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

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

Festina hits the skids in Ireland

Festina. Team manager Willy Voet caught with a car-load of performance enhancing drugs at the French border bound for Dublin effectively ruined any chance of the Tour of Ireland coming back. A golden opportunity wasted. McQuaid was abhorred and disgusted by the scale of doping in the peloton. Just a year previously, he was elected to the Board of the UCI and was made president of the road commission where he remained for eight years (until 2005), charged with overseeing juniors, U23s and women from his base in Asia. But those years were the dirtiest in not just cycling, but sport.

If those two incidences didn’t make him question why he was getting in so deep with the world governing body, then the Armstrong affair and all it encompasses surely must have.

When he took over from Hein Verbruggen in 2005, the horse had bolted and with it, took seven Tour de France titles, not to mention millions upon millions of U.S. taxpayers’ money, endorsements and a throne as the king of the sport.

But did McQuaid see anything, ever? Did he hear anything? Could he have stopped the Texan’s drug-fueled reign before it grew into the greatest sporting myth of our lifetimes?

“Look, we’ve said this over and over and over,” he said. “The UCI tested Armstrong and his team so many times, it was always negative. WADA tested him, always negative, USADA tested him, always negative. AFLD (French National Doping Agency) tested him, always negative. CONI (Italian Olympic Committee) tested him, always negative. So the fact that the results were always negative, you ask could more have been done? No it couldn’t, simple as that.

“It’s very easy, and a lot of people fail to see this, but look at anti-doping today and it’s a totally different landscape to what it was 15 years ago. When we knew guys were using EPO and dying, the UCI introduced a hematocrit control because there was no test for it. We invested in the money to create the EPO test, we knew guys were using EPO because they were dropping dead, but all we could do was put a control on it; but in doing so, we were creating a situation where teams were then buying centrifuges, and testing blood themselves and keeping their riders below the limit. So they were using EPO to a certain level but there was no test to show it was being used until it came in and once it came in it changed the landscape. There’s been a lot of that as time goes on: the UCI introduces new tests and then the landscape changes.”