will go before the commission myself, and everybody in the sport would be prepared to step before the commission, because that can only be a good thing. That’s the surefire way of getting rid of these guys. If everybody steps up to the plate now and presents what’s gone on for the last twenty years to the commission, then it’s a cast-iron certainty that they [McQuaid and Verbruggen] will not be in around six months’ time, in my view.
So, initially, I was very skeptical about it; but now, much less so. But there are a couple areas there that I’m still uneasy about.
MS: I wondered whether, given the terms of reference and the access being granted the commissioners, this was where McQuaid actually decides he’s going to jettison Verbruggen and throw him under the bus. I wondered whether the way the commission was set up as part of a McQuaid survival plan.
PK: It possibly is. Pat McQuaid may not be corrupt but he is grossly incompetent at least, in the five years he’s been there. He has done things he should not survive for [in post] when they come into the public domain. That may be his plan, to throw Verbruggen under the bus, but they’ve always been joined at the hip: he’s been Verbruggen’s puppet from day one. McQuaid will be held to account for his contribution to the mess, too.
MS: The lawsuit against you has been suspended; it’s hard to imagine it will ever be reactivated now …
PK: I don’t imagine it will. I got something from my lawyer last week, and the hearing’s been moved back until September , I believe.
MS: It’s been formally suspended until after the commission has delivered its verdict, right?
MS: But your counter-suit, what’s happening with that?
PK: Well, it’s not a lawsuit. I’m not suing them for money; I’ve lodged a criminal complaint, which is very different. I’ve lodged that complaint with the prosecutor in Switzerland, and I’ve received an email from him last week confirming that he’s received the complaint, has received the dossier, and he’s looking at it now. So he has a decision to make, and his decision is whether to direct the Swiss police to investigate the case or not. I am told he will make that decision in the next ten days or so; I’m told it won’t take too long. He will decide whether there’s grounds to investigate the case. It’s out of my hands, and even if he decides to direct an investigation, I don’t expect to hear from him until it would all come to court.
MS: Do you have any sense of what the likelihood of that happening is?
PK: That’s exactly what I asked Cedric Aguet, our Swiss lawyer: he said 70-80% chance — so he’s optimistic. That was interesting.
MS: Thinking back to what set this all in motion, do you have any contact with Floyd Landis these days?
PK: I was to have dinner with Floyd in New York last week. We had it all set up, and he emailed me at the last moment and said that he’d been detained by some problem in California, and wasn’t coming over. That was disappointing because I was so looking forward to sitting down with him and talking for a couple of hours, so that was a pity.
MS: What’s your sense of how he’s weathered all of this?
PK: That’s what’s I wanted to find out. I get a sense that he has good days and bad. There’s a lot of anger there, a lot of frustration. But that’s only my gut feeling. I’d imagine that he’s a lot happier now, though, than he was two years ago. He said in that interview I did with him that there are no happy endings, for any of us, really. At the same time, I think he was a lot happier in August than he was in February when the Feds dropped the case. I know that he was pretty angry then.
I imagine that he’s a lot happier now: that justice has extended to Lance Armstrong, that Armstrong wasn’t untouchable.
MS: Talking of his anger at the Feds dropping the case, you took the transcript of that seismic interview and gave it to our friends at NYVelocity: were you angry with the Sunday Times for not running the whole transcript?
PK: I was very frustrated, very, very frustrated, because when I saw what eventually did go in to the magazine, and what I had — the material I had — it just didn’t do it any justice at all. So that was a huge frustration, and I actually asked them to run it on their website. Obviously, there are legal sensitivities there, with Armstrong, and I understood that. In our business, you’re always aware of the legal problems and you try to work with them as best you can. But even if we had addressed some of those problems and run a redacted version, it would still have been well worth doing. But they just didn’t want to know about it. So that was hugely frustrating.
I was a little fearful of putting it on the NYVelocity website that there might be a bit of a backlash. I said to Andy [Shen], "whatever you do, don’t put it out on the same day the magazine appears," so he left it for a day and posted it on the Monday. But I was a little worried there might be some backlash about it.
MS: But you didn’t get any?
PK: Maybe the backlash came a year later, when I was made redundant …
MS: We’re in an industry that is cutting headcount all of the time at the moment, but do you feel there was any price that you paid — that you were targeted for layoff because you were perceived as a troublemaker?
PK: I’ve tried to analyze that so many times since: why was it me? I don’t want to sound arrogant here but I was Sports Interviewer of the Year five years in a row there; I was nominated for the Press Gazette Sportswriter of the Year six years out of the eight or nine I was there … So it didn’t make any sense to me, other than that when it came to Armstrong and doping-related issues, I wouldn’t say no. As much as I appreciate that as a business, our industry is in trouble, I felt I still had a contribution to make and it didn’t make sense to me that they were sacking someone, or letting someone go, who is pretty good at his job.
