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Exclusive interview with UCI president Pat McQuaid, part 2

  • By Neal Rogers
  • Published Feb. 8, 2013
  • Updated Oct. 30, 2014 at 1:35 PM EST
Cycling Ireland has decided against nominating Pat McQuaid for another term as UCI president. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com


Editor’s note: The following is part 2 of a two-part, one-on-one interview with UCI president Pat McQuaid. The embattled global cycling chief met with Velo editor in chief Neal Rogers on February 2 for a 45-minute interview during the elite cyclocross world championships in Louisville, Kentucky. In part 1 of the interview, McQuaid addressed questions surrounding the UCI’s anti-doping process, Lance Armstrong’s claims to be clean in 2009-2010, his public spat with the World Anti-Doping Agency, and much more. Read part 1 here.

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (VN) — It’s not been easy being Pat McQuaid.

The president of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) since 2005, McQuaid has led the sport of professional cycling during its most difficult period.

At times fiery and stubborn, while also affable and intelligent, the 63-year-old Irishman has been involved in pro cycling for all of his adult life, as a racer, a race promoter, and a member of the UCI.

The former head of the UCI Road Commission, McQuaid was elected to president in 2005 after 16 years of leadership under Dutchman Hein Verbruggen, who had essentially led the UCI after the Fédération Internationale de Cyclisme Professionnel folded into the international federation in 1989.

Verbruggen led the sport during pro cycling’s most rampant doping period, the wild west era of the 1990s and early 2000s, before a test for erythropoietin (EPO) had been developed. EPO abuse flourished during Verbruggen’s tenure as UCI president, epitomized by the 1998 Festina Affair, and he was widely criticized for being too lenient on drug cheats; prior to a reliable EPO test, the UCI simply sidelined riders with a hematocrit level over 50 percent.

However, McQuaid has overseen the sport during its most turbulent period, as revelations and admissions of doping from the past 15 years has combined with a spate of more recent scandals.

VeloNews: One of the claims from Change Cycling Now, and we took this stance in our recent five-point plan to help save the sport, is that the anti-doping effort needs to be truly independent of the UCI. It could be some of the same UCI scientists, but a different division, to truly have that separation. What are your thoughts on this?
Pat McQuaid: We’d love it to be truly independent. The UCI has said that for years. We’d love it to be truly independent. We’d love to have somebody running it for us. But the fact is, the rules don’t allow us. The WADA Code states, very clearly, that the international federation is responsible for anti-doping within the sport. So the rules don’t allow us to do that. Having said that, we have created, and step-by-step we are creating, that situation.

The CADF [Cycling Anti-doping Foundation] has been set up as a separate foundation to the UCI. It has a separate board, a separate funding committee. I’m currently president of the board, and that’s something I am going to relinquish.

VN: That doesn’t sound independent.
PM: We’ll find somebody independent to be president. Having said that, with the passport, and Francesca [Rossi] presented this [to the Management Committee], WADA oversees every step of the way in the passport — every step of the way. Even if it’s not independent, as you say, we can’t make decisions in our favor, or try and hide things, because WADA sees them.

WADA oversees the collections, WADA oversees the APMU [Athlete Passport Management Unit], in Lausanne, which is independent, and it’s the APMU, which works for not just cycling, but for other sports as well, they are the ones who look at each passport; they are the ones who flag up something gone wrong, and they are the ones who, when they see something untoward, will tell the international federation to do target testing on this rider, and I think they specify whether they want tests done in competition, out of competition, tests done in the morning, tests done in the evening, they have several tests, and then they look at those results, with whatever the one that was a bit odd, and then those experts take the decision whether or not to open up an anti-doping proceeding. And that’s all done independent of the UCI.

But make no mistake about it, all international federations would love anti-doping to be taken out of their responsibility. But WADA doesn’t want to do it.

VN: What would WADA say if I asked them about the possibility of making anti-doping testing completely independent of international federations?
PM: They’ll tell you the same thing, that it’s the responsibility of each anti-doping agency.

VN: With the state that the sport is in right now, what is your relationship with the International Olympic Committee [IOC], and what is its stance on the sport of cycling?
PM: I’m an IOC member, which I think is important for the sport of cycling. And my relationship, and the UCI’s relationship, with the IOC, is excellent. I did communicate with IOC members last week on the media storm that they saw. I’ve had quite a few positive responses from IOC members saying that they support the UCI. [Former WADA president] Dick Pound came out with a very unhelpful statement some weeks ago, which worried some of our federations, about the fact that maybe cycling should be thrown out of the Olympic Games.

It’s not the first time that he’s said that. But in fairness to [IOC president] Jacques Rogge, he did an interview with [Agence France Presse] about a week ago, where he stated that he doesn’t see any reason why cycling should be thrown out of the Olympic Games, and that he supports cycling — you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. And he knows, and he stated, that the UCI has done a huge amount of work in recent years in the fight against doping. He understands, and the IOC understand, that all of this, the Armstrong affair and all that, is dealing with a period where nobody could catch these riders — there was no test to catch these riders.

So, is the international federation, and not just the UCI, but the other international federations dealing with endurance athletes who were taking EPO, are they to blame because they couldn’t catch the athletes? Or is the system to blame?

I’m not looking to apportion the blame to anybody, but I don’t think the blame should go on the international federations. So, the relationship with the IOC is good, and it’s important that it is good. They support the UCI throughout this, and they know what we’re doing in the fight against doping. We have 1,100 athletes in our Registered Testing Pool, we do in the region of 12,000 or 13,000 anti-doping tests per year, and we have the most stringent anti-doping system of any international federation. And when you look at the sport, and the popularity of the sport… the London Olympic Games, where we brought 1.5 million people to the roadside for the road race, the track was the hottest event in the Olympic Park.

VN: Michael Ashenden put out a statement last week claiming that the UCI had not been truthful about the amount of testing it had conducted for the biological passport in 2010.
PM: Yes, they said there were some tests missing in 2010. Incorrect also, and that was explained to the Management Committee [on Friday] by [Francesca Rossi] the head of the CADF [Cycling Anti-doping Foundation]. Because of the setting up, so to speak, of the passport, in 2008 and 2009, we did an inordinate number of testing, an over-the-top number of tests, to create profiles. When we arrived to 2010, then — and I think there was some mention about older riders, and was Armstrong one of the older riders… it wasn’t an “older” rider in terms of age, it was “older” in terms of amount of time they’d been in the passport system. Armstrong, during that particular period, 2009-2010, he did something like 30-odd tests in the passport system, and his passport was ok.

What we did at that time, partly because of the fact that we did so many in 2009 and 2010, and because the passport on a lot of these riders was good, we then had to do a reduced number on a lot of them in 2010. At the same time, we had new riders coming into the system, and we had to ensure we were creating a passport for them, and then it continued on like that. So it wasn’t a question that, for financial reasons, we did less testing, it was strategic reasons that we didn’t have to do so much testing for guys who had already been in for two years.

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Neal Rogers

Neal Rogers

Neal Rogers is editor in chief of Velo magazine and VeloNews.com. An interest in all things rock 'n' roll led him into music journalism while attending UC Santa Cruz, on the central coast of California. After several post-grad years spent waiting tables, surfing, and mountain biking, he moved to San Francisco, working as a bike messenger, and at a software startup. He moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 2001, taking an editorial internship at VeloNews. He never left. When not traveling the world covering races, he can be found riding his bike, skiing, or attending a concert.

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