Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), says it backs Pat McQuaid’s presidency of the UCI but has urged cycling’s governing body and the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) to put an end to their public row. That seems a remote prospect, however, with UCI honorary president Hein Verbruggen attacking WADA and its former president Dick Pound in a letter sent to all 15 members of the IOC’s executive board, in which he also defends the UCI against allegations of helping protect Lance Armstrong.
We have confidence in Mr McQuaid as president of UCI," Rogge told journalists at the end of a two-day meeting of the IOC’s executive board in Lausanne, Switzerland, reports Yahoo! Eurosport. "There is an ongoing discussion with WADA and UCI. We call on both parties to reconcile and find a solution to this crisis together."
While there’s no way of knowing what Rogge may or may not have said to either party in private, the overly diplomatic response will disappoint those who had hoped the IOC might step in to try and mediate in the dispute.
The letter from Verbruggen – like McQuaid, a member of the International Olympic Committee, but not its executive board – had been delivered to the hotel room in Lausanne of each of the executive board’s members.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the website Inside The Games, Verbruggen launched a broadside against WADA, and its former president Dick Pound in particular.
Pound, a lawyer who swam for Canada at the 1960 Olympics in Rome and who will turn 71 next month, was IOC vice-president to Juan Samaranch and stood for the presidency himself in 2001, only to be beaten by Rogge.
He was president of WADA from its foundation in 1999 – it was set up in large part as a response to the Festina scandal which overshadowed the 1998 Tour de France – to 2008, when he was succeeded by Australian John Fahey.
Last month, Pound had suggested that cycling was at risk of losing its place in the Olympics due to the fallout from the Armstrong case and other scandals, but this week the IOC has confirmed its status as one of the core summer Olympic sports, with wrestling being relegated to make room for gold and rugby sevens at Rio in 2016.
“Mr. Pound has chosen to make the fight against doping subordinate to his own little revenge wars against me and my sport," said Verbruggen, who together with the UCI reached an undisclosed settlement with Pound in 2009 after claiming he had libelled them through statements that suggested they were not doing enough to combat doping in cycling.
"So be it,” added Verbruggen. "But it won't stop me of telling the truth and defending myself and my sport when injustice is done."
In his letter, Verbruggen outlined some of those perceived injustices, rejecting allegations the UCI was complicit of helping Armstrong evade detection.
"Cover-ups never took place,” he maintained. "Not only this would never have been allowed, but also since there simply was nothing to cover-up. Armstrong, nor his team mates ever tested positive.”
That isn’t true, however. In the 1999 Tour de France, for example, Armstrong tested positive for a corticosteroid, and subsequently produced what the United States Anti Doping Agency insists was an illegally predated prescription from his team doctor for a saddle sore cream that contained the substance.
The incident is mentioned by Verbruggen in his letter, outlining that he was satisfied it had been handled correctly by the UCI at the time. He made no reference to the issue of the prescription having been filled in after the event.
He also wrote of the suspect test for EPO that Armstrong produced in the 2001 Tour de Suisse, emphasising it was not a positive test, but said nothing of the meeting with Armstrong that followed, nor the donations totalling $150,000 that the UCI has admitted receiving from him.
Instead, he sought to turn the tables on both national anti-doping agencies in the United States and France, questioning why, if Armstrong had been doping, they hadn’t caught him.
With his letter increasingly taking on the tones of a rant, he also queried WADA’s use of the resources devoted to it – initially, it was wholly funded by the IOC, which nowadays provides half its budget.
"Personally, and I am not the only ones, I find that there is a heavy responsibility of WADA since they 'force' the world of sport to spend some US$0.5 billion (some US$600,000 per sanctioned positive test!!) for the fight against doping, while declaring themselves that THEIR (!) whole system is totally flawed.
"Wasn't it WADA's General Manager Mr. David Howman, who declared: 'we only catch the dopey dopers...'.
"I have rarely heard someone declaring so clearly the bankruptcy of his own organization and policy.
"Half a billion in a flawed system......and no criticism at all?"
The wording of the letter from Verbruggen, seen by some as still being the true holder of power at the UCI despite his honorary title, adds to the feeling that rather than being any closer to resolving their differences, as Rogge is urging, the governing body and WADA are drifting yet further apart.
The letter, which comes a fortnight after McQuaid himself wrote to all 101 IOC members to seek their support against WADA, made no mention of the UCI’s decision to disband the Independent Commission that it had set up to examine its own role in the Armstrong affair.
That’s despite the fact that one of the 15 IOC executive board members to whom Verbruggen’s letter is addressed is John Coates, president of both the Australian Olympic Committee and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who before Christmas was chosen by the UCI to select the Independent Commission’s members.
Earlier this week, current WADA president John Fahey insisted there was no prospect of the agency joining the UCI in the governing body’s desire to set up a truth and reconciliation process unless it was managed by an Independent Commission free of interference from the UCI.
If anything, the wording of the letter from Verbruggen, seen by some as still being the true holder of power at the UCI despite his honorary title, adds to a widely held feeling that rather than being any closer to resolving their differences, as Rogge is urging, the governing body and WADA are drifting yet further apart.
With further proceedings due in the US Postal case, not least the much delayed arbitration hearing involving Johan Bruyneel, fresh revelations of doping from the Operacion Puerto trial and the findings of the Padua investigation in Italy looming on the horizon, many believe it’s a conflict the sport can ill afford.
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.