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Pat McQuaid says Lance Armstrong donation was ‘no conflict in interest,’ promises investigation into Landis’ claims

UCI chief Pat McQuaid on Tuesday rejected claims there was a conflict of interest in the sport's governing body accepting a $100,000 donation from Lance Armstrong about eight years ago.

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McQuaid on Tuesday
McQuaid on Tuesday

UCI president Pat McQuaid on Tuesday strongly denied allegations leveled by ex-pro Floyd Landis that cycling’s governing body accepted a bribe and covered up a positive test by Lance Armstrong during the 2001 Tour de Suisse.

McQuaid cited documents from labs in Switzerland and France as well as from the Tour de Suisse that he said prove the UCI could not have orchestrated a cover-up.

“All this information supports that there’s no way that the UCI or my predecessor, Hein Verbruggen, could have accepted a bribe to bury a positive control — it’s just not possible,” McQuaid said. “We will not protect anybody if we have evidence that they were cheating.”

(Related: UCI Press Release | Directory of VeloNews articles on Landis’ allegations)

Among Landis’ most explosive accusations was that Armstrong bribed the UCI to cover up what he said was a doping positive for EPO during the 2001 Tour de Suisse.

McQuaid said that the UCI takes the claims seriously, but said it would be impossible to cover up a doping positive because the anti-doping controls were conducted by independently-managed laboratories in Switzerland and France.

McQuaid said positive doping results are simultaneously shared with officials not only from UCI, but also with the French and Swiss cycling federations as well as the International Olympic Committee and, later, the World Anti-Doping Agency.

McQuaid did confirm that Armstrong pledged to give the UCI $100,000 in 2002 (though the money was not received until 2005) and that the UCI used the money to buy a Sysmex machine, which is used to test blood.

“Lance and Johan (Bruyneel) were visiting the UCI headquarters in 2002 just after it opened. They got a guided tour of what we’re doing there, so in that context, Lance offered $100,000 to help in the aid and development of cycling. The UCI decided to use that money to buy a Sysmex machine, which we purchased some time afterward,” he said. “I don’t believe there is a conflict of interest. The machine still in use today and we test riders before the grand tours. If there is money left over, it is still in the UCI account.”

He also said that the UCI has directed the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to open an inquiry into the Landis allegations. But he quickly added that he has serious questions about Landis’ credibility.

“The authorities, the UCI, USADA and WADA, spent a lot of money, well over $1 million in prosecuting Landis, and he spent an equal amount in declaring a lie for four years,” he said. “To have him now come out to say he was guilty is really incredible.”

Here are the other highlights of the McQuaid press conference:

