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.
Case in point: Today, in February 2013, the Operación Puerto scandal from May 2006 continues to fill headlines and tarnish the sport’s image, and two Italian investigations, in Padua and Mantova, promise to uncover doping and money laundering activities taking place as recently as 2011. This at a time the sport is reeling from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s “Reasoned Decision,” which, when released in October, blew open the lid on systematic doping within Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service and Discovery teams from 1999 through 2005, while also alleging that Armstrong continued to cheat, by using banned blood transfusions, during his comeback in 2009 and 2010.
That allegation, made by USADA, is particularly damaging to McQuaid’s tenure over the sport, as the UCI president proudly touts the biological passport program, the longitudinal monitoring of blood values, as one of his finest achievements. No sport will ever be clear of doping, the argument goes, but the biological passport is the greatest weapon anti-doping authorities have in the fight against cheats.
Enacted in 2008, the biological passport serves two purposes: first, to present evidence of blood doping in the absence of an adverse analytical, or positive drug test — it’s impossible to test positive for one’s own blood — and also to deter blood doping simply with the presence of a proven method of detecting transfusions.
Several riders have been suspended solely on the basis of biological passport data, including Italian Franco Pellizotti and Spaniard Igor Astarloa. Belgian Leif Hoste, who retired at the end of 2011, now finds himself at the center of a passport investigation.
However, the fact that USADA claims Armstrong’s blood values from 2009 and 2010 are evident of blood doping, and that UCI scientists missed that data, brings the entire biological passport under a cloud of suspicion, particularly in light of allegations made by former Postal Service riders Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, as well as USADA CEO Travis Tygart, that Verbruggen accepted a $100,000 bribe to cover up an Armstrong drug positive from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland. (Verbruggen and McQuaid sued Landis for defamation and received a judgment by default in October 2012 when Landis did not show to the hearing.)
Allegations found in USADA’s “Reasoned Decision” — that the UCI missed, or overlooked, Armstrong’s bio passport data, and was complicit in covering up a doping positive — as well as accusations from several riders that they were warned in advance about when UCI drug testers would arrive for surprise testing, paints a picture of a governing body more concerned in protecting its image and marketability, rather than protecting the rights of clean athletes struggling to compete.
Regarding Hamilton and Landis, in October McQuaid referred to them as “scumbags” at a press conference in Geneva, saying, “We called Hamilton in [after he failed a dope test]. He said our machines were wrong. We said ‘we are after you.’ He was positive two, maybe three times, and eventually he was thrown out of the sport. He then spends the next few years trying to prove he was a twin before he was born or something like that and prove the scientific community wrong. He loses his marriage and his money. What does he do now? Writes a book just before the USADA report is announced and is making money left, right, and center. What good is he doing the sport? He’s on a personal mission to make money for himself.”
Doping has been part of the culture of competitive cycling for decades; however, since the launch of the World Anti-Doping Agency in 1999, following the Festina Affair at the 1998 Tour de France, all Olympic Movement sports that reside under the International Olympic Committee umbrella are obligated to follow WADA Code in its mission to preserve clean sport. (Just as all national cycling federations fall under the UCI, all national anti-doping agencies, such as USADA, fall under WADA.)
The UCI launched an independent commission in October 2012 to investigate whether or not the UCI has been adhering to the WADA Code. However, the UCI disbanded that commission on January 28, instead moving towards a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the World Anti-Doping Agency. The dissolution of the UCIIC wasn’t harmonious, however, as the commission complained that it had not received information from the UCI, while running into opposition from WADA over its Terms of Reference, which did not include a Truth and Reconciliation or amnesty process in order to protect witnesses from sanctions.
In the shadow of Verbruggen
With a UCI presidential election looming in September, McQuaid now finds himself in the unenviable position of defending both his tenure as the sport’s leader as well as the previous terms of Verbruggen, to whom McQuaid is fiercely loyal.
Both men have close ties to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). After leaving his UCI presidency — and being awarded with an honorary presidency — Verbruggen moved on to a position with the IOC, overseeing the 2008 Beijing Games. McQuaid is an IOC board member.
Since 2007, Verbruggen has been president of SportAccord, formerly known as the General Association of International Sports Federations, a Swiss entity formed in 1978 to promote communication and cooperation among various international sports federations. Following Verbruggen’s second election in 2011, McQuaid was appointed to the SportAccord Council, and until recently the Irishman was considered a potential candidate to replace his former boss as president of SportAccord.
In the years after he left his post, rumors circulated that McQuaid had, on several occasions, excused himself from important meetings, only to be spotted outside the meeting room consulting with Verbruggen by phone.
