Former UCI head defends money link to Lance team

GRAHAM DUNBAR AP Sports Writer Published:

WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) -- The International Cycling Union's honorary president said Thursday that there was no conflict of interest when he invested in a brokerage account later linked to Lance Armstrong's team owner.

Hein Verbruggen told The Associated Press 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."

"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 UCI president, with broker Jim Ochowicz from 1999-2004.

"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 cycling's governing body ended in 2005.

Ochowicz managed the Motorola team Armstrong rode for in the mid-90s. 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.

Weisel was a major financial backer of Tailwind Sports, which owned the team sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service when Armstrong won several Tour de France titles.

"I didn't even know who Thom Weisel was," Verbruggen told the AP of 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 showed interest.

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

Verbruggen and his UCI successor, Pat McQuaid, are expected to meet with the three-member commission panel when it meets April 9-26 in London.

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