UCI President Pat McQuaid has said that he believes that the current system of two-year doping bans is not enough to deter would-be drugs cheats and he supports four-year bans for cyclists found guilty of the most serious offences.
In an interview with the Associated Press, McQuaid also insisted that the UCI is not “dragging its heels” over the investigation into Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol during this year’s Tour de France, which the Spaniard went on to win.
"I'm increasingly going for four years because two years is very quick," explained McQuaid. "An athlete returns to the peleton very quick. I think it's unfair to the clean athletes that guys who have cheated in premeditated cheating can come back so quickly."
World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) guidelines provide that in cases of serious doping offences, athletes be banned for a minimum of two years, with a maximum penalty of four years, but the longer sanction is not applied in most sports.
However, McQuaid maintains that he has now told the UCI’s anti-doping team to press for the longer penalty, and is pressing national cycling federations to do likewise.
"At least cycling has made the statement that we're serious about getting rid of dopers," said McQuaid, who was interviewed at the Global Sports Industry Conference in London.
He added that despite cycling regularly hitting the headlines due to doping scandals, he believed that the sport was at the vanguard of the fight against drugs.
"You can take a sort of fatalistic view and say, 'Yes the sport's been damaged, the credibility of the sport has gone down,'" McQuaid stated. "But you can also take the view that more and more people are taking — that we're a sport that is actually going and doing something about it.”
He continued: "We're testing. We're testing in great detail, in great numbers, and we're catching athletes. We're not afraid to catch an athlete, big or small. It's transparent. It's open. All the results come to us and go to WADA. We're doing our damnedest to catch cheats."
McQuaid said that the investigation into Contador’s failed test for clenbuterol was still continuing. News of the Tour de France champion’s positive test broke nearly five weeks ago.
At the time, speaking at the UCI World Road Championships in Australia, McQuaid said that a decision about what sanction if any should be imposed on the rider would be forthcoming within ten days at most, but no announcement has been made.
"We're working with WADA," McQuaid explained. "Our scientific people and their scientific people are working together to try to determine how the clenbuterol got in the system.
"We're waiting for WADA to come back to us with a report. As soon as we get that, we'll take decisions within hours."
McQuaid added that he could not say exactly when a decision would be taken, although he did say, "I think the point might be fast approaching."
Following the revelation of Contador’s positive test containing clenbuterol, there were allegations that traces of plastcizers were also found in samples taken from the rider, which could suggest evidence of illegal blood transfusions.
Asked whether the UCI and WADA’s enquiries were also addressing that issue, however, McQuaid said: "I couldn't tell you."
Should the UCI decide to take action against Contador, the case will be passed to the Spanish cycling federation, the RCEF, which would hold a hearing. If Contador is found guilty, Contador would face the prospect of a ban as well as having his Tour de France title taken away from him.
The Spaniard, who is due to ride for SunGard-Saxo Bank next year after three years at Astana, has hinted that he may walk away from the sport irrespective of whether or not he is found guilty.
"I understand the athlete has been barraged by media, particularly the Spanish media," McQuaid concluded. "He's in a pretty difficult situation. I can understand that and I have sympathy for him in that situation."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.