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LONDON (VN) — Greg LeMond would be willing to serve as an interim UCI president, he said on Monday at the conclusion to the first Change Cycling Now (CCN) summit.
But the inescapable conclusion at the close of the group’s two-day meeting was that the three-time Tour de France winner would be a reluctant president — and, as he repeatedly stressed, a temporary one. And further, a credible future for the sport relies on rider involvement in the anti-doping fight.
According to another member of the group, the former rider and journalist Paul Kimmage, the number one priority of CCN, after two days of talks, is to force Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen, respectively president and honorary president of the UCI, to stand down.
“Nothing is going to happen until Verbruggen and McQuaid are removed: that’s number one on the list of things that need to be done to move forward,” said Kimmage. “We’re going to do whatever we can to keep that on the agenda.”
Kimmage joked that he had volunteered to stand for the presidency instead of LeMond, “but they wouldn’t let me.”
In the game of pass-the-presidency, LeMond then suggested that Michael Ashenden, the anti-doping expert and another member of the group, would be a more suitable candidate, before Jaimie Fuller, the CCN founder, said that LeMond had been “cornered” by his new colleagues.
LeMond explained: “I was asked by this group here, if we were successful, until we found a full-time president, would I be willing to step in as interim president? I think Ashenden is very qualified, but I will do whatever I can to help change the sport.
“I’m definitely not pushing myself. Ultimately it’s about finding a really great leader for the UCI, somebody beyond reproach, but if there’s nobody else willing to do it [then] I would love to be part of the process of change and if that’s in the form of serving as interim president, then yes.”
It was fitting, then, that LeMond sat in the middle of the table at the post-summit press conference on Monday, alongside Fuller, the Skins owner who is also providing the group’s financial backing (though LeMond pointed out he paid his own airfare).
To LeMond’s left, in a packed hotel room in west London, sat Kimmage, and alongside him the University of Texas academic and author of “Testosterone Dreams,” John Hoberman, and Emma O’Reilly, Lance Armstrong’s former soigneur, whose testimony helped to expose the U.S. Postal Service doping conspiracy. To LeMond’s right were Ashenden, the former rider and Cofidis director Eric Boyer, Joerg Jaksche, the rider-turned-informer, and Christophe Bassons, the ex-Festina professional who became an anti-doping figurehead after his confrontations with Armstrong during the 1999 Tour de France.
It was Ashenden who elaborated on the group’s objectives, beyond the removal of McQuaid and Verbruggen. He was unambiguous on the need, “in the medium term,” for truth and reconciliation, allowing riders to come forward and tell all. In the long-term, he said a single, fully independent drug-testing agency is “a prerequisite.”
More immediately, “We are seeking assistance from the riders to put into place for next year a system that will guarantee that the winner of a grand tour has not blood-doped, ” said Ashenden. “It’s a short-term, intensive approach that will restore public confidence in the riders and the race outcomes. It is for the riders, but it is very much by the riders.”
And, he added, the ambitious aim is to implement this system for the 2013 season.
With a view to gaining the riders’ cooperation and collaboration, the group met on Monday morning with Gianni Bugno, head of the riders’ association. But Ashenden was reluctant to outline the finer points of the program until the riders have had a chance to study his proposed system and respond.
There were no current riders present at the summit, despite efforts by Fuller. He approached “north of 10” current professionals but each, he claimed, was afraid of the possible consequences. “The vast majority were intimidated about what could happen to them if they stuck their heads above the parapet and were critical of the UCI,” said Fuller.
Outspoken anti-doping advocate David Millar, who served a ban for EPO use in the early 2000s, told VeloNews Monday night that he had not been contacted by CCN organizers. Millar’s Garmin-Sharp team boss Jonathan Vaughters attended the summit as a representative of the AIGCP teams’ association. The Scot has been an outspoken critic of UCI leadership and was mentioned in a press conference at the road world championships in September as a possible successor to McQuaid.
“Change has got to come from the inside,” said Millar.
Vaughters’ AIGCP predecessor, Boyer, made the most explosive accusations during the 90-minute conference, accusing McQuaid of threatening him when he, as leader of the teams’ group, raised concerns over Armstrong’s return to the UCI anti-doping testing pool ahead of his 2009 comeback.
“I represented the teams, and when I found out Armstrong was coming back, I asked Pat Mcquaid if Armstrong had had all the necessary tests as part of the biological passport for six months before Tour Down Under,” said Boyer. “I wrote a letter to him and he replied asking why I was getting involved. He told me it wasn’t my place or my job to ask questions about Armstrong and it was none of my business, and ‘from this moment I don’t regard you as a credible president of the AIGCP and I’m going to open a disciplinary procedure against you.'”
What was perhaps most striking at the press conference was the lack of any acknowledgement that, despite the biological passport and other anti-doping initiatives, and the emergence of teams with anti-doping as a central tenet, the sport is any cleaner now than it was in the Armstrong era.
Indeed, Ashenden and Kimmage both appeared to raise doubts about this year’s Tour winner, Bradley Wiggins, if only by implication.
“I honestly believe that the winner of next year’s Tour de France could be clean,” said Ashenden. “I really believe that we have an approach that could lead to that. And that would be a remarkable day, when a rider could stand up and say: ‘I didn’t blood dope.’ That is achievable. That is within our reach.”
He was asked: has that not already happened? “The unfortunate reality is that everything that a rider can say today, Lance Armstrong already said,” said Ashenden. “There’s going to be doubt whenever a rider says, ‘I’m clean, I’ve never taken drugs.’ We’ve heard that before and been let down. Whatever a rider says, there will be doubts.”
Asked to expand on his concerns about the legitimacy of Wiggins’ win, Kimmage said: “Nobody can believe it, for a start. I’m asked, ‘What about Bradley? Do you believe him?’ I say, ‘I don’t know.’”
Later, he added: “I’m not suspicious of Bradley Wiggins, all I’m saying is, I don’t know.”
Ashenden also clarified his remarks: “To be fair, I said next year we could [be fully confident in the Tour winner being clean] if we work with the riders on the proposal we have germinated over this weekend. If that is in place then I could say there is no doubt, and nobody could have any doubt. It’s conditional on that approach.
“But without the riders’ cooperation, we’re going to be chasing our tails, forever. The science is limited. But by doing this with the riders, then it is possible.”
Over to the riders, then.