In January, Verbruggen acknowledged to Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland that the UCI had informed dozens of riders, including Lance Armstrong, over a period of years if they had recorded suspicious doping test results.
The revelation drew sharp reaction from WADA, which described the practice as entirely contrary “to the purpose of an effective anti-doping program.”
Criticism of McQuaid’s leadership has been stern, including everything from a mock Twitter account, @UCI_Overlord, with almost 13,000 followers, to a pressure group of heavy hitters, Change Cycling Now, which includes Greg LeMond, Paul Kimmage, and David Walsh.
Some critics claim that McQuaid is dictatorial, aloof, and, even worse, disconnected and oblivious to the sport’s real challenges. [In the February issue of Velo, our editorial staff presented a five-point plan to save the sport; one of those steps centered around installing new leadership. Prior to this interview, McQuaid acknowledged that he’d seen the article, but had not read it.]
Many point to the UCI’s commercial arm, Global Cycling Promotion, which is openly promoting and taking an ownership stake in pushing new event properties, presenting an obvious conflict of interest. Two new races in China — the Tour of Beijing and the Tour of Hangzhou — were rubber-stamped and given WorldTour status, meaning they carry the same weight as historic races like Paris-Nice and the Critérium du Dauphiné. The latter failed to take place in its 2012 debut season, despite appearing on the sport’s premiere calendar.
In the midst of all this, the UCI has had to contend with the possibility of a breakaway league, World Series Cycling, initiated by London-based Gifted Group that would have replaced the current UCI WorldTour.
Over the past 10 days, the UCI president found himself under attack from WADA president John Fahey, blood-doping researcher Michael Ashenden and Lance Armstrong, who called him “pathetic.” Perhaps the ultimate insult came when spectators at the world cyclocross championships roundly booed the UCI president as he presented medals to the elite men’s podium on February 2.
This all came on the heels of news that McQuaid had stepped down from the IOC’s 2020 host city selection committee, and that longtime UCI communications director Enrico Carpani would be stepping down in March, seemingly fatigued by the never-ending swirl of controversy around the sport and its leader.
Following his week of public spats with WADA, McQuaid reached out to all 101 members of the IOC, asking for support in his quarrel with WADA in a January 30 letter, writing, “We would welcome any support you can offer in underlining to WADA the importance of working in partnership and cooperation with the UCI to establish this Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
On Friday, February 1, McQuaid met with the UCI Management Committee in Louisville, Kentucky, the site of the cyclocross world championships. Of the news to come out of that meeting was the appointment of two Management Committee members, UCI vice president Artur Lopes of Portugal, and former French federation president Daniel Baal, to work with WADA on the implementation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a way for the sport to put its sordid past behind.
Several national federation members in Louisville, who asked not to be identified, alluded to a growing lack of confidence in the UCI president, questioning whether he could, or should, run for reelection in September.
On Saturday, however, British Cycling president (and UCI Management Committee member) Brian Cookson, a name that has been discussed as a possible candidate for the UCI presidency, told Cyclingnews.com that he was fully supportive of the UCI’s leadership, and that the sport’s governing body was united in its approach to any possible Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
It was against this backdrop that VeloNews editor in chief Neal Rogers sat down with McQuaid on February 2 for a 45-minute interview in Louisville, which follows, in its entirety, broken into two parts. Part 2 will run on Friday morning.
VeloNews: There’s a feeling that for sport of cycling to move forward, it needs to shed the albatross of doping — Lance Armstrong, Eufemiano Fuentes, and Michele Ferrari, all of these characters — and it seems as though actions, or inactions, of the UCI are intertwined in these affairs. As an example: Hein Verbruggen acknowledging that riders were alerted about suspicious blood values. Cycling fans are having a lot of trouble understanding how that was ever allowed to happen, and it puts you in the position of having to speak for your predecessor.
Pat McQuaid: It does, yeah, for the policies of that time, if not necessarily for my predecessor. First of all, that’s no longer the UCI policy. Secondly, what a lot of people fail to do, and it’s probably understandable, is to look at the anti-doping landscape of 20 years ago, and look at the anti-doping landscape of today. It was completely different 20 years ago. You had a product which was in use, which was undetectable for four or five years. The UCI were the ones to invest in a test, and the first to use the test for that product.
So what do you do in that situation? You know a product is in use, you’re not a police force, there are no rules other than the anti-doping tests in place, and when they’re coming back negative, but you know the product is in use, the policy at that time was to inform the riders. And the UCI was not the only international federation doing that. All of the international federations at that time, I believe — I wasn’t around — but there are minutes from meetings which took place between international federations at that time discussing how to deal with it. Several international federations, including the international skating union… there was an article in the Dutch press last week, which said that they did the same thing. They warned skaters that their values were suspicious and that they would be targeted. That was a means to, number one, frighten them to stop doping… and that’s all the means you have, because you didn’t have the means to catch the guys.
