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Exclusive interview with UCI president Pat McQuaid, part 2

  • By Neal Rogers
  • Published Feb. 8, 2013
Cycling Ireland has decided against nominating Pat McQuaid for another term as UCI president. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com


VN: In September, at the world road championships, you said you intended to run for another term of presidency later this year. Since then, the “Reasoned Decision” has come out, it’s been suggested that the UCI was complicit in Armstrong’s doping, you’ve had the formation of Change Cycling Now, which is calling for new leadership, you’ve been publicly sparring with the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency — there are a lot of people calling for you to resign. Do you still want to be president of the UCI?
PM: I do indeed. I don’t feel any reason why I should resign. If I am publicly sparring with anybody, I’m doing it because I’m defending our sport. And I will always defend our sport, and not allow people to take advantage of that. And I will defend what we do in our sport, in the fight against doping in particular.

Since I became president in 2005, I’ve introduced many new measures into cycling. There’s been a lot of talk, coming from all quarters, that the sport has changed. Armstrong himself said it when he came back in 2009, he saw that the sport was different; that’s one of the reasons he came back. And I feel I should take a lot of the credit for doing that. I don’t see why I should be burdened with what he did, in his years, which were before my time. I can only vouch for… I can vouch for the UCI, and I have to defend the UCI throughout its history, but from the period of time since I became president, I have done nothing but work to both clean up the sport, and to globalize the sport. And that’s what I have been dedicating my time to.

I don’t see any reason, and I haven’t heard anything from any of the people like Change Cycling Now, whilst they criticize and criticize, I haven’t seen anything about what they are prepared to do which can change things. It’s easy to come up with a slogan, and have a go at people, but I think it’s unfair to the sport that so many people are prepared to do it. The UCI is an easy target, and it’s a target a lot of people like having a go at, but the UCI does a huge amount of work in developing the sport of cycling, in all of its disciplines.

Most of the focus that VeloNews readers have is on road cycling, but look at us here in Louisville, for the first time ever that a world cyclocross championship is held outside of Europe, a magnificent atmosphere out there, and the UCI took the decision to do that, to develop the discipline. And so it does deserve credit. I think most of my colleagues in the sports world, my colleagues in the international federations, and my colleagues in the IOC, see what the UCI is doing. They see what it is. Cycling was one of the most popular sports in the Olympic Games last year.

So here we are, it’s been a bad winter because of all the revelations, and the public spats with people, and this, that and the other; a lot of that is points scoring — some of it is, anyhow. There’s no doubt what was in that “Reasoned Decision,” and the activities Armstrong admitted to, and the activities his teammates admitted to, it shocked me, no doubt about it. I wasn’t aware it was like that, and I’m close to the sport. But then very few were aware. He fooled the media as well.

VN: I think a lot of people in the media weren’t shocked. A lot of people in the media suspected it, but it was very difficult to prove.
PM: It was very difficult to prove it. Even in our position, when you can’t prove it with tests, it’s very difficult to prove. Anyhow, we had the Tour Down Under last week in Australia. I wasn’t there, but I believe it was one of the best events they have ever had. The fans and the public want to deal with the sport today and tomorrow, they don’t really want to look back. They want to look forward. They are shocked about what happened, they read about what happened, but they are more concerned that the athletes today are clean, and what’s the priority for the UCI is to ensure that this culture of doping goes out of the sport. I am the first UCI president ever to admit that we have a culture of doping in this sport; I’ve been in this sport for 50 or 60 years, and I know the culture is there, and I set out to change the culture. But you don’t change a culture overnight. It takes time.

I believe we are succeeding. Even if the Armstrong affair hadn’t happened, we are still succeeding, with the passport and all that; the landscape is changing, and I think that if there’s any one positive thing to come out of the Armstrong affair, it will accelerate that change in culture within the peloton.

VN: You said that you should be given credit for the change in culture in the peloton. If you had to acknowledge one major mistake you’ve made in the last year, in particular with this intertwined mess of Armstrong, USADA, WADA, the UCIIC, amnesty, etc., is there any one thing that you would have done differently?
PM: You’ve put me on the spot there and I can’t really think of one. All I can say there is that hindsight is 20/20 vision. You’ll always find you can do things differently in hindsight. But at the time you make a decision that you feel is the best decision for the sport going forward. A lot of the things you’ve mentioned, like the “Reasoned Decision,” they were out of my hands, I wasn’t involved in them. They happened by other people.

VN: We sat down together in London, during the Olympics, and at the time, it very much seemed as though the UCI was trying to wrestle control of USADA’s case away from USADA.
PM: As I said at the time, we asked relevant questions of USADA about jurisdiction. We never really got the answers that we should have gotten. And then we let them get on with the process after that. But we were entitled to ask the questions that we asked. It wasn’t a question that we were trying to wrestle it away, it was a question that we were trying to see it done in the correct way, and that due process was done in the correct way.

