Under fire, defiant McQuaid reflects on career, anti-doping efforts

Brian Canty /
Pat McQuaid says he first encountered EPO when a young rider died in his sleep more than two decades ago. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini | AFP

DUBLIN (VN) — Pat McQuaid breezes into the foyer and it quickly becomes apparent he was doing a spot of shopping. He’s slightly out of breath, his coat is wide open and his scarf hangs loose. Last-minute Christmas shopping in Dublin — it can’t be too dissimilar from racing in the peloton, ducking and weaving and jostling for position, picking good lines and getting to the head of the queue first is all that matters.

McQuaid, in his day, was a sprinter of note and usually got to the top of the queue first; hence the few bags he’s carrying and it’s still only mid-morning in a capital choc-full of shoppers, tourists and vendors. He’s efficient. His time keeping is spot on, too, as we convene one minute before the scheduled meeting time.

The sport of cycling in 2012 endured the most difficult year in its much-maligned history and over the last four months the international governing body’s president has had emails, letters, phone calls and faxes telling him to “get the fuck out and resign.” That last flowery little dispatch came from three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, no less.

The Irishman has batted away accusations and fielded allegations of corruption and impropriety since October, when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released its “Reasoned Decision” on widespread drug-taking in the Lance Armstrong-led U.S. Postal Service team during the late 1990s and 2000s. One can only wonder how much of a toll such vitriol can have on a man.

Searching for signs of strain or pressure, generally, isn’t a difficult thing to do — the mind’s construction is very often visible in the face and judging by McQuaid, he has the look of a man who’s more concerned with how his niece will take what’s in the bag resting against his leg, rather than the future of the sport resting on his shoulders.

Poke at him, just a little, however, and it soon becomes apparent the gun is always cocked, even in a salubrious setting where Christmas carols and teapots are the only other sounds.

“That irritates me,” McQuaid retorted tiredly when asked about journalist Paul Kimmage’s claim that he should be behind bars for the deaths of up to 30 young riders during the 1990s. “It’s way over the top. It’s a personal vendetta he’s got against me and the only way he can pull me down is to associate me very closely with my predecessor Hein Verbruggen, doping and Lance Armstrong. That’s the only way he can see to bring me down. This year hasn’t been easy for me. It’s been difficult and I’ve put up with a huge amount of criticism, most of which is unjustified, but that’s the way the media operate.”