UCI promises changes, but seems stuck in its ways

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The UCI promised cycling is moving forward today when it announced Lance Armstrong will lose his seven Tour de France wins for doping, but the organising itself appears stuck in its old ways, writes Gregor Brown from Geneva.

President Pat McQuaid – flanked by UCI lawyer Philippe Verbiest, scientific advisor Mario Zorzoli and anti-doping expert Francesca Rossi – answered most of the questions in an hour-long press conference. The vibe n the Geneva conference hall was business as normal. Several journalists shook their heads when he spoke and one played an imaginary violin.

“This is a landmark day for cycling, cycling has endured a lot of pain absorbing the USADA report,” McQuaid said. “My message, cycling has a future.”

See the full press conference and UCI decision here.

The cycling’s landscape changed when the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released its Reasoned Decision on October 10, the document that backed its move to strip Armstrong of his Tour wins. Since then, all of Armstrong’s major sponsors (including Oakley) pulled out their endorsement deals, Johan Bruyneel and Matt White lost their management jobs, and Rabobank ended its team sponsorship after 15-plus years. Listening to McQuaid, though, you felt like you were sitting at a bar, three drinks in, and being assured “it’s all going to be all right.”

He said that the UCI management committee is meeting next Friday to decide what will happen with Armstrong’s other wins and his Olympic medal. The UCI, he added, will call in all the teams and major race organisers to see what, if anything, they can change.

“The UCI is listening and is prepared to listen. We’ve come so far in the fight against doping to return to the past,” McQuaid explained. “Cycling has a future and we should never let something like that happen again.”

Back to business?

When pressed, McQuaid didn’t seem to want to embrace the same transparency he is pushing cycling towards. In the Reasoned Decision, Armstrong’s former team-mates Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton alleged the UCI knew about positive doping tests and it covered them up. They talked of the 2001 Tour de Suisse, alleging that Armstrong tested positive for EPO and that the UCI took a bribe to make it go away.

The UCI admitted in 2010 that it accepted $125,000 in 2002 from Armstrong. Armstrong and Bruyneel visited the UCI’s new headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, McQuaid explained in 2010. Armstrong later sent the money, which the UCI partly used on anti-doping equipment.

“They are absolutely untrue,” he said of the allegations. “When you study the papers in the file related to the 1999 cortisone [positive test in the Tour de France] and the 2001 Tour of Switzerland, you’d see that there was nothing to be bought off. The UCI absolutely denies that that ever happened.”

McQuaid said the donation could have been handled more clearly, but nonetheless, the UCI would have accepted it.

“There is still no connection to it, the donation and no test to cover up,” McQuaid added. “You’ve got to understand, back in 2004 or 2005, Lance Armstrong was a big star, there was none of this [doping] around him. If Fabian Cancellara, for example, tried today, the UCI would accept that money. … We are an agency on limited funds, we spend all of our money on the development of the sport.

A journalist asked that if Wayne Rooney gave such a donation to the Premier League, would it appear suspicious. McQuaid replied, “I don’t know.”

Kimmage remains on radar

The UCI will continue to pursue its case against Irish journalist, Paul Kimmage despite the Reasoned Decision. McQuaid said he would not lay down his arms even if it would give the UCI a better public Kimmage.

In his articles for The Sunday Times in 2011, Kimmage highlighted Armstrong’s donations and alleged cover-ups. As well, he spoke about it in a feature interview with France’s L’Equipe newspaper in July 2011.

“It’s a defamation case, and it’s not against the Paul Kimmage that I know, the Paul Kimmage that I managed thorough his amateur days right up to the sixth place in the world championships when he started his professional career. … It has nothing to do with that. A guy who calls me corrupt, and calls the institution that I lead, the 100 people that work in it every day… I can’t accept that and I have to defend that. I don’t like to do it, I don’t want to do it, but I’m forced to do it.”

Kimmage will come face to face with his former manager on December 12. A fund has been created for him, which is up to $65,000.

Hamilton & Landis

The UCI praised the testimony of the 15 cyclists called before the US agency and who helped lead to Armstrong’s downfall. Many also told of their own doping stories along the way, and the four current riders will serve reduced six-month bans.

The case is like none other before, dwarfing the Festina Affair in 1998 that saw France clamp down on doping. McQuaid, though, was tough as ever on Landis and Hamilton. Their testimonies seemed brave, he said, but added that USADA had the help of federal agents with badges and guns.

“We’ve brought riders in the past, Tyler Hamilton was brought in and he said our machines were wrong and they weren’t calibrated right because he’s doing nothing,” McQuaid added.

“Landis was in a bottomless hole and he said the only way out is to bring the sport down. That is what he intended on doing. That is what he intends on doing, and he won’t achieve it.

“What has happened has been a good thing for the sport, going forward is a good thing, of course. … I’m grateful for what the USADA archived, yes, but they haven’t achieved any more than what the UCI could have achieved on their own. They needed the support of the federal agents. On their own they couldn’t do it, nor could the UCI do it.”

Hamilton detailed his and Armstrong’s doping story in a book published last month.

“He’s on a personal mission to make money for himself. When I a guy writes a book, he writes for commercial reasons. When he spends his time promoting his book, he’s there just to make money out of it. Then I wonder were the objectivity goes. I think it goes a little [out] the window.”

Armstrong

McQuaid reserved the toughtest criticism for Armstrong, and rightly so since the US agency found he doped in much of his career, from his 1999 to 2005 Tour wins and on to his comeback. They said he used testosterone, cortisone, EPO and banned methods, such as blood transfusions.

“Lance Armstrong,” McQuaid said, “has no place in cycling so he deserves to be forgotten in cycling.”

He added that Armstrong’s case caps off a horrific seven-year run since he became UCI president in 2005, a run that began with Roberto Heras’ positive test in the Vuelta and continuing with the Armstrong chapter. He appears ready to close the chapter, and despite the status quo feel, ready to move ahead.

“[Armstrong] heard we were having a press conference, sent me an SMS and I rang him [last Friday] and told him that yes, ‘I’m having a press conference on Monday and we are announcing our result.’ He said, ‘What is that?’ And I said, ‘I can’t say.'”

McQuaid refused to give Armstrong advice on what he should do next. Whether Armstrong should admit it all or keep hiding.

“It’s up to him to decide, not me. I don’t want to give the answer because then I’m putting words in his mouth. … He knows the situation he is in, he knows the situation he put our sport in, it’s up to him to make any decisions he thinks that are relevant.”

Moving ahead?

The true answer to whether the UCI wants to change the current situation and move ahead may come from next week’s meeting, when the teams and organisers will meet with McQuaid.

Discussions will range from how teams can discourage their riders from doping, what the organiser can do and what cycling on a whole can do. Several major players have called for a new cycling league to create a different structure to allow teams a greater financial stake and take away the points race. Michael Barry, who testified in the US agency’s case, said that the current UCI points system pushes some riders to dope.

Former HTC-Highroad general manger, Bob Stapleton said in his recent interview that the UCI has to be committed to change. He warned, however, that unless it had reason, it would say status quo, which would result in more imaginary violins and shaking heads.

The push could come from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members, who may decide they have had enough of cycling. The UCI now has a chance to pre-empt any such move, make drastic changes and benefit from what McQuaid called “a landmark day for cycling.”

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