UCI scurrying for solutions amidst Armstrong fallout

Management committee's emergency meeting must appease the teams' and riders' concerns over the direction of the sport

MILAN (VN) — The UCI’s emergency management committee meeting on Friday could very well result in a reshaping of the sport. The governing body called the meeting Monday amidst the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

President Pat McQuaid said the committee would discuss the ramifications of stripping the Texan of his seven Tour de France titles and the other results he achieved since August 1, 1998, but that’s not all.

“It’s about … how we can study our sport, look at our sport, evaluate our sport and ensure – put structures in place – that this never happens again,” said McQuaid.

UCI head lawyer Philippe Verbiest has been analyzing the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s “Reasoned Decision” page-by-page. He said he received the full 1,000-page tome from USADA, but, like the published version, some names were still blacked out. But Verbiest will surely have pieced together the list of redacted names by the time the committee sits down on Friday.

The meeting may produce less about the long list of riders and staff engulfed in the report and more about the UCI’s next steps. As McQuaid said, “My objective is to work on today and tomorrow, rather than the past.” What he means exactly by that will turn up in a communiqué, which the UCI confirmed to VeloNews would be released in the evening between 7 and 8 p.m. local Swiss time.

What will be in the communiqué? What changes will the UCI propose, if any?

Garmin-Sharp’s general manager, Jonathan Vaughters has been one of the leading proponents of creating a separate league outside of the UCI’s curtain. More recently, the recently retired Michael Barry said that a new league guaranteeing teams their spots would help alleviate pressure and help deter some riders from doping. As Bob Stapleton, HTC-Highroad’s former general manager, put it to VeloNews, “The points system is the death of developing young riders, the death of teamwork and the clearest path for cheating.”

The UCI will not announce a new league tomorrow, but it could announce a change in its points system. McQuaid hinted to that Monday.

“It’s up to the UCI, us, to look at what measures we can take,” said McQuaid. “We need to look at how the events are structured. Lets face it; most of our problems revolve around teams in grand tours. [The decisions Friday] will be designed to ensure that riders are not put under the type of pressure that these riders were put under, or which riders can be put under to demand results or demand that they deliver for big results.”

The UCI may move to please its 18 WorldTour teams. Rabobank’s announcement Friday that it was pulling out after more than 15 years should have shaken the federation’s headquarters in Aigle. And La Gazzetta dello Sport’s article Thursday would not have helped, either. The Italian sports daily published part of a police report that links entire teams, Astana and RadioShack included, to doping doctor Michele Ferrari as recently as 2011. Losing three WorldTour teams in the fourth quarter would definitely create an unwanted Armstrong aftershock.

These top teams contribute 120,000 Swiss Francs a year to the UCI’s anti-doping measures. McQuaid indicated the UCI could even ask for more, which would underline the UCI’s reliance on its 18 WorldTour teams.

“Our anti-doping costs us 7.5 million Swiss Francs a year. The UCI couldn’t afford that on it’s own budget. The only way we could do it, the amount of controls we do, is to take the money from the teams and the organizers,” McQuaid said. “We may look at increasing the amount from the teams if people feel we are not doing enough out-of-competition controls.”

Even given the alleged cover-ups and pay-offs included in the Armstrong case file, McQuaid said the UCI is unable to hand off anti-doping completely to a third party. It follows the World Anti-Doping Code, which puts the onus on the governing body. WADA says in article 20.3.1 that the international federations’ responsibility is to “adopt and implement anti-doping policies and rules.”

If the UCI is feeling confident in its new path forward, the teams have their doubts. The International Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP) voted in a meeting Tuesday for an independent review of the anti-doping program. Vaughters, also the AIGCP president, said yesterday, “It needs to be looked at objectively from outside the sport to determine what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong, and to decide what actions would be correct.”

In a statement on Thursday, Gianni Bugno, president of the Coureurs Professionnels Associés, the riders’ association, backed the call for an independent review of the sport’s management.

“The CPA is ready to go ahead in a constructive spirit and Gianni Bugno has clearly expressed this message to the UCI’s President explaining that he’s available and willing to provide all the possible help,” read the statement. “The idea of an independent anti-doping commission as proposed by the Association of Teams (AIGCP) is also a solution on which the CPA is ready to work.”

The governing body will be forced to deal with the teams’ and riders’ concerns in the media and on December 10, when it meets all first- and second-division team representatives. If its Friday communiqué fails to appease concerns, it will need to find another solution by Christmas time to prevent further chaos.