LONDON (AFP) —British cyclist David Millar called for the honorary president of the Union Cycliste Internationale to step down as the UCI came under pressure to explain how Lance Armstrong managed to evade detection for doping.
Millar suggested the world governing body’s image was at stake as he called for Hein Verbruggen to resign. The 71-year-old Dutchman was president of the UCI as Armstrong powered his way into the history books and in 2011 said he was convinced that the racer had “never, never, never” doped.
Millar, who served a two-year suspension for doping but now sits on the athletes’ committee at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), said it was time for the UCI “to accept they have to carry some responsibility for this because it was obvious what was going on.”
“The UCI had all the blood data, the medical reports, it was part of the culture of the sport and in the big races the majority of riders were doing it on drugs,” Millar told Britain’s Press Association news agency.
“There was only a tiny minority getting good results without drugs and they really were the outsiders. The first step for the UCI is that Verbruggen has to be removed.”
Millar’s comments came after Thibault de Montbrial, attorney for Bruno Roussel, former sporting director of the infamous Festina team, said he believed the UCI under Verbruggen had turned a blind eye to Armstrong’s activities.
The French lawyer said Armstrong, who returned from testicular cancer to tackle — and win — the 2009 Tour de France, was the “figurehead for clean cycling” after the drug-wrecked 1998 Tour.
“Everyone in the cycling world … tried to pull off a media coup by making people believe that the doping system organized within Festina was unique,” he told AFP.
“The 1999 Tour was baptized the ‘Tour of Renewal’ and Armstrong was used to illustrate the renewal of cycling… to be the figurehead of this supposed renewal.
“My analysis is that the UCI of Hein Verbruggen, in the mid-1990s, understood perfectly that something was going on, as the average speed at races, in particular on the climbs, had exploded.
“It wasn’t possible not to ask questions (but) the UCI, along with other institutions, did everything to ensure the questions weren’t asked.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) published a damning 202-page report and more than 1,000 pages of supporting testimony to back up claims that seven-time Tour winner Armstrong was at the heart of the biggest doping scandal in sporting history.
The UCI is considering whether to confirm or appeal USADA’s decision to ban Armstrong for life and strip him of his victories.
Current UCI president Pat McQuaid said the organization’s lawyers would carefully assess the mass of evidence
But pressure is mounting on the body to state what, if anything, it knew about doping on Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team, amid claims from a former teammate that the Armstrong donated money to the UCI to cover up a positive dope test in 2001.
McQuaid said it would be wrong for him to second-guess or pre-empt any response into the case.
But he added: “The legal department have been told that this is a priority, that we get the job done as quickly as possible, and certainly within that time frame we will be back.”