It’s easy today, to sit down with the biological passport, and say, “no, we don’t warn riders.” You have the armory now we didn’t have in those days. Without criticizing the UCI policy at the time, it was the only way they could deal with it. It was a very primitive anti-doping situation. Remember, 1998 was the Festina Affair, 1999 was the creation of WADA; you’re only starting to get anti-doping tests then. The landscape was different.
VN: The UCI has lauded itself for the biological passport. Yet USADA says that Armstrong’s values from 2009 and 2010 are evident of blood doping. The UCI was running the biological passport, and there was no red flag from the federation about his values. And just last week Michael Ashenden released a statement that the UCI has not been honest about the depth of its biological passport testing.
PM: That was a subject that has come up recently, and there was some mischievous reporting going on by certain people. That subject [Armstrong’s 2009-2010 values] was explained by Francesca Rossi to the Management Committee on Friday [February 1]. He had something like 30 tests during the 24 months of his comeback. Those 30 tests were evaluated, I’m not sure if all 30 were blood tests for the passport, I’m not sure of the proportions, but anyway, all of the tests were evaluated by independent experts, including, I think, Michael Ashenden. But they would be evaluated as anonymous; they don’t know who the athletes are. And none of them, when we went back and looked at the Armstrong tests, none of them at no time did the experts say to the UCI there was suspicion, and that he should be targeted. His passport was normal.
Now, to the best of my knowledge, USADA did some tests on them as well. If they felt those tests were showing blood values that showed doping, why didn’t they open proceedings?
VN: Presumably because at that time the Department of Justice was building a case against Armstrong and the management of the U.S. Postal Service team.
PM: Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think so. If any agency, including the UCI, has evidence that they think they can take to court and win, they would do it, any time. Even if they were working with the federal investigators, if they could have nailed him on a violation, they would have done so.
VN: So you question what USADA CEO Travis Tygart says about Armstrong doping in 2009 and 2010?
PM: I do. I do question what he says, yes. Absolutely. If that was the case, why was it not part of the USADA “Reasoned Decision?” Why was it not in there?
VN: It was in the “Reasoned Decision.”
PM: Maybe it was. Maybe you’re right. But we question that, because, and it was reported to the Management Committee, [Rossi] explained the number of tests he’d had done, and the values. It’s easy to look at one sample and say, “that sample looks suspicious,” or, “that sample indicates blood doping,” but that’s not enough to open up an anti-doping proceeding against an athlete. In the passport, you need to show within the whole range that that one sample is [7min] it. To say it may be evidence [of doping], you may think, all right, but unless you have something to open up a proceeding, you can’t open up a proceeding.
VN: Do you believe Armstrong when he says he was clean during 2009 and 2010?
PM: I can’t say that I believe him or that I don’t believe him. We weren’t able to prove otherwise — so then you have to accept that he was clean during those years. Do you believe anyone when they say anything? That’s part of the difficulty of cycling today. Is anybody believed? It’s unfortunate, but that’s the situation that we’re in. But unless we can prove that an athlete is guilty of something, we have to accept that he’s not.
VN: Last week you engaged in a very public dispute with WADA president John Fahey, and over the past six months you’ve had a very public dispute with USADA CEO Travis Tygart. The perception is that the UCI is obstructing anti-doping agencies.
PM: No, the UCI is not obstructing anti-doping agencies. The UCI has a very good relationship with many anti-doping agencies, and we’ve signed contracts and agreements with many anti-doping agencies, and we’ve worked closely with many anti-doping agencies. In relation to USADA, all we did was ask some questions in relation to the procedure, early on, in relation to the USADA process, which we were entitled to do. After that, we then, as you know, confirmed the USADA “Reasoned Decision” and confirmed the lifetime sanction of Lance Armstrong. We don’t have a problem… people differ on how to do things, and how to approach things. We didn’t make it out to be a public spat. They did.
In relation to WADA last week, yes, the UCI was put into the position — regretfully, and I didn’t like to do it — where we had to publish correspondence which showed that the public position of WADA was different than the private position of WADA. Having said that, the UCI wants to work with WADA, WADA knows that, and I’ve said that to John Fahey. We want to work closely with WADA on a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to set it up and see where it goes. From the meeting on Friday, we’ve set up two members of the Management Committee [UCI vice president Artur Lopes of Portugal and former French federation president Daniel Baal] to meet with WADA and see how we can progress this.
