A revealing interview with UCI president Pat McQuaid

Just when it looked as though healing was coming to the scarred relationship between the grand tour organizers and the Union Cycliste Internationale, the wounds just opened again. After the recent Giro d’Italia and April’s Paris-Roubaix were successfully run under UCI regulations as part of the international body’s Historical Calendar, it seemed that the upcoming Tour de France might be similarly promoted.

By John Wilcockson

Last year, McQuaid (center) thought he had a deal with Prudhomme, and teams' representative Patrick Lefevre

Last year, McQuaid (center) thought he had a deal with Prudhomme, and teams’ representative Patrick Lefevre

Photo: AFP (file photo)

Just when it looked as though healing was coming to the scarred relationship between the grand tour organizers and the Union Cycliste Internationale, the wounds just opened again. After the recent Giro d’Italia and April’s Paris-Roubaix were successfully run under UCI regulations as part of the international body’s Historical Calendar, it seemed that the upcoming Tour de France might be similarly promoted.

But the animosity returned on Tuesday after a press conference in Paris organized by French event promoter ASO (Amaury Sport Organization), which puts on the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix and a host of other major cycling events. ASO announced that it was going to run the upcoming Tour as a national race under the auspices of the French cycling federation (FFC), with anti-doping controls done by the French anti-doping authority (AFLD) — just as it had with Paris-Nice in March.

ASO’s Tour director Christian Prudhomme said, “We were ready to accept the inscription [of the Tour] on the Historical Calendar [as long as] the rules were the same for everyone and [the UCI] didn’t impose the rule that all [ProTour] teams participate. We also asked them to lift their suit against the FFC. There again, they refused.”

In reply, the UCI issued a press release, which stated that “The UCI deplores the decision taken by the executives of ASO and the FFC,” and that “ASO’s decision is bad for cycling.”

More details came in an internal UCI memo obtained by VeloNews that stated: “ASO, by choosing not to observe the rules of its international federation, risks plunging cycling into yet another crisis. In the Paris-Nice debacle they obliged teams and riders to flout international cycling rules in order to take part in their race. There is no justification for this.”

To find out more about the various parts of the continuing UCI-ASO conflict, VeloNews conducted a telephone interview Tuesday night with UCI president Pat McQuaid, who is in Athens, Greece, attending the annual SportAccord international sports convention.

VeloNews: It seems that the main goal of ASO’s Christian Prudhomme is to avoid having a repeat of last year’s Tour and its legacy as a doping-ridden event.

Pat McQuaid: He says things like that to suit himself all the time. … He knows very well that the sport has cleaned up. He knows that the ProTour peloton is the cleanest that there is. When I say the ProTour I mean the ProTour teams. He knows that. Which is why they have been clever enough to invite [to the Tour] 17 ProTour teams [excluding Astana], plus Slipstream, plus Agritubel — guaranteeing them a clean field. Unlike [Angelo] Zomegnan [of Giro d’Italia promoter RCS], who invited a load of ProTour teams and then took a chance on some Pro Continental teams … and you only have to look at the results of some of them to see that there’s some suspicion over them. But, as I say, Prudhomme knows going into [the Tour] that the whole [anti-doping] landscape has changed.

VN: ASO said at the press conference that the UCI didn’t accept the Tour onto the Historical Calendar.

PM: What happened there was, when we took the 11 races [organized by ASO, RCS and Vuelta a España promoter Unipublic] off the ProTour calendar last year; we then put them all into the continental calendar, the Europe Tour, because it was the only place they could go. They went into that with no participation rules; you can invite who you want. We said okay, it’s up to you. Then what happened was that the [overall teams organization] AIGCP (Association Internationale des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels) had a meeting, and they discussed the participation of ProTour teams in the Tour de France. And they took the decision to ask the CUPT (the ProTour teams group) to put in a ruling that the 18 teams of the ProTour have the right to participate in the Tour de France.

So at the CUPT meeting Roger Legeay and Patrick Lefevere, who were the representatives of the AIGCP at that time, their proposal was brought forward, discussed and agreed. That went forward to the management committee of the UCI , and was discussed and agreed. That for me is a democratic process. ASO turned around and refused to accept that ruling, that the 18 teams have a right [to start the Tour].

