BMC, Ochowicz and Schoutteten. A red and black flag?
In light of BMC team manager Jim Ochowicz’s flip flop of his knowledge of Sven Schoutteten, perhaps it’s worth remembering a few things drawn from the David Walsh book From Lance to Landis.
Initially, Ochowicz said he didn’t know anything about the guy alleged to be part of a doping investigation in Belgium and his link to 195 vials of EPO seized by Customs officials at the Liege airport. Then a day or two later, he changed his mind, saying he did know “Sven S” and that he had simply misunderstood the question when asked.
In the David Walsh book, which details doping practices with the US Postal squad of Lance Armstrong, several people are quoted as saying Ochowicz was against doping but essentially preferred not to know the details. If races were won and sponsors were satisfied, then he was happy to keep himself in the dark about exactly how those results were delivered.
If those critics and those statements are to be believed, then it makes sense that Ochowicz would again make a point of not looking too closely at the potential problems. After all, he’s kept himself pretty busy with the on-again, off-again saga of BMC rider Alessandro Ballan’s doping allegations and the convoluted Italian investigation. Those allegations cover a time period and team (Lampre) that has nothing to do with BMC.
Even if it turns out that BMC is off the hook with Sven Schoutteten, it still qualifies as a sloppy error in judgement. In today’s doping climate, teams have to screen riders and staff more carefully than ever — from their passport data, to previous employment, friends and associates, etc. That also goes for freelancers and part-timers.
It’s just a business climate that demands extra attention to hiring practices. That’s not to say this isn’t an honest mistake on BMC’s part. Hardly their fault if Sven Schoutteten has something going on the side to supplement his income. (Every time we see the name Schoutteten, we think shoot-in-foot.)
Still, it raises a red flag — or rather a red and black BMC flag. Everybody is under the microscope and any transgression will kill a sponsor deal and make it harder for all teams to find financial backing.
The fact that the winningest team in professional cycling, HTC-Highroad, is still scrambling to find a new sponsor tells you a lot about the damage doping does to the sport in general.
Ochowicz has promised an internal investigation — always a scary term — and issued a team statement. “This is very disturbing news,” he said. “We do not believe there were any improprieties happening during his time with the team, but we want to make sure.”
That may well be very true and we sure hope so.