  • Has the UCI accepted other donations from other riders: “To the best of my knowledge, the UCI has not received any donations from other riders. There was only one donation from Armstrong, not two or three as I have read in some places. The UCI would be very careful before accepting a donation from a rider in the future. The UCI is not a rich organization. We have many, many demands for support and financial and material aid from developing countries all over the world. So anyone who can help us, we’re always willing to listen.”
  • On contact with Landis: “When Landis tested positive, I called him a few days later. I have never done this before, or since. I pleaded with Floyd that he had been positive and that he should admit his guilt, take his sanction and try to do something good for cycling. He refused to do that, now four years later he admits his guilt.”
  • On changes within cycling: “Cycling has changed a lot since the things that were going on in 2001, 2002, 2003. We were doing very few out-of-competition controls in 2001-05. We have gone from 250 to 7,000 out-of-competition controls this year. The riders are much more controlled and we know much more about them today. Why we’re catching more riders today is that we’re targeting those riders based on information we’re seeing in the biological passport. A chart of blood levels from 1998 to 2009 reveals that the blood values are much more normal. I cannot guarantee, and no one can guarantee, that this race is 100 percent clean. When you look at the riders who are winning riders … the young riders are coming through with a new and different philosophy. A change in the sport is happening. The risk today is much, much greater than in the past (to dope).”
  • On damning riders from previous generations: “I don’t it’s necessarily damning those before the biological passport. There’s always been clean riders. I have never denied that there has been a culture of doping in this sport. I’ve also stated there are stated in cheats of every aspect of life and society. Cycling does not have a monopoly on doping. All sports have doping or cheating of one form or another. Cycling has always been at the forefront at the fight against doping. Cycling is now recognized by the international sporting world, WADA and IOC, as the most advanced sport in the fight against doping. I don’t think that necessarily reflects on any individual group in the past.”
  • On whether riders should apologize for doping: “It’s a very difficult question to answer. I don’t think we can force individuals to make statements that they don’t fully believe themselves. I think the individual has to have it within himself to apologize and to accept that he was actually using drugs and were positive. I also think the public are becoming more and more angrier with people coming back from doping and not apologizing for being involved in doping. The UCI, within WADA rules, we can with serious doping cases we can give sanctions for four years, when it can. Also, the UCI has issued financial sanctions to 7-8 riders, substantial sums of money. We will follow up on those sanctions if it means going to court in the country of the athlete’s residence. Vinokourov had signed the commitment in 2007 before Tour, we asked for the payment on that, along with Rasmussen. Rasmussen went to CAS to state that the UCI was not within its rights. We are awaiting the CAS decision on that, we demand that money from Vinokourov and Rasmussen.”
  • Scheduling conflict between Tour of California and Giro d’Italia: “I heard Angelo (Zomegnan) say it was like having two races at the same time with Formula 1 or Moto GP. I don’t accept that comparison because in Formula 1 you just have two cars per team. Cycling teams have between 25-30 riders you must give them a choice of races to ride. From the sponsors point of view, we must have that flexibility as well. A good example of how it’s worked quite well is Liquigas, who won some good stages in California with young, new rider; and at same they are possibly going to win the Giro. I don’t feel we can just have one calendar of races that goes from the beginning of the year to the end. Bear in mind, the Tour of California is an HC race on the American tour, it had a limited number of PT teams, so I don’t think it’s had any effect on the Giro. I don’t the Tour of California has had a negative effect on the Giro. If the Tour of California wants to be part of the World Calendar and join the ProTour, then we may have to consider another date for it.
  • On Alejandro Valverde: Valverde: “I feel like Valverde has done a lot of damage of the sport of cycling in the past four years. If it was down to me, he would be out of the sport for two or even four years for the damage he’s done. Unfortunately, it’s not my decision. The UCI has no information when CAS will make its decision, before the end of May possible. We await that decision and the UCI will act accordingly. It’s true, he’s been tested a lot in recent years, and he has not tested positive. But the UCI was always aware and always stated that Valverde was always involved in Operation Puerto. Right at the very beginning, we sent a request at the Spanish federation to open up an inquiry against Valverde in 2006. The Spanish federation at that time refused to do it. Since then, Valverde has gone through one procedure to another, getting the legal and judicial protection from the officials in Spain. It was CONI who were the ones who were to compare bag number 18 with the blood of Valverde. They suspended him in Italy, that’s all they could do. In the meantime, the UCI and WADA, were following two different options against Valverde. We now await the results of those procedures. We weren’t in a position to get that information to be able to do anything with it.”
  • New selection process and points for UCI ProTour: “We are working on a project to reform the ProTour for 2011. At the moment, there are meetings taking place between the UCI and various stake holders. The teams were officially informed last week for new registration process for 2011. The project will come before UCI PT Council on June 15, not until after will I go into any details about what’s in it.”
  • On this year’s Giro: “In relation to this year’s Giro, the UCI is very pleased with the way this Giro has gone so far. We had a meeting with Zomegnan at the UCI headquarters in March, meeting back in March, during that meeting we agreed to strategy in anti-doping controls in advance and during the Giro and we are pleased with how that is going From the blood tests, the results are becoming are more and more normal. If the UCI was going to open up the procedure against any rider during the Giro, I would be aware of it, and that is not the case right now. I am pleased to see the battle on Zoncolan between Basso and Evans. They are two superb riders, two riders who are 100 percent clean, and they give a great image to our sport. It’s been quite a few years since we’ve seen a world champion wear the rainbow jersey with such distinction as Cadel Evans. The story of this Giro is one of drama, and very good for the sport, the event is a great story and gives a great image of our sport.”
  • Rumors of engines on bicycles: “I can confirm that the UCI has no information of any engines or motors or aids or assistance being used on bicycles. We don’t have a group of experts looking into this, we are not creating a machine to look inside frames, we’re not doing any of that. We have been looking at bicycles very firmly for past 9-12 months. We continue to work with the Lugano charter, that the sport is about the athlete, not the bike. We will continue to look at new technologies and make sure that our rules are within the Lugano Charter, we will allow, but what’s outside of that, we will not allow.”