But when we talk about the Historical Calendar, it is true that the Giro and the Vuelta don’t have that ruling in there because it was never requested by the ProTour teams. But ASO has refused to accept that since the outset. Now, they’ve had two opportunities this year to do away with it and they haven’t taken them.

One was before Paris-Nice when the IPCT (International Professional Cycling Teams) put a proposal to both the UCI and ASO, a joint proposal, that they would withdraw the 18 teams rule from the regulations of the UCI, and make it the way it’s done to register the other races on the UCI calendar. We wrote back immediately to IPCT saying that this rule was brought in at the request of the AIGCP, and if they now want to withdraw the rule that we’ll consider it. ASO responded with the two fingers to the IPCT request. They just didn’t get involved.

More recently the same happened again, around the time of Paris-Roubaix. The correspondence we had with ASO said, “It’s not within our remit to take this rule away because it was requested by AIGCP. So if the AIGCP requests that we remove it we’ll consider it.” Again they didn’t take up the offer to ask AIGCP to remove it, even though they are now in control of the AIGCP because they control [its new president] Eric Boyer, who’s 100-percent ASO.

So that’s why the participation rule is still there. And up to such a time that AIGCP requests that that rule be taken away, we can’t just unilaterally take it away. But to be honest with you that Historical Calendar is a bit of a red herring because it’s easy for them to say that’s the reason. What they want to do is make their own rules during the race as well.

They’re talking about rules [banning] race radios [on certain stages]. The contracts they’re giving the teams — I haven’t seen them — but it’s supposed to be a fairly draconian contract. For instance if there’s a positive [doping] case during the race, a team has to pay 100,000 euros [$160,000] to the French federation. These are all new rules and regulations … and this is only the start of it.

From our point of view, ASO have every right to run the Tour outside of the UCI should they wish to do so, as a private organization. Our problem is that the French federation are helping them do it. The French federation should be more loyal to the UCI, and shouldn’t assist them in doing it. It’s only because the French federation are assisting them that they can do it. If the French federation said no, I don’t think ASO would be capable of doing it, because they don’t have the commissaires, they don’t have the structure for that.

And that’s where our difficulty lies, with the French federation. And we have a [legal] procedure up against the federation, which will come up before the management committee of the UCI next week in Copenhagen. I don’t know what the outcome’s going to be. We’ll have to wait and see.

VN: Prudhomme also said that ASO asked the UCI to lift the legal case against the FFC but you refused.

PM: Naturally, because what he’s asking us to do is approve that the French federation break the rules. Now the French federation broke the rules for Paris-Nice, and then what they did, they came along for Paris-Roubaix, but no mention of the Tour de France, and asked us to put Paris-Roubaix on the Historical Calendar and in return wanted the UCI to withdraw the proceedings against the French federation. We can’t do that. They’ve already broken the rules. We can’t suddenly turn around and [say] we’ll stop then.

That’s not the [favorable treatment] any federation should be getting: that you can break rules but then in a deal a couple of weeks later the fact that you broke the rules will be forgotten. Once they broke the rules, we have to follow our rules and go through the process. We can’t stop the process halfway. They know that, so again he’s just making statements to suit himself.

And later there was never a discussion about the Tour de France. They didn’t come [to us] before Paris-Roubaix and say, “Look, we’ll put all our races on [the UCI calendar] if you drop the proceedings against the French federation.” All they were talking about was Paris-Roubaix, nothing about the Tour de France. That wasn’t even mentioned at the time so we didn’t know. We went back to the French federation and said, “What about the Tour de France?” We didn’t get an answer.

VN: So do you think you’ll get anywhere with your demands that the FFC and ASO come back within the fold and Astana does ride the Tour?

PM: I don’t think that’ll happen, no. There’s no way they’re going to let Astana ride the Tour — and I think that’s a shame. I think they’re wrong in doing that, as [our statement says] it’s the sport they’re damaging. As far as the UCI is concerned, they can stay out until such a time they’re prepared to come back in and respect the rules — and that is all the rules of the UCI, including the participation rules.

