Ex-cycling head defends money link to Lance team

January 17, 2013 - 10:33 AM
Verbruggen Armstrong

FILE - In this April 3, 2008 file photo, Hein Verbruggen, coordination commission chairman of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, listens during a news conference in Beijing. International Cycling Union honorary president Hein Verbruggen says there was no conflict of interest when he invested in a brokerage account later linked to Lance Armstrong's team owner. Verbruggen tells The Associated Press it is "cynical" for U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart to suggest the business relationship "stinks to high heaven." (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) — The former president of cycling's governing body says there was no conflict of interest when he invested in a brokerage account later linked to Lance Armstrong's team owner.

It was "cynical" for U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart to suggest to The Wall Street Journal that the business relationship "stinks to high heaven," Hein Verbruggen told The Associated Press on Thursday.

"Nothing illegal has happened, or ever did. The comments of Mr. Tygart, I would call them cynical almost," Verbruggen said in a telephone interview.

Verbruggen confirmed details in the newspaper article of his investment, while he was the International Cycling Union president, with broker Jim Ochowicz from 1999-2004. Verbruggen is now honorary president of the cycling group.

"I have given Jim a small amount of money to manage for me, and he moved to (work for) Thom Weisel" in 2001, said the Dutch official, whose 14-year leadership of the governing body ended in 2005.

Ochowicz managed the Motorola team Armstrong rode for in the mid-1990s. He then worked as a broker before joining investment bank Thomas Weisel Partners, and confirmed the fact of Verbruggen's investment to The Wall Street Journal.

Ochowicz was elected president of the USA Cycling governing body from 2002-08. He is president of the BMC Racing team, which includes 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans and leading U.S. rider Tejay van Garderen.

Weisel was a major financial backer of Tailwind Sports, which owned the team sponsored by U.S. Postal Service when Armstrong won his first five Tour de France races. He has been stripped of all seven victories from 1999-2005.

"I didn't even know who Thom Weisel was," Verbruggen told the AP, referring to his initial investment with Ochowicz two years before the account transferred to Weisel's bank. "There is no relationship whatsoever. You give a guy that you like a small amount of money to manage and 12 years later I end up in a doping case."

Verbruggen said he would discuss the investment with an independent commission set up to investigate the UCI's links to Armstrong, if it was interested.

"I hope they are, and I will give the information myself," he said.

Verbruggen and his successor, Pat McQuaid, are expected to meet with the three-member commission panel during its scheduled April 9-26 hearing in London.

The UCI has asked the panel to examine allegations raised by the USADA in its investigation of Armstrong and his teams that the governing body was complicit in a widespread doping conspiracy.

In the U.S., Weisel has been linked to a whistleblower lawsuit filed by Floyd Landis to recover millions of dollars of government funding of Armstrong's USPS teams through Tailwind. Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour title for doping, was a central witness in the USADA investigation.