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Cycling boss Cookson cracking down on doping

In a press conference at world championships, Cookson says that the anti-doping movement is making progress

PONFERRADA, Spain (VN) — One year after taking office in a hotly contested UCI presidential election, Brian Cookson is making moves to crack down on doping and cycling’s dodgy past.

“I’ve been encouraged by everyone’s responses over the last year, from those in and outside of cycling,” Cookson said. “Many people acknowledge that the UCI needed to change and want to help the sport move forward.”

Cookson took over the office at the 2014 UCI world championships in Florence in a tight election over incumbent Pat McQuaid. Under McQuaid’s watch, cycling was hit with the Operación Puerto scandal, a wave of EPO cases, and the Lance Armstrong affair. Part of Cookson’s election promise, was to reorganize cycling’s road calendar and teams, but also to rebuild trust and change the way anti-doping efforts work.

A truth and reconciliation commission (CIRC) already began, drawing in people like Lance Armstrong. It will recommend changes when it closes, but Cookson meanwhile has been at work. At the Ponferrada worlds in northwest Spain on Thursday, while the under-23 race unfolded, the Brit spoke about several anti-doping topics.

Starting January 1, 2015, cycling’s anti-doping cases will be handled by an independent and international tribunal instead of the national federations. The move is designed to erase doubts caused by some cases — like when Spain pardoned Alberto Contador in 2011 or when the Czech Republic cleared Roman Kreuziger this month.

“This is something that we’ve been working on for months, it’s not a reaction to recent cases as has been reported. We have a firm proposal. We will work with the national federations and get it into effect by January 1, 2015.” Cookson said.

“It takes away that potential conflict of interest, it’s something that the national bodies want. And of course, the riders and nations will have the right to appeal to CAS [Court of Arbitration for Sport].”

The UCI stopped Tinkoff-Saxo’s Kreuziger when his biological passport showed irregular values in his urine and blood. It passed the case over to his country to rule on, as is customary, only to see the national Olympic committee clear the cyclist of foul play. The UCI will likely appeal to CAS as it has in past instances, but that costs money and underscores inconsistencies at the national level.

Over the next months, the UCI will decide at which level the tribunal will operate. Cookson explained that he does not want it to go down to the lowest ranks of the sport because it would become too much work.

Cookson also said that he wants the CIRC to deal with the issue of past dopers in cycling. A journalist pointed out that riders who were involved in doping scandals — Alexandre Vinokourov of Astana and Bjarne Riis of Tinkoff-Saxo — manage two of the top teams which have this year’s Tour de France and Vuelta a España winners, respectively.

“I want the commission to make recommendations that we can use for the future. There are some serious legal complexities [with going after past cases], and what I want to do is have the UCI avoid spending money on lawyers and in courts. There’s an issue that needs to be resolved.”

He applauded the work of the Movement for a Credible Cycling (MPCC) for creating stricter anti-doping rules that some teams have agreed to follow. However, he agreed that it creates inconsistencies, like when Chris Horner of team Lampre-Merida could not start the Vuelta in August. Cookson said that he told MPCC founder Roger Legeay that the UCI rules are the only ones that teams and riders are required to use.

In upcoming meetings, he hopes to resolve the differences with Legeay so that there is only one set of rules and greater clarity in cycling’s anti-doping movement.