Burke says she wasn't involved in Trek dispute
- Article by: SCOTT BAUER
- Associated Press
- October 20, 2013 - 12:35 PM
MADISON, Wis. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke cites jobs she helped create at her family's bicycle company as a prime reason Wisconsin voters should trust her, rather than Republican Gov. Scott Walker, with the state's economy. Company leaders, however, previously credited Trek Bicycle Corp.'s relationship with now-disgraced Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong with a sales spike during the early 2000s.
Burke's claims also raise the question of what she knew about the company's efforts to muffle accusations, later proven true, that Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs. As Armstrong rode Trek bikes to victory in seven straight Tour de France appearances, Trek benefited from what was known as "The Lance Effect" and became the nation's top-selling bike manufacturer and a Wisconsin success story.
Burke is trying to capitalize on that good will in her campaign. In her announcement video, Burke stands in what appears to be a bike repair shop talking about the company her father founded "in a barn in Waterloo" in 1976.
"Helping to turn my family's business into a global company has been a big part of my life," Burke said in the video. "Now I'd like to help make our great state of Wisconsin even better as your governor."
Burke spent two different periods working at Trek. She served as its European operations director from 1990 to 1993, "growing the business from the ground up in seven European countries," according to her official biography. Burke told The Associated Press in a recent interview that work led to more jobs for the company back in Wisconsin.
Burke left briefly to work for a bicycling trade organization but returned to Trek in 1995, working for the next nine years as director of strategic planning and forecasting. She said that work, which she did in Wisconsin, involved analyzing markets, aligning manufacturing schedules with anticipated sales and managing the supply and inventory of Trek products to make the company more efficient, and ultimately, more profitable.
She was at the company in 1998 when it signed Armstrong, who was recovering from testicular cancer. His string of seven Tour de France victories began the next year.
Trek executives credited "The Lance Factor" with reviving interest in cycling and boosting sales in 2005 interviews with the AP. The company was doing a major expansion at its Waterloo headquarters and producing more than 1 million bikes per year at the time.
Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France in 1986, also had a licensing deal with Trek. He began speaking out about doping in cycling in 2001 and testified in 2005 that Burke's brother, Trek CEO John Burke, asserted "intense pressure" on him to retract any statements that questioned Armstrong's credibility when it came to drugs. Trek settled a 2008 lawsuit filed by LeMond in 2010.
Burke, and a Trek company spokeswoman, said she had no involvement in Trek's handling of LeMond's allegations.
"I just don't know a lot about the specifics of it," she said of Trek's well-publicized dispute with LeMond. "I wasn't involved. It just wasn't a part of my job at all."
Court records from lawsuits LeMond and Trek filed against one another support her statement. They don't mention Mary Burke, and Minneapolis attorney Chris Madel, who represented LeMond in his lawsuit against Trek, said Mary Burke was not deposed and he does not recall her being a part of the litigation.
It's not surprising that Mary Burke wouldn't have been involved with the Armstrong and LeMond feud, said Patrick Brady, publisher of the cycling website Red Kite Prayer. She served an entirely different role than her brother, he said.
"It was pretty much a tete-a-tete at the top of the company," Brady said. "If I had been working at the company at the time, I would have done everything I could to dodge it. ... It was an ugly episode for American cycling."
Trek rejected a request to speak to John Burke about what Mary Burke's job did entail during the LeMond dispute. A Trek spokeswoman said John Burke was unavailable due to business commitments and that Mary Burke was not involved in the LeMond dispute.
Trek stood by Armstrong until the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released evidence of Armstrong's drug use in October 2012, stripped him of his Tour titles and banned him from professional cycling for life. In January, Armstrong admitted using performance-enhancing drugs during his Tour wins.
© 2013 Star Tribune