Former UCI president Hein Verbruggen has admitted that the governing body tipped off riders including Lance Armstrong about suspicious anti-doping test results.
The Dutchman, who remains honorary president of the governing body that he led between 1991 and 2005, made the revelation in a statement issued in response to an article in Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland.
"It used to be the UCI's policy – and indeed also of other federations – to discuss atypical blood test results, or other test results, with the riders concerned," he explained.
"Riders who were doping [but who had yet to fail a test] were effectively warned that they were being watched and that they would be targeted in future with the aim of getting them to stop doping.
"However, if the atypical test results were genuinely not caused by doping, the rider also had the opportunity to have a medical check."
According to Verbruggen, the UCI drew up its policy to tell riders about suspicious tests "after some considerable debate and deliberation.
"Its purpose was to protect clean riders against competitors who might be doping, rather than to let those clean riders continue to be put at a disadvantage until such time that the drug cheats could be caught,” he claimed.
“It was intended to be a two-pronged attack on doping: prevention both by dissuasion and repression."
In the wake of the Lance Armstrong scandal, Verbruggen has come under a huge amount of criticism with many believing that the UCI helped protect the rider, including after a suspect test for EPO during the 2001 Tour de Suisse.
According to Dr Martial Saugy, who runs the Swiss anti-doping laboratory that tested the sample concerned, the UCI arranged for Armstrong to visit the facility to see how tests were conducted.
At the same time, Armstrong pledged donations totalling $125,000 to the UCI. While those payments have long been public knowledge and indeed confirmed by current UCI president Pat McQuaid, it had been assumed that the rider decided to offer the money himself.
However, in his interview with Oprah Winfrey last week, Armstrong said that it had been the UCI that had requested the money from him.
Even as allegations of doping mounted against Armstrong, Verbruggen was a vociferous supporter of the American.
In May 2011, according to USADA’s Reasoned Decision in the case, Verbruggen said: “There is nothing. I repeat again: Lance Armstrong has never used doping. Never, never, never. I say this not because I am a friend of his, because that is not true. I say it because I'm sure."
Separately, French newspaper Le Monde this week has said that Armstrong should have been thrown off the 1999 Tour de France – the year of the first of the seven victories he has now been stripped of – because of breaking rules regarding therapeutic use exemptions.
Armstrong tested positive for a corticosteroid during the race, but later produced a backdated – and, by his own admission, fictitious – prescription from US Postal’s team doctor for cream to treat a saddle sore.
Le Monde published a picture of the doping control document from the time that showed that there was no mention of such a product being used – and said that Armstrong should therefore have been disqualified from the race.
Separately, Verbruggen has defended business dealings in 2001 with an investment firm owned by Thom Weisel, a major backer of Tailwind Sports, the company behind the US Postal team.
Two years earlier, Verbruggen had given what he describes as “a small amount of money” to former Motorola manager Jim Ochowicz, who was working as a broker at the time.
Ochowicz, who would serve as USA Cycling’s president from 2002 to 2008 and is now president of the BMC Racing team, moved to Weisel’s firm two years later.
However, Verbruggen insists he did not know who Weisel was at the time – a claim that is hard to believe, given not only the team’s status in the sport at the time, but also the fact that in 2000 it had been Weisel who had organised a bailout of USA Cycling.
He told Vrij Nederland: "‘But even if I had known [who Weisel was], I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.’
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.