I’m here in Athens at the moment at the Sport Accord. I was at a congress this morning with some 28 summer international federations, and they’re asking me what’s happening … They can’t believe it, and they agree completely that you cannot in any international sports organization have an organizer that makes his own rules. Either they’re in, and they accept the rules … or they don’t accept the rules and then they’re out.

Let them stay out if they wish, and let them do what they want. We will continue to develop the sport, and work with those that help us develop the sport around the world, and that seems to be something they’re scared of. They don’t want to allow us to develop the sport. They’re afraid that in doing so it’s ultimately going to threaten them.

VN: Another part of the Tour situation is the biological passport and WADA helping FFC do anti-doping controls. Pierre Bordry, president of AFLD, said in regard to doing out-of-competition tests with foreign agencies, “I have the direct support of the president of WADA.” What do you say?

PM: AFLD are doing the controls in France because they have jurisdiction over any events in France. They say they’re doing out-of-competition controls [but] I don’t think so. They may do some in France but they cannot do it outside. They don’t have the capacity, nor the authority, to do out-of-competition controls outside France.

VN: Meanwhile, there’s tension between the UCI and WADA because of the suit you have taken out against its former president, Dick Pound …

PM: Dick Pound has been making wild statements over the past couple of years about the UCI … So if we allow that to go unchecked and remain [on the record] then what could happen in six months or a year or two, a cyclist could end up positive in a race, he could be sanctioned, he could then go to a civil court and use those statements of Dick Pound’s against the UCI to have the judge agree with him that the UCI didn’t take enough measures against doping, and therefore clear him on that, or he could have a case against the UCI on that basis.

That’s one aspect of it, so we have to protect out liability against that and that’s why we have opened up a case against Dick Pound. We didn’t go anywhere near WADA. It’s nothing to do with them because he’s now out of WADA. The second aspect of it was to protect the UCI against him making further statements. He now does these speeches in universities and other places for quite a sizeable sum of money. What we don’t want is him continuing within those areas to publicly berate the UCI …. That’s why that process started against Pound.

Now, WADA took it as against them because it was, as president of WADA, that he was saying this, and so they withdrew from the [biological] passport program. It’s a political and partly a legal thing. But they get access to all the passport results and everything else. So there’s no issue there. They’re still working with us with the laboratory and the expert group. So the [passport] is still going ahead. But WADA are not allowed to work with the Tour de France.

VN: What about ASO not contributing funds to the biological passport program and Prudhomme saying you wont share results with them?

PM: They haven’t done, no. There was a time when there was to be money coming … This whole passport thing started with the French government at the [anti-doping] summit in Paris last October. Then there was a working group set up with the UCI, the French government and the grand tour organizers. The UCI went to several meeting there and it was obvious to us that the only interest of the French government was the protection of the Tour de France. They had no interest in the biological passport per se.

At the last meeting, there was discussion about the payment — and the French government has promised money — that they were going to get from the organizers (ASO, RCS and Unipublic). There was a discussion about the money, and they said that the organizers were prepared to pay wouldst the UCI give the organizers the information that’s contained within the biological passport.

We told them point blank we would not do it because we cannot do it, because it’s medical confidentiality, and that’s not something an organizer can get hold of, and we were restricted in doing so and unable to do so. That was the last meeting to take place. We never got the minutes of that meeting from the government, and they never called another meeting, so that was the end of that.

So [ASO] haven’t paid anything to us for the biological passport, they haven’t paid an inscription to the federation to be on the UCI calendar — and that’s a sizeable amount for the Tour de France, which is the most expensive race on the calendar, something in the region of 150,000 euros [$240,000] — and what makes matters even worse is that I’ve been told they are getting all their anti-doping testing on the Tour de France free, as well.

Even though small organizers by virtue of a new law which came into France last year, for the first time, like the rest of organizers around Europe, have to pay for the anti-doping controls on their race. Before that [law], the state did it. Little organizers are now having to face bills up to 10,000 euros [$16,000] for the controls, and the Tour de France, which makes 30 million euro [$48 million] a year, gets it free. It just doesn’t make sense. It gets it free on the basis that it’s an event of national importance and therefore the government provides the anti-doping for it.

VN: So what happens next?

PM: Well, we have to stay within our rules, within our constitution and statutes, and we have to deal with the French federation [next week], and that’s that.