We’re prepared to work with WADA. It’s not a question of politics, or personalities, or anything like that. I think it’s also fair to say that on the ground, operationally, the UCI works very closely with WADA. Our legal people work closely with WADA’s legal people. Francesca Rossi, of the UCI’s anti-doping department, likewise works very closely with WADA, and she’s on one of the committees. It’s a good relationship. You got the off political spat, but that doesn’t affect the working relationship.
VN: The way the dissolution of the UCI Independent Commission [UCIIC] played out over a series of days was difficult to follow. It seemed as though the commission said it was unable to get the documentation it needed from the UCI, therefore they couldn’t do their job, so then the UCI said it was going to disband the commission — the commission it had appointed to investigate UCI wrongdoing — because it couldn’t do its job.
PM: A few of your understandings there are incorrect. First of all, we had produced 16 lever-arched files of documentation to go to the commission; they were with our solicitor in London. But it was only because of the discussions that were going on between the Independent Commission and WADA, and the way that things were looking, we could see that we were being forced into running two commissions, the Independent Commission and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission — or expanding the Independent Commission to embrace Truth and Reconciliation and not know where the end is.
The reason we had given the Independent Commission… we told them they would be completely independent… well, they told us, “we will be a completely independent commission,” we wanted one, and when I first met with [Former Court of Appeal judge Sir Philip Otton] they said, “We [UCIIC] will decide the Terms of Reference, we will produce a report, and that report will go public.”
They set up all the boundaries for it. And we told them we wanted the report back by June. The reason we wanted that report back by June is to have certain control on the scope and the amount of work… not so much the amount of work they put in, but… not to allow them, to say, when the process is finished, you do a report… otherwise, it would have cost… it would have given them the possibility to run and run and run and run. And we were paying for it. So it was for budget reasons that we said, “can you do it in six months?” and Sir Philip Otton said to me, “yes, we can do it in six months.”
We got cooperation from everybody, and we get all the information before March, in April we’ll have our hearings, and in June we’ll have our report. But then we started having difficulties with WADA and USADA, and we could see that we had a lot of information from our side to give them, but they weren’t getting any information from anybody else. Athletes seemingly weren’t coming forward, no witnesses were coming forward to them. They then, as a result of discussions with WADA, the Independent Commission recommended, I think they put it in a press release, they said what is really needed is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which meant we had to put the Independent Commission out of commission and set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is what we’re discussing with WADA.
VN: Do you truly believe a Truth and Reconciliation Commission can work? Do you truly believe it can provide the purge and cleanse, and fresh start, pro cycling needs?
PM: In my heart of hearts, I don’t know. I’ll be quite honest with you, I wonder. Truth and Reconciliation, maybe it’s the wrong title, because when you consider Truth and Reconciliation, you think of South Africa, and you think of two societies that created atrocities against each other and so forth. Even in South Africa, if you actually go and study the Truth and Reconciliation, there were very few amnesties, for the number of people that went and looked for them.
So, in terms of going and drawing a line in the sand, it would be good if it did, but at the end of the day, doping is about riders. It’s about cyclists. It’s a cyclist that decides to dope. And when a cyclist decides not to dope, then the doping stops. If the teams and the riders and the entourage around the teams and all that said, “look, this is it…” And I’ve said this at meetings with the 42 teams, the ProTeams and the Pro Continental teams, I’ve had them in front of me, and I said to them, “doping will stop in this sport when all of you walk out the door, and each one of you makes a decision, ‘I will do everything in my team to ensure there is no doping in my team.’ And then you start a process, of doing everything, and installing everything, and making sure your contracts are covered for doping and all that type of thing.” And if every one of them took that decision, doping in cycling is over. And there doesn’t need to be Truth and Reconciliation and all that.
VN: That may be a bit idealistic, though.
PM: That possibly is a bit idealistic, yes.
VN: However, the concept of amnesty may be a bit idealistic, as well. It’s a bit like world peace. Everyone is for world peace, but who makes the first step? Taking it from concept to reality is easier said than done.
PM: Who makes the first step… yes. Amnesty is something we’ll have to work on with WADA, they are the only ones that will allow an amnesty, and we’ll have to see within this process whether it can be done or not. My fear, and I mentioned this at the Management Committee, my fear would be that we would go into a process, which would be quite public, and I have no problem if there are public hearings over a set period of time… the media can be there to hear all the stories… the thinking is that could be difficult for legal reasons, in terms of defamation and all that… all of this comes out at once, it’s dealt with, it’s over and done with, and we move on. I have a problem if the athletes today, who are doing a huge amount in terms of the fight against doping, have to constantly suffer with this past rhetoric coming up. I don’t think they deserve it.
