UCI president speaks about Contador case, 2011 season, and looks ahead to London Olympics

UCI president Pat McQuaid has said that the organisation is considering setting up its own tribunal to deal with cases of doping within the sport in response to proposals by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that from next year it will no longer hear appeals from world sports governing bodies.

The news comes just two days after it was confirmed that the UCI had lodged an appeal with CAS following the decision of the Russian cycling federation, the FVSR, not to ban Katusha rider Alexander Kolobnev in connection with his positive test during this year’s Tour de France.

Other high-profile cases in which the UCI, alongside the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA), has lodged appeals with CAS include that of Alberto Contador, heard by the tribunal in Lausanne last month with a decision expected in the coming weeks.

That case stemmed from the Spanish federation, the RFEC, exonerating the former Astana rider from all charges relating to his positive test for clenbuterol in the 2010 Tour de France, which he went on to win. A decision from CAS is expected within the coming weeks.

In an interview published today in La Gazzetta Sportiva – the Sunday edition of Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport – McQuaid confirmed that cases such as those had led to the UCI drawing up plans to introduce its own international anti-doping tribunal.

“We’re thinking about it,” he revelaed. “CAS has made it known that from next year onwards, appeals made by international federations will no longer be accepted. The UCI needs a new system: a tribunal such as CAS, but at a lower level, which adjudicates on all cases of doping.

“If an athlete wants to challenge it, he or she can do so at CAS. It would be the best solution, also because the truth is that there are inconsistencies in the decisions of different nations, some of which are interested in protecting their own riders.”

McQuaid was speaking to the Italian sports daily during an apparently spur-of-the-moment visit to a conference organised by Giro d’Italia organisers RCS Sport in Milan, the 62-year-old joking that he’d managed to slip away from his wife while accompanying her on a pre-Christmas shopping trip to the northern Italian city.

The Contador case, of course, was an ever-present spectre lurking in the shadows as the 2011 season progressed; free to ride in the Giro d’Italia, the Spaniard went on to win it for the second time in his career, and with the CAS hearing postponed from its originally scheduled date of early June, the Saxo Bank SunGard rider was able to attempt to defend his Tour de France title, finishing fifth overall.

Regarding the delays in that case, McQuaid said: “It always goes that way, when there’s a big rider involved who has the money to pay for a strong defence team. It was the same with [Tyler] Hamilton and [Floyd] Landis. Lots of lawyers, a longer timeframe and increased costs, even for WADA and the UCI.

“It’s madness, and people can’t understand why,” he continued. “We have to find a way out. We’ve spoken about it at WADA’s meeting in Montreal: to shorten the procedures a limit should be placed on the legal arguments that can be presented at CAS,” McQuaid added, echoing comments made last week by WADA director general David Howman.

McQuaid said that he backed WADA’s decision, announced in September, not to introduce a minimum threshold for clenbuterol despite a string of cases in which athletes have successfully argued that they ingested the substance innocently after eating contaminated meat.

That, of course, is Contador’s defence, too, although the tainted steak he claims to have eaten was brought into France from Spain, whereas most cases in which athletes have escaped sanction relate to their having eaten contaminated meat in Mexico or China, the two countries seen as providing the greatest risk of innocent exposure to clenbuterol.

“We spoke about this issue too,” McQuaid disclosed, “and the opinion of WADA’s scientists is the opposite, since even a tiny trace of clenbuterol in the urine can serve to indicate that the substance had been used some days previously or that there had been a transfusion of blood taken during training periods.”

On the whole, however, the Irishman sees the sport as being in rude health, reflecting the views of many fans and other observers of the sport when he said, “It’s probably been the best since I became UCI president in 2005.

“We’ve had no doping scandals, relations with major organisers have improved and there have been big winners of races, right up to Mark Cavendish’s rainbow jersey victory. Another year like that and we’ll have returned the sport to its peak.

“Great Britain, first on the track and then on the road, has become a force. And next year the London Olympics, with Cavendish as world champion, will bring at least 1 million people onto the streets. Cycling will be the most important Olympic sport for them, more than athletics or swimming.”

In McQuaid’s opinion, those countries that constitute the traditional heartland of the sport have to find a way of countering others that have emerged as powers in the sport in recent years, such as Great Britain and Australia.

“The countries with historic tradition such as Italy, France and Spain need to wake up if they don’t want to be left behind. Attention to detail, applying new methods of preparation with the help of universities: doping is finished, it is no longer the road to improving performance,” he maintained.

He rejected the view that those countries had suffered as a result of having more testing of riders as well as from the effect of large-scale enquiries into doping.

“Not at all. I don’t accept that. There are more enquiries in Europe because there are more problems. But in Great Britain and Australia the anti-doping agencies are equally strong. And the controls are the same everywhere.”

He acknowledged, however, that there are other contentious issues in the sport besides doping. The UCI’s plans to phase out the use of two-way radio communication remain controversial, and have coincided with threats by some teams to form a breakaway competition, with reports last month that merchant bank Rotschild had put together such a proposal earlier this year.

Speaking of the row over radios, McQuaid said: “It was the only blemish on this season. Today there are a couple of individuals, among the teams, who believe themselves to be Bernie Ecclestone and who think of cycling only as a business.

“The UCI has placed itself against them and will continue to oppose them. In 2012 we will move ahead, permitting radios only during World Tour races. From 2013, based on the report of an independent group that is working with the teams, we’ll decide what to do. But I’m still of the opinion that races are more spectacular without radios.”

He also revealed that he was looking forward to next year’s Giro d’Italia being what organisers described at its launch in October as a “more humane” race than some recent editions have been.

“In the past couple of years the Giro has been exciting, but perhaps too extreme,” he explained. “The 2012 edition should be more balanced. It remains a race that is full of passion and drama.”

As for Italian cycling itself, McQuaid sees some bright talents emerging. “There’s a new generation that will soon be competitive: youngsters such as [Sacha] Modolo, second in the London Olympic test event. I’ve spoken of it with national coach [Paolo] Bettini, and he is optimistic.

“Cycling is important for Italy, and Italy is important for cycling,” he concluded.

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.