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David Lappartient: ‘Riders come to me with question marks over doping’

Do no positive tests mean no credibility? Exclusive interview with the UCI president on what it means if the ITA isn’t catching WorldTour cheats.

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UCI president David Lappartient tells VeloNews that professional cycling will always face questions and speculation around doping because of the sport’s past.

Speaking to VeloNews in an exclusive interview, the Frenchman also disclosed that he had been approached by riders who had “question marks” about the sport after this publication raised the topic that while several riders who had publicly raised questions over race speeds, and use of substances like ketones and corticosteroids, the International Testing Agency had not returned a single positive test or proceeded with a biological passport.

Despite that undercurrent of doubt, the 2021 season marked the first year since the formation of the WorldTour that the doping authorities failed to catch a single anti-doping violation in the men’s WouldTour.

That fact comes off the back of the ITA’s first year running the anti-doping testing program within the sport. The ITA took over responsibility for the testing from the CADF in the summer of 2020, with the CADF’s board resigning soon after it was announced that they would be phased out.

Results published by the UCI in late February showed that testing numbers had increased — both in and out of competition — in 2021 compared to the previous year.

Lappartient defended the ITA and said the fact that there were no positive doping controls in 2021 as something worth celebrating.

“I want to see this as something positive, that we don’t have positive cases but what I want to say is that we still remain awake about what can happen,” Lappartient told VeloNews. “Today, to make a lot of tests is something necessary but it’s not enough to certify the results. That’s why we’re working very closely with the ITA.”

Also read: UCI’s anti-doping efforts folded into ITA

“They are doing a great job and they’ve now hired an investigator who was in the U.S. police. He’s working on the networks and all things like this,” he said. “It’s good that we don’t have positive cases, but I’m not too naive to think that I can just wash my hands with this.

“So we are really pushing to put more money into this, more money into investigations and that’s what we want to do. For doping, it’s a fight that will never end. We always have to continue and consider that things will happen.”

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Stemming from Lappartient’s comments one must ask how he can describe the ITA as doing a “great job” if they had failed to find even one positive in the WorldTour or launched a single biological passport case. Is he suggesting that the sport is completely clean?

“Well you remember the only one [biological test – ed] that we had,” he said referring to the high profile case involving Roman Kreuziger. The Czech was pursued by and suspended by the UCI and WADA from 2014, but eventually had the case against him dropped after he won an appeal.

“It was taken to the court and we lost at the time. The passport is more used today as a way of how to test. Riders now are tested every day, every day, every day because the passport can sometimes have question marks. If it’s the case then they concentrate a lot of effort on riders. That’s what the ITA are doing.”

Lappartient: ‘I can’t be that naive to think negative tests demonstrate no doping’

Lappartient, 2021 Tour de France
David Lappartient, shown here at the 2021 Tour de France, will see a second four-year term at the top of the UCI. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

“The ITA are working well,” Lappartient insisted.

“Of course, we ask them to deliver a solid program of testing, which is key to us. We will continue to do this but in addition to this, there are a number of ongoing investigations. They are always awake and they are always watching what can happen. Any information that we can offer we share with them.”

While he praised the efforts of the ITA, the Frenchman added that issues in the fight against doping start with funding.

“There were some cases, but not at the top level. We hired all the CADF staff so it’s more of a global question on the tests and to WADA itself. I believe from my experience that the resources for WADA are not at the level. I’m part of the WADA board so I know that the budget is not enough for this.”

Some riders may read Lappartient’s last comment with a raised eyebrow and a wry, knowing smile.

Last year, Romain Bardet spoke at length about drops in testing during the first two years of the pandemic. The Frenchman touched on what he called the gray areas around some unbanned substances.

Other riders have talked about increased speeds. Last year Thibaut Pinot told L’Équipe that the sport had once again reached another point at which there was ‘cycling at two speeds.’ The Groupama rider raised questions about the use of corticosteroids and ketones. 

Increased speeds, the MPCC calling for tighter controls, while several of their squads are desperately short of results, along with the searching of hotel rooms in consecutive editions of the Tour de France share the stage in front of a backdrop devoid of positive doping tests.

“What I can tell you is that I’m watching a lot of races, and I’m on some races too, and everything that I have something that seems suspicious to me I just send sometimes messages saying, ‘do what you have to do with this. For this case, please have a look or investigate or put some pressure.’

“The ITA are independent, I don’t know what they do exactly. I have a global report but not one by case, but it’s really important,” Lappartient said, seeming to suggest that he watches racing with the ITA on speed dial.

“I also get some news from radio peloton or some riders who want to speak to me, sharing their feelings. And it’s important to have the feelings from riders in the bunch and how they feel.

“I want to trust the results in cycling but I can’t be that naive to think that the tests are negative, and that demonstrates no doping,” he admitted.

“That was the excuse of Lance Armstrong at the time, he said that his samples were never positive so he wasn’t a cheater. That’s not enough, so we must not be naive when leading an organization,” he said. “I’ve spoken to team managers, I’ve spoken to team riders. Riders want to see me, and to share their views. Also, for them, they have some questions marks, about this and this. Our sport will always have questions marks about where it has come from and its past. Doping is always linked to cycling.”

Also read: Cortisone controls put MPCC into spotlight

When asked if cycling was credible and believable, Lappartient hinted that the tests might not be sufficient and that nothing could be guaranteed.

“So when someone is winning, we always ask ourselves if we trust the result or not, and the job of the UCI is to ensure that you can trust the result,” he said. “I can’t pretend that I can guarantee things to be 100 percent. I can only guarantee that I will put all our money, our resources into it. I’m not the one in the lab, though, doing the tests, and if the tests are insufficient then it’s more of an issue for WADA and the lab and not the UCI itself. It’s a more global question.”