The athletes today, with the whereabouts they have to do, with the no-needle policy, with the biological passport, and being available 24 hours a day, I have to praise our athletes, because, and I’ve done this before… since we introduced the biological passport, four years ago now, and we have 1,100 athletes in our RTP [Registered Testing Pool], they haven’t, either individually or as a body, complained about what they have had to do for the sport. And I think they deserve great credit for that. I don’t want to see them damaged by all of this.
If there’s a process to happen, which can allow Truth and Reconciliation, or even allow current athletes to go along and say, “okay, at a certain period I doped,” because I know that a lot of them, the witnesses even in the Armstrong case, all said that in 2006 they stopped doping. When I became president in 2005, I started on an anti-doping policy — that was one of my two things, anti-doping and globalization. It is noticeable that a lot of them did stop at that time, because they knew, or they saw, that the UCI was taking a stronger anti-doping policy.
And now, with the introduction of the passport, we have the most stringent anti-doping policy in the world. And I think it’s unfair for the athletes that over the past couple of years are part of that anti-doping policy, they are suffering from the past.
The question is, do you do a Truth and Reconciliation and look back into the activities from 1999 onwards, when EPO was rampant? We know EPO was rampant. We know a large majority of the peloton was using EPO. We couldn’t catch them, and I repeat, and I don’t want to blame other people, but none of the other agencies could catch them, either.
There’s talk in the USADA report about riders being informed in advance of tests and all that. Well, I mean, if UCI were informing riders in advance of tests, were USADA doing it? Were WADA doing it? Were AFLD [French Anti-Doping Agency] doing it? Were CONI [Italian National Olympic Committee] doing it? It doesn’t tally. It doesn’t make sense that UCI would tell people in advance that testers were coming. They may have had systems in place… I think Hamilton said in his book there was a system in place, where, on occasion, if someone looked out and saw a UCI car pulling into the car park, that may have given them 10 minutes to do something, or whatever, but that’s human nature. Nobody could do anything about that. But there was no collusion. And I think even the remarks of Lance Armstrong himself said that there was no collusion with the UCI and anti-doping.
VN: Let’s talk about Armstrong. After his interview with Oprah Winfrey, the UCI issued a statement that it was happy that he had substantiated the UCI’s version of what happened, or didn’t happen, with the 2001 Tour of Switzerland test. Essentially, the UCI pointed to a man who had lied for 15 years and then came clean, to verify its side of the story. And just last week, Armstrong said that you are in “CYA [cover your ass] mode,” and called you “pathetic.” Why would he say that?
PM: I’m sure these are very emotional times for Lance Armstrong. You’ve got to understand where he is, what place he’s in… he’s in a difficult place. The fact that he might be inconsistent in what he says, from one day to the next, I don’t think it surprises anybody. It’s not a question if the UCI is in a position to cover its ass — we have no “ass” to cover — we have nothing to cover.
Again, the Swiss test… Francesca [Rossi] gave a presentation [to the Management Committee] on the biological passport, and how it works, and the controls that are on it, and have always been on it. People seem to forget that, since WADA was formed, and I think it was maybe two to three years after WADA was formed, all results from anti-doping tests — positives, AAFs [adverse analytical findings] — go to the international federations and to WADA. So WADA always knows when there is a positive. If the IF [international federation] does nothing about it, then WADA sees it straight away, and WADA either reads it and says, “what are you doing here?” or WADA can go and take the case itself.
Prior to that, results went to the national Olympic committee, prior to 2002 or 2003, and the International Olympic Committee. So if there was a positive for Armstrong at the Tour de Suisse in whatever year it was, the national Olympic committee [USOC] was aware of it, and the International Olympic Committee was aware of it. So the UCI couldn’t hide it.
That’s a story that, I’m sure — or at least it’s quite possible — that out on a bike ride, Armstrong said that to Landis, or someone like that. You have to ask yourself why. It’s not actually because it happened, but it may have been part of his psyche to say things like this, but the facts don’t back that up. Even WADA, the laboratories, are still there, and there is no positive test.
As part of this process for the Independent Commission, we contacted every laboratory in Europe, or in the world, that was, and still is, doing EPO testing. And we asked them for the numbers — because they only operate in anonymous numbers — of all cyclists that tested positive in their laboratory for EPO over the years. We have that information, which was ready to go to the Independent Commission. And Armstrong’s name doesn’t appear in any of it.
Editor’s note: This interview will continue in part 2 on Friday.