Exclusive interview with UCI president Pat McQuaid, part 2
Editor’s note: The following is part 2 of a two-part, one-on-one interview with UCI president Pat McQuaid. The embattled global cycling chief met with Velo editor in chief Neal Rogers on February 2 for a 45-minute interview during the elite cyclocross world championships in Louisville, Kentucky. In part 1 of the interview, McQuaid addressed questions surrounding the UCI’s anti-doping process, Lance Armstrong’s claims to be clean in 2009-2010, his public spat with the World Anti-Doping Agency, and much more. Read part 1 here.
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (VN) — It’s not been easy being Pat McQuaid.
The president of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) since 2005, McQuaid has led the sport of professional cycling during its most difficult period.
At times fiery and stubborn, while also affable and intelligent, the 63-year-old Irishman has been involved in pro cycling for all of his adult life, as a racer, a race promoter, and a member of the UCI.
The former head of the UCI Road Commission, McQuaid was elected to president in 2005 after 16 years of leadership under Dutchman Hein Verbruggen, who had essentially led the UCI after the Fédération Internationale de Cyclisme Professionnel folded into the international federation in 1989.
Verbruggen led the sport during pro cycling’s most rampant doping period, the wild west era of the 1990s and early 2000s, before a test for erythropoietin (EPO) had been developed. EPO abuse flourished during Verbruggen’s tenure as UCI president, epitomized by the 1998 Festina Affair, and he was widely criticized for being too lenient on drug cheats; prior to a reliable EPO test, the UCI simply sidelined riders with a hematocrit level over 50 percent.
However, McQuaid has overseen the sport during its most turbulent period, as revelations and admissions of doping from the past 15 years has combined with a spate of more recent scandals.
VeloNews: One of the claims from Change Cycling Now, and we took this stance in our recent five-point plan to help save the sport, is that the anti-doping effort needs to be truly independent of the UCI. It could be some of the same UCI scientists, but a different division, to truly have that separation. What are your thoughts on this?
Pat McQuaid: We’d love it to be truly independent. The UCI has said that for years. We’d love it to be truly independent. We’d love to have somebody running it for us. But the fact is, the rules don’t allow us. The WADA Code states, very clearly, that the international federation is responsible for anti-doping within the sport. So the rules don’t allow us to do that. Having said that, we have created, and step-by-step we are creating, that situation.
The CADF [Cycling Anti-doping Foundation] has been set up as a separate foundation to the UCI. It has a separate board, a separate funding committee. I’m currently president of the board, and that’s something I am going to relinquish.
VN: That doesn’t sound independent.
PM: We’ll find somebody independent to be president. Having said that, with the passport, and Francesca [Rossi] presented this [to the Management Committee], WADA oversees every step of the way in the passport — every step of the way. Even if it’s not independent, as you say, we can’t make decisions in our favor, or try and hide things, because WADA sees them.
WADA oversees the collections, WADA oversees the APMU [Athlete Passport Management Unit], in Lausanne, which is independent, and it’s the APMU, which works for not just cycling, but for other sports as well, they are the ones who look at each passport; they are the ones who flag up something gone wrong, and they are the ones who, when they see something untoward, will tell the international federation to do target testing on this rider, and I think they specify whether they want tests done in competition, out of competition, tests done in the morning, tests done in the evening, they have several tests, and then they look at those results, with whatever the one that was a bit odd, and then those experts take the decision whether or not to open up an anti-doping proceeding. And that’s all done independent of the UCI.
But make no mistake about it, all international federations would love anti-doping to be taken out of their responsibility. But WADA doesn’t want to do it.
VN: What would WADA say if I asked them about the possibility of making anti-doping testing completely independent of international federations?
PM: They’ll tell you the same thing, that it’s the responsibility of each anti-doping agency.
VN: With the state that the sport is in right now, what is your relationship with the International Olympic Committee [IOC], and what is its stance on the sport of cycling?
