ADELAIDE, Australian (VN) — The return of Bjarne Riis has ruffled some feathers. UCI president David Lappartient said there’s nothing stopping the controversial former rider and director from working in the peloton.
“He has a right to come back because he completely recognized he did something wrong as a rider,” Lappartient said Wednesday. “He has a right to come back to cycling.”
Riis returned to cycling this month after buying into the NTT cycling team and is taking over sport management of the team. The 55-year-old Dane admitted to using the banned blood booster EPO during his racing career en route to winning the 1996 Tour de France and was later linked to doping allegations by former riders under his watch as a team director.
Riis, however, vows he’s changed his ways, but his return has sparked a flurry of negative reaction among some media and fans.
Lappartient said he’s taken notice of the reaction to Riis’s return, but said there’s nothing in the UCI rulebook to stop him from coming back.
“I can understand people’s opinions but as UCI President, I can only say that he has the right to comeback into the sport,” Lappartient said. “I’m sure he’s learned some lessons from the past, so that he is stronger in the future.”
New rules introduced in 2011 could keep former cheaters from being licensed and working in the peloton, but those only apply to infractions moving forward. Back-dated infractions or confessions do not stop former cheaters from working in the peloton.
“Now if someone violates an anti-doping violation, they can’t come back into cycling,” said Lappartient, who expressed his confidence in NTT’s anti-doping policies.
Lappartient defended cycling’s anti-doping protocol and suggested that today’s peloton is very different than when Riis was racing in the 1990s.
“If you take the Tour between 1996 and 2010, only two riders were not disqualified for doping,” Lappartient said. “It was a difficult time for our sport but I think we are off the front when it comes to fighting against doping.”
Lappartient said the UCI’s Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation spends $7.5 million annually on anti-doping efforts, and another estimated $2.5 million more on legal services.
“We have to do it because credibility can be lost in 5 minutes and it take you 20 years to get it back,” he said. “I think we are the sport of anti-doping. We are the first sport to ban Tramadol, and we are working on corticoids. However, we need to keep pushing because the number of doping cases in [in 2019] increased worldwide.”
Lappartient admitted he’s alarmed in a recent spike in doping cases, but pointed out that “75 percent are from South America.” Lappartient said he was especially alarmed that the UCI went to one unnamed Latin American country and conducted 12 anti-doping controls, and they all returned positive.
“That’s a concern for the UCI,” Lappartient said. “That’s terrible and we will continue to put pressure on them. South America is an issue.”
Lappartient also said unfolding Aderlass blood-doping scandal in Austria, which involved cyclists, is a sore spot.
“[That] demonstrates you always have to fight doping, even if you are part of the MPCC and think the rider is clean,” he said. “That’s not always the case, even with domestiques. We can’t say doping is done. Teams always need to apply pressure against doping.”