So when I try to apply some logic to it, it didn’t make sense to me. I felt it had to be a factor, a big factor, that I’d gone to the Tour in 2009 and 2010, when Armstrong had come back. And in the press conference in 2009 in California, they didn’t run the piece I wrote then; they didn’t run two of the pieces I wrote at the Tour that year on Armstrong; they didn’t run two of the pieces I wrote a year later … So all that, for me, that did count for something. That may have gone against me.
MS: In an interview with cyclingnews.com, David Walsh has a nice phrase about how he started off as "a fan with a typewriter". Do you feel that it became a problem for you, or maybe just for the Sunday Times, that you became a kind of "advocate with a typewriter", or a campaigner — that there was a conflict of interest between you "becoming the story" as a public critic of the UCI and your pure reportorial role.
PK: I would agree with you except that every week … What I was told was "the public are sick of it [the doping story], tell us about the race," and yet every week, almost without fail, since Armstrong was suspended, there’s been a doping story in the Sunday Times. So what happened to all this ‘reader fatigue’? That’s what I’m asking. There’s an absolutely voracious appetite for this story. People can’t get enough of it.
MS: Do you then feel even more aggrieved that much the media failed on the job of reporting on doping for a decade and more?
PK: And are still failing — let’s be honest with this. They’re still failing. There were some legitimate questions that needed to be asked of Sky this year, and they weren’t asked. It’s the same sort of problem with Sky we had with US Postal: when we get a hero, we are very reluctant to put the questions we put to someone else when it’s someone else’s country when it’s one of our own. That’s still valid today.
MS: What were the specific questions that should have been put more forcefully?
PK: It’s a legitimate question to ask how the team that set up its stall by saying that there would be no doctors working from within the sport; all the doctors would be from outside cycling. So when they set out their goals and principles in 2009, and they made this one of the cornerstones of what they were about, and then suddenly, it emerges that they’ve employed Geert Leinders, and he’s been working with them since 2010 — and he is not just a doctor from within the sport, but a doctor who’s been very closely associated with a doping program at Rabobank … I think it’s a legitimate question to ask how that happened, who made that decision?
That is a question that has not actually been addressed yet: who made the decision to hire Geert Leinders? What happened to the principles that we were given in 2009?
The question I get asked nine times out of ten is "do you believe Bradley [Wiggins is clean]?" And my answer is, because of that, "I don’t know." I look at that and I actually don’t know. And this is something that could have been avoided; this is a mess of their own making. Had they stuck to their principles, all those fine principles of 2009 they sold us with — of transparency, about doctors, and how they are going to go about things — there would not be any questions now. Paul Kimmage would not be here saying "I don’t know"; he’d be saying, "Yeah, you know, I think I can buy that. Definitely."
And look what’s happened since: they’ve lost three directeurs, four directeurs now? Four key members of that Tour de France team will not be with them next year. You’re looking at that and wondering if that’s grounds that add to the question [about Bradley Wiggins]. It’s difficult.
MS: Was it just a question of a problem with the doctor they hired, or did they let the initial high principles slip when they took on people who’ve subsequently declined to sign the document [the doping-free career declaration] they’ve been asked to sign in the last few months?
PK: It wasn’t just Leinders, no, definitely not. You think back to the first year and when the team was launched, and it was "we’re not hiring David Millar because we can’t have any association with doping." You think of the hypocrisy, then, of hiring the guys that they did — because they knew. Don’t tell me they didn’t know that these guys had had contact with doping when they hired them. They knew that.
The bottom line — and I wrote this about [David] Brailsford — I asked him: "Is there a difference between doing the right thing or being seen to do the right thing?" And with Brailsford, in my view, it’s all about being seen to do the right thing.
MS: What about your own career? Is it on hold?
PK: It has been put on hold. As every month goes by, I’m less hopeful that I’m going to get a job back in a newspaper again. I’m going to start a new interview series: Gerard Vroomen is starting up a new app magazine in January, and I’m going to do a monthly interview for Gerard. Other than that, I’ve done some stuff this year, I covered the Olympics for al-Jazeera, which was a great experience. So I spent ten days working for TV for them. I’ve done a little bit of work with Setanta TV here; I wrote a piece on Bradley’s win for the Daily Mail. And I’ve written three pieces for the Sunday Independent in Dublin here, since the Armstrong saga broke in August.