PM: I’m an IOC member, which I think is important for the sport of cycling. And my relationship, and the UCI’s relationship, with the IOC, is excellent. I did communicate with IOC members last week on the media storm that they saw. I’ve had quite a few positive responses from IOC members saying that they support the UCI. [Former WADA president] Dick Pound came out with a very unhelpful statement some weeks ago, which worried some of our federations, about the fact that maybe cycling should be thrown out of the Olympic Games.
It’s not the first time that he’s said that. But in fairness to [IOC president] Jacques Rogge, he did an interview with [Agence France Presse] about a week ago, where he stated that he doesn’t see any reason why cycling should be thrown out of the Olympic Games, and that he supports cycling — you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. And he knows, and he stated, that the UCI has done a huge amount of work in recent years in the fight against doping. He understands, and the IOC understand, that all of this, the Armstrong affair and all that, is dealing with a period where nobody could catch these riders — there was no test to catch these riders.
So, is the international federation, and not just the UCI, but the other international federations dealing with endurance athletes who were taking EPO, are they to blame because they couldn’t catch the athletes? Or is the system to blame?
I’m not looking to apportion the blame to anybody, but I don’t think the blame should go on the international federations. So, the relationship with the IOC is good, and it’s important that it is good. They support the UCI throughout this, and they know what we’re doing in the fight against doping. We have 1,100 athletes in our Registered Testing Pool, we do in the region of 12,000 or 13,000 anti-doping tests per year, and we have the most stringent anti-doping system of any international federation. And when you look at the sport, and the popularity of the sport… the London Olympic Games, where we brought 1.5 million people to the roadside for the road race, the track was the hottest event in the Olympic Park.
VN: Michael Ashenden put out a statement last week claiming that the UCI had not been truthful about the amount of testing it had conducted for the biological passport in 2010.
PM: Yes, they said there were some tests missing in 2010. Incorrect also, and that was explained to the Management Committee [on Friday] by [Francesca Rossi] the head of the CADF [Cycling Anti-doping Foundation]. Because of the setting up, so to speak, of the passport, in 2008 and 2009, we did an inordinate number of testing, an over-the-top number of tests, to create profiles. When we arrived to 2010, then — and I think there was some mention about older riders, and was Armstrong one of the older riders… it wasn’t an “older” rider in terms of age, it was “older” in terms of amount of time they’d been in the passport system. Armstrong, during that particular period, 2009-2010, he did something like 30-odd tests in the passport system, and his passport was ok.
What we did at that time, partly because of the fact that we did so many in 2009 and 2010, and because the passport on a lot of these riders was good, we then had to do a reduced number on a lot of them in 2010. At the same time, we had new riders coming into the system, and we had to ensure we were creating a passport for them, and then it continued on like that. So it wasn’t a question that, for financial reasons, we did less testing, it was strategic reasons that we didn’t have to do so much testing for guys who had already been in for two years.
VN: In September, at the world road championships, you said you intended to run for another term of presidency later this year. Since then, the “Reasoned Decision” has come out, it’s been suggested that the UCI was complicit in Armstrong’s doping, you’ve had the formation of Change Cycling Now, which is calling for new leadership, you’ve been publicly sparring with the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency — there are a lot of people calling for you to resign. Do you still want to be president of the UCI?
PM: I do indeed. I don’t feel any reason why I should resign. If I am publicly sparring with anybody, I’m doing it because I’m defending our sport. And I will always defend our sport, and not allow people to take advantage of that. And I will defend what we do in our sport, in the fight against doping in particular.
Since I became president in 2005, I’ve introduced many new measures into cycling. There’s been a lot of talk, coming from all quarters, that the sport has changed. Armstrong himself said it when he came back in 2009, he saw that the sport was different; that’s one of the reasons he came back. And I feel I should take a lot of the credit for doing that. I don’t see why I should be burdened with what he did, in his years, which were before my time. I can only vouch for… I can vouch for the UCI, and I have to defend the UCI throughout its history, but from the period of time since I became president, I have done nothing but work to both clean up the sport, and to globalize the sport. And that’s what I have been dedicating my time to.
