In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with UCI President Pat McQuaid - you'll find Part 1 here - he speaks about the legacy of doping in the sport, his latest views on the prospect of a breakaway league, expresses his opinion on Twitter users and reflects, three and a half decade on, about the decision that cost him the chance to compete in the Olympics himself.
Q: We're aware the UCI's line is not to talk about the specifics of individual ongoing cases, but we've had Alberto Contador, now we have Lance Armstrong and Frank Schleck facing charges... how do we convince people, perhaps wanting to find out more about the sport because of Brad's win, that it's clean?
A: Athletics today announced six passport cases. The French team pulled an EPO guy last week. There’s lots of sports getting hit by doping. Cycling’s not unique.
Q: But it’s the one that hits the headlines? And one of the things people outside the sport say is, ‘Oh, he’s a cyclist, he must be on drugs.’
A: That’s a legacy of the amount of doping that did go on in our sport. I think we’re coming out of that, we’ve gone through it and the sport today is completely different to what it was yesterday. I like to spend my energy concentrating on today’s sport and tomorrow’s sport, and changing the culture of doping in the sport, which I’ve always stated has been there and I think we are in the process of changing it.
I think the next generation and the generation after that coming into the sport are going to find it a very different sport with a lot less acceptance of doping, and I think even today there is not the acceptance that if you want to succeed you must get into a doping programme. That attitude isn’t there any more. And that’s already a major change and I think as we go forward it will become more and more so.
Q: So you’re saying if someone like David Millar were coming up through the British system now, it probably wouldn’t have gone the way it did?
A: No, it most certainly wouldn’t have done, because I’ve followed this journey since 1998 when British Cycling first started investing with the support of the Olympic committee [the BOA].
When you see the support group they had around the riders prior to Beijing and they now have again here, you’re talking about doctors, naturally enough, a psychologist, sports psychologist, psychiatrist, sports psychiatrist, kinesiologist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, dietician, nutritionist – all of these support services are there for all of the riders.
In the past when a rider would hit a bit of bad form and go into a dip, that’s when he would be tempted to make his way out of the dip by maybe getting into a doping programme. Now, as soon as he goes into a dip, there are experts there, prepared to listen to him, talk to him and assist him out of the dip. That’s the replacement.
Millar in today’s Sky team wouldn’t have gone down that direction because it would have been noticed by the people with him that he needed help, he needed assistance with his training programme, working with his training plan, and he would have confidence in the people he was talking with to do what they tell him to do and eventually come out of the rut he was in.
Q: The issue of a potential breakaway league has died down of late but it must still be there in the background, what are your thoughts on that?
A: It’s not going to happen, it’s not. There won’t be a breakaway league, it was something that was looked at, it was something that there were people trying to do, but they realised they couldn’t do it without the UCI, the sport of cycling is unlike football or basketball or other sports, and so some of the people that were behind that league are talking to the UCI in terms of working with the UCI. So it’s not going to happen.
Q: Bradley Wiggins was rather forthright about his views on Twitter users raising questions particularly on the ethical side of the sport, and Dave Brailsford has said he's happy to invite them to Manchester. There's obviously some articulate people there, they aren't afraid to ask challenging questions of people in the sport, and if you look at someone like Jonathan Vaughters he does engage with them. What are your thoughts on Twitter as a forum. Is there perhaps a line that needs to be respected?
With everything there is a line that needs to be respected and naturally I don’t agree with the people on Twitter who copy me, or whatever they want to call themselves. If they find themselves amused by that, well… I find it difficult to understand.
I don’t find it that amusing anyway and I don’t as a rule read it. I’m not a Twitter person myself, maybe that’s a fault, I’m not involved much in social media, I have a very busy schedule and a very busy workload as it is and I wouldn’t have time for that.
I think in relation to Bradley and the discussion that took place about maybe putting his blood values online, I’d be inclined to agree with him in that you put yourself in the firing line by doing something like that because you get experts who read it one way and other experts who read it another way and people jump to conclusions and all that sort of stuff.
So I do agree with Bradley in that he’s best not doing that. He stands by his principles, he stands by where he comes from, and I agree with David Brailsford when he said come to Manchester, look at all the data, it’s there for them to see, and I think that’s sufficient. So if experts want to go and see the data, let them see it. But I don’t think pseudo-experts who are on Twitter and so forth necessarily should see that data or would benefit from seeing it.
In relation to social media, Twitter and all that, people do need to be a little respectful and a lot of the time – most of the time, I find – in these forums, a lot of the people who are commenting on it, let’s just say there could be some very well educated people in certain fields, most of the time they’re commenting on only a portion of the evidence, they don’t know the other side of the evidence but they’re jumping to conclusions, and their analysis brings them further to thinking they’re talking about the full subject, but they’re actually not.
Q: We're here on the eve of the Games, you see all the athletes training and preparing for it... do you regret that your decision to race in South Africa [during the Apartheid era, resulting in a lifetime ban from the Games] cost you the chance to compete at the Olympics yourself?
A: I regret certainly not being an Olympian, yes. I don’t regret going to South Africa, I’ve always said that, I went there for sports reasons, I went there for reasons of education and educating myself, I had an interest in South Africa from the day I went there till today.
I’ve followed closely the evolution of South African politics following my visit there and because of my personal knowledge of the country and the situation, so for me it’s been part of my education. It’s unfortunate that we got caught up in Irish politics, cycling politics, which in the end meant I didn’t go to Montreal.
Obviously I would have loved to have been a Olympian, it’s one thing in cycling that I didn’t do, that I didn’t achieve, but having said that I’ve made my way through the sport in a different way and I’m very proud and honoured to be President of the UCI and doing what I do, trying to improve the sport and continuing to do it, despite again the many critics I have on this or that forum, again as I say a lot of the time they’re not working with all the facts.
I know what I want to do, I know what I intend doing, I know what drives me, I love the sport, I’m passionate about it, it’s a sport I want to improve, I want to put it in a better place, and I’ll continue to do that.
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.