VN: It seemed to you that Travis Tygart was playing by one set of rules, and the UCI was playing by another set rules.
PM: We play by the WADA Code. We have to play by the WADA Code.

VN: USADA’s publishing of the evidence in its “Reasoned Decision,” before sharing the information with the international federation — was that unprecedented?
PM: I’d say that it probably was. I don’t know, but I’d say it probably was.

VN: Do you ever speak with Tygart?
PM: I haven’t spoken with him for a while. We were supposed to have a chat this week, but he’s in Europe and I’m here. Through assistants we were trying to make contact with each other. It hasn’t happened, but we’ll probably speak when I get back [to Lausanne] next week. I have no problem talking to him. I have no problem talking to John Fahey. I have no problem talking to David Howman, or anybody, to try to make a better sport. That’s my aim, and that’s their aim, and I feel we should be working as partners. I feel it’s genuinely unfortunate that people use opportunities to criticize others publicly when they’re given a platform. I think we’re better off working privately for sport.

VN: Last week, the volley of press statements between UCI and WADA seemed to spiral out of control.
PM: It didn’t spiral out of control. We felt we had to do something to clarify our position on the independent commission, and we did it.

VN: Much of what we’ve discussed, such as the era of EPO, dates back to the time before you were president of the UCI. It’s well accepted that you are quite loyal to your predecessor, Hein Verbruggen, who is honorary president of the UCI. It’s been suggested that you could have distanced yourself more from him and what happened under his tenure.
PM: First of all, Hein Verbruggen is only honorary president, and that was a title that was given to him by the UCI Congress in 2005 in return for all the work that he did for cycling throughout his career. Since 2008, when the Olympic Games finished in Beijing, he left the UCI, and he hasn’t attended a board meeting of the UCI, he’s not involved in the policies or any of the work of the UCI. I see him from time to time, yes, because he lives in Lausanne and he’s an honorary IOC member, but he’s not involved in any of the decision-making processes that are going on today in the UCI.

So, from that point of view, I’m separate from him. As I said earlier, when I came in, in 2005, I set forth on a series of strategies, as I told you, globalization and anti-doping, and I’ve followed them right through, and it’s me that has done those, and it’s not Hein Verbruggen, or me and Hein Verbruggen, or anything like that. There are people that like to link us together, for political reasons — that’s up to them. But the reality is, he’s not involved, at all, in the day-to-day business of the UCI. Since he finished the Beijing Olympics he has stepped down from the UCI, and he hasn’t been on a board meeting since.

VN: But it seems you are linked. You both served at the UCI and you both served at SportAccord. It seems as though you were groomed to be president of the UCI after Hein Verbruggen, and you were also once poised to take over as president of SportAccord after Hein Verbruggen.
PM: Both of them are absolutely untrue. First of all, the new president of SportAccord comes in in May. I am still president of the UCI, and I will remain president of the UCI until September, and hopefully beyond. In terms of my being groomed… your question started with “it seems;” however, “it seems” is not the reality. The reality is, in 2003, halfway through Hein Verbruggen’s last mandate, he sat the [UCI] board down, just the board, and he said, “Remember two years ago, I said I was stepping down. I’m reminding you now that this is my last mandate. You, as a board, have a responsibility to the sport, to make sure that the next president can lead the sport into the next four, or eight, or whatever it is, years. I’m not involved in it. I’m staying out of it. It’s up to you guys.”

What happened then is that the European confederation, the EUC [European Cycling Union], led by the president, Vladimir Holecek — and he can support this story — and their two points where first, as Europeans, they felt the next president should be European, and secondly, if they agreed, which they did, then give us some names, let’s look at who that might be.

And my name came up at that discussion, in the European confederation board meeting, and that’s when they decided to support me. They then approached me, and asked me if I would be willing to take on the presidency. I thought about it for a while and I said to them yes, and they decided to support me. And that’s how it happened. That’s exactly how it happened. It was the Europeans who selected me, not Hein Verbruggen. He had no say in it. When he said at that meeting, “you guys, it’s up to you, I’m out of it,” then things happened like that. And that’s the reality. People like to see things differently, or say things differently. People on the attack, or on the defense, use things for strategic reasons, but that’s actually how it is.

VN: So you don’t speak with him regularly about UCI matters, concerning the past or the present?
PM: I don’t speak with him on a daily basis, or a weekly basis, about the UCI. I’ll speak with him at a SportAccord meeting, in Saint Petersburg [Russia] in May.

VN: Do you consider him a friend?
PM: I would consider him a friend, yes. He’s a guy who has obviously been in cycling all his life, so he has a desire to see the UCI prosper. But he’s not involved in any of the decisions, or any of the discussions. It’s me and my board, and my staff at the UCI that do everything.

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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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