I don’t see any reason, and I haven’t heard anything from any of the people like Change Cycling Now, whilst they criticize and criticize, I haven’t seen anything about what they are prepared to do which can change things. It’s easy to come up with a slogan, and have a go at people, but I think it’s unfair to the sport that so many people are prepared to do it. The UCI is an easy target, and it’s a target a lot of people like having a go at, but the UCI does a huge amount of work in developing the sport of cycling, in all of its disciplines.
Most of the focus that VeloNews readers have is on road cycling, but look at us here in Louisville, for the first time ever that a world cyclocross championship is held outside of Europe, a magnificent atmosphere out there, and the UCI took the decision to do that, to develop the discipline. And so it does deserve credit. I think most of my colleagues in the sports world, my colleagues in the international federations, and my colleagues in the IOC, see what the UCI is doing. They see what it is. Cycling was one of the most popular sports in the Olympic Games last year.
So here we are, it’s been a bad winter because of all the revelations, and the public spats with people, and this, that and the other; a lot of that is points scoring — some of it is, anyhow. There’s no doubt what was in that “Reasoned Decision,” and the activities Armstrong admitted to, and the activities his teammates admitted to, it shocked me, no doubt about it. I wasn’t aware it was like that, and I’m close to the sport. But then very few were aware. He fooled the media as well.
VN: I think a lot of people in the media weren’t shocked. A lot of people in the media suspected it, but it was very difficult to prove.
PM: It was very difficult to prove it. Even in our position, when you can’t prove it with tests, it’s very difficult to prove. Anyhow, we had the Tour Down Under last week in Australia. I wasn’t there, but I believe it was one of the best events they have ever had. The fans and the public want to deal with the sport today and tomorrow, they don’t really want to look back. They want to look forward. They are shocked about what happened, they read about what happened, but they are more concerned that the athletes today are clean, and what’s the priority for the UCI is to ensure that this culture of doping goes out of the sport. I am the first UCI president ever to admit that we have a culture of doping in this sport; I’ve been in this sport for 50 or 60 years, and I know the culture is there, and I set out to change the culture. But you don’t change a culture overnight. It takes time.
I believe we are succeeding. Even if the Armstrong affair hadn’t happened, we are still succeeding, with the passport and all that; the landscape is changing, and I think that if there’s any one positive thing to come out of the Armstrong affair, it will accelerate that change in culture within the peloton.
VN: You said that you should be given credit for the change in culture in the peloton. If you had to acknowledge one major mistake you’ve made in the last year, in particular with this intertwined mess of Armstrong, USADA, WADA, the UCIIC, amnesty, etc., is there any one thing that you would have done differently?
PM: You’ve put me on the spot there and I can’t really think of one. All I can say there is that hindsight is 20/20 vision. You’ll always find you can do things differently in hindsight. But at the time you make a decision that you feel is the best decision for the sport going forward. A lot of the things you’ve mentioned, like the “Reasoned Decision,” they were out of my hands, I wasn’t involved in them. They happened by other people.
VN: We sat down together in London, during the Olympics, and at the time, it very much seemed as though the UCI was trying to wrestle control of USADA’s case away from USADA.
PM: As I said at the time, we asked relevant questions of USADA about jurisdiction. We never really got the answers that we should have gotten. And then we let them get on with the process after that. But we were entitled to ask the questions that we asked. It wasn’t a question that we were trying to wrestle it away, it was a question that we were trying to see it done in the correct way, and that due process was done in the correct way.
VN: It seemed to you that Travis Tygart was playing by one set of rules, and the UCI was playing by another set rules.
PM: We play by the WADA Code. We have to play by the WADA Code.
VN: USADA’s publishing of the evidence in its “Reasoned Decision,” before sharing the information with the international federation — was that unprecedented?
PM: I’d say that it probably was. I don’t know, but I’d say it probably was.
VN: Do you ever speak with Tygart?