Now, the biggest thing I have is that I’m writing [Irish rugby star] Brian O’Driscoll’s autobiography, and I have to get that done pretty soon, so that’s going to keep me busy for a couple of months at least. So it’s not that I don’t have any work, but I am … My wife is particularly worried about what happens at the end of that.
MS: Is the role of campaigner and advocate one that you are glad to play, or is it a burden?
PK: Let me answer that in a slightly offbeat way: we arrived in New York and we were going to do the Q&A in Bicycle Habitat [in SoHo], and I had the camera crew in the car with me; we were filming as we were driving down, and I was asked whether all that is happening now was incredibly exciting for me. I said, "I don’t feel incredibly excited about it. If I were still at the Sunday Times, if I still had my job, and all of this was happening, it would be the greatest moment of my life. But the fact that I don’t have my job, it’s less sweet for me."
MS: Going back to the governance question, one issue with the UCI is that there’s clearly a problem at the top that needs to change, but we’ve also seen a lot of problems over the years with national federations also protecting their own in the most corrupt way. Is there enough of a reform movement in the national federations so that we don’t just end up back at square one after this whole commission process?
PK: You address it very simply: you just take all of the power out of their hands — your turn over all of the anti-doping process to an independent body and you empower the national federations to write licenses, and that’s the extent of what they do. In many ways, that’s the extent of what the UCI should do — issue racing licenses. Everything else to do with sporting values is then done by independent people.
This notion that you should turn over the punishment of a rider [for a doping violation] to a national federation — that, for instance, the Spanish Federation should sanction [Alberto] Contador — is absolutely laughable.
MS: In other word, it should go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport automatically?
MS: What is your view about the way sport is funded and the way the revenue streams from TV are shared between teams? Is that part of the issue that needs reform and otherwise feeds into the sport’s doping problem?
PK: I remember in my first year at RMO [pro team] getting a very angry letter from the sponsor saying the results were terrible and it had better improve, so automatically that increases the pressure to get better results. Does that change if there’s money coming in from TV revenue and there’s a franchise there, and the team is not so dependent on a single sponsor, and the team doesn’t fold should the sponsor withdraw … Does that help? Yes, definitely.
I know there are some moves afoot to try to address that. It definitely needs to be addressed.
MS: Among the teams, Brailsford and Sky have taken one particular approach on anti-doping, and then there’s Jonathan Vaughters at Garmin with a different approach, but what’s your sense of the balance of forces for reform among those top teams that ride the Tour?
PK: If you look at the French teams, since Festina really, there’s been a sea-change in their attitude [to the doping problem] and the way they go about policing their riders. The MPCC members [Mouvement Pour Cyclisme Credible] seem particularly good at it. Europcar had a couple of problems this year, with an investigation. You’ve got Garmin. Sky, obviously, though they’ve been flip-flopping. But then, you’ve got a couple of guys — Riis’ and Saxobank — and you wonder whether you believe these guys. Can you believe Bruyneel and RadioShack? Definitely not. So in terms of the percentage of people who want to change cycling and the percentage of people who still want to play the same old way, I suppose we’re getting up towards a majority now who want to change the culture. It would be interesting to ask David Millar that: I imagine he would be able to give a better steer on how that breaks down.
MS: Last question: about Lance, because in a way it’s all about Lance —
PK: But it’s not all about Lance. If it were about Lance, I wouldn’t have been in London yesterday [at Change Cycling Now]; the UCI wouldn’t have been trying to take me to court, because they understood — and this is the thing about the interview with Floyd that I only understood after that interview — Lance wasn’t the problem. It was the people who had facilitated and enabled him to do what he’d gotten away with for so long that was the problem. It doesn’t finish with Lance. If we thought that it did, it would happen again.
In the same way we thought Festina should have been an end of it, there would be a new era, and there would be so-called lines in the sand drawn, but within six months somebody else would come along — and as we saw with Contador, whose positive wasn’t announced for six weeks; the UCI sat on it for six weeks and only came out with it when German TV found out about it — and it’s going to happen again. So, it doesn’t end with Lance.
MS: Nevertheless … His world has fallen apart comprehensively: he’s lost his titles, he’s lost his sponsorship deals, he’s now even lost his association with Livestrong. Do you ever feel some sympathy towards the guy?
PK: I was asked at a Q&A in Limerick, "what if Lance Armstrong came to you and asked if I wanted to do the tell-all book with him?" Would I do it? And I said I would not do it. If you gave me me a million pounds, I would not do it.
There are people I feel sympathy for, but I just feel that Lance has destroyed so many lives, or tried to destroy so many lives, that it is difficult for me to have one ounce of sympathy for him.