PM: I haven’t spoken with him for a while. We were supposed to have a chat this week, but he’s in Europe and I’m here. Through assistants we were trying to make contact with each other. It hasn’t happened, but we’ll probably speak when I get back [to Lausanne] next week. I have no problem talking to him. I have no problem talking to John Fahey. I have no problem talking to David Howman, or anybody, to try to make a better sport. That’s my aim, and that’s their aim, and I feel we should be working as partners. I feel it’s genuinely unfortunate that people use opportunities to criticize others publicly when they’re given a platform. I think we’re better off working privately for sport.
VN: Last week, the volley of press statements between UCI and WADA seemed to spiral out of control.
PM: It didn’t spiral out of control. We felt we had to do something to clarify our position on the independent commission, and we did it.
VN: Much of what we’ve discussed, such as the era of EPO, dates back to the time before you were president of the UCI. It’s well accepted that you are quite loyal to your predecessor, Hein Verbruggen, who is honorary president of the UCI. It’s been suggested that you could have distanced yourself more from him and what happened under his tenure.
PM: First of all, Hein Verbruggen is only honorary president, and that was a title that was given to him by the UCI Congress in 2005 in return for all the work that he did for cycling throughout his career. Since 2008, when the Olympic Games finished in Beijing, he left the UCI, and he hasn’t attended a board meeting of the UCI, he’s not involved in the policies or any of the work of the UCI. I see him from time to time, yes, because he lives in Lausanne and he’s an honorary IOC member, but he’s not involved in any of the decision-making processes that are going on today in the UCI.
So, from that point of view, I’m separate from him. As I said earlier, when I came in, in 2005, I set forth on a series of strategies, as I told you, globalization and anti-doping, and I’ve followed them right through, and it’s me that has done those, and it’s not Hein Verbruggen, or me and Hein Verbruggen, or anything like that. There are people that like to link us together, for political reasons — that’s up to them. But the reality is, he’s not involved, at all, in the day-to-day business of the UCI. Since he finished the Beijing Olympics he has stepped down from the UCI, and he hasn’t been on a board meeting since.
VN: But it seems you are linked. You both served at the UCI and you both served at SportAccord. It seems as though you were groomed to be president of the UCI after Hein Verbruggen, and you were also once poised to take over as president of SportAccord after Hein Verbruggen.
PM: Both of them are absolutely untrue. First of all, the new president of SportAccord comes in in May. I am still president of the UCI, and I will remain president of the UCI until September, and hopefully beyond. In terms of my being groomed… your question started with “it seems;” however, “it seems” is not the reality. The reality is, in 2003, halfway through Hein Verbruggen’s last mandate, he sat the [UCI] board down, just the board, and he said, “Remember two years ago, I said I was stepping down. I’m reminding you now that this is my last mandate. You, as a board, have a responsibility to the sport, to make sure that the next president can lead the sport into the next four, or eight, or whatever it is, years. I’m not involved in it. I’m staying out of it. It’s up to you guys.”
What happened then is that the European confederation, the EUC [European Cycling Union], led by the president, Vladimir Holecek — and he can support this story — and their two points where first, as Europeans, they felt the next president should be European, and secondly, if they agreed, which they did, then give us some names, let’s look at who that might be.
And my name came up at that discussion, in the European confederation board meeting, and that’s when they decided to support me. They then approached me, and asked me if I would be willing to take on the presidency. I thought about it for a while and I said to them yes, and they decided to support me. And that’s how it happened. That’s exactly how it happened. It was the Europeans who selected me, not Hein Verbruggen. He had no say in it. When he said at that meeting, “you guys, it’s up to you, I’m out of it,” then things happened like that. And that’s the reality. People like to see things differently, or say things differently. People on the attack, or on the defense, use things for strategic reasons, but that’s actually how it is.
VN: So you don’t speak with him regularly about UCI matters, concerning the past or the present?
PM: I don’t speak with him on a daily basis, or a weekly basis, about the UCI. I’ll speak with him at a SportAccord meeting, in Saint Petersburg [Russia] in May.
VN: Do you consider him a friend?
PM: I would consider him a friend, yes. He’s a guy who has obviously been in cycling all his life, so he has a desire to see the UCI prosper. But he’s not involved in any of the decisions, or any of the discussions. It’s me and my board, and my staff at the UCI that do everything.