Cycling is leading the way in the global sports war against doping, the UCI president Brian Cookson has said as he reflects on his first year in the top job in the sport.
Following last September’s convoluted voting process in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Cookson has found himself presiding over a tarnished game, struggling in the wake of the Lance Armstrong revelations that were overseen by the controversial Pat McQuaid.
"I think we've made a lot of progress already," Cookson told insidethegames. "Looking back to this time last year, the UCI had lost the confidence of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and was almost in conflict with them.
"One of the first things we have done is to establish a very good relationship with WADA. We've gone out of our way to rebuild relations with them, and to reshape our anti-doping practices in accordance with their rules.
"We have had an independent audit on our anti-doping programme, which has put forward recommendations we are in the process of fulfilling. And we have completed the process of making the Cycling Anti-doping Foundation operational without any of the UCI Management Committee involved.
"So we have been working very hard towards the things we set out to do. As far as the fight against doping goes, I guess the key phrase is 'eternal vigilance'.
"We are now the leading sport in terms of anti-doping.
"I don't know of any other sport that has thrown itself open to this amount of external scrutiny."
Indeed there are other sports where it seems doping scandals are set to blow apart reputations; late last year we reported how Wimbledon tennis champion Andy Murray said that tennis needs to adopt a near “zero tolerance” approach to doping after criticising two fellow players banned in connection with doping offences as “unprofessional.”
Murray was talking about the cases of Serbia’s Viktor Troicki, who had an 18-month ban for failing to provide a blood sample reduced to 12 months after appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the Croatian player Marin Cilic, banned for nine months after testing positive for the banned supplement, nikethamide. CAS subsequently reduced his suspension to four months.
Cilic blamed his positive test on glucose tablets his mother had bought him at a pharmacy in Monte Carlo, where he was competing in a tournament.
Troicki claimed that he was unable to provide a blood sample when requested because he was feeling unwell, and maintained that the doping control officer said he would be able to provide it the following day – something the official concerned has denied.
Golf too has been controversial, with the veteran player Greg Norman complaining last year that not enough was being done to address doping. He told the Australian:
"How deep it is (the problem), I have no idea because we only do urine analysis instead of blood testing," Norman said. "If you really want to be serious about it and find about what's really going on, we need to do blood testing. I think it's disgraceful, to tell you the truth. The golf associations have to get together and step it up.
"It's a pinprick for a player and you find out what's going on. If you're the head of golf or any sport, if you're the commissioner for a sport, it's your responsibility to make sure your sport is clean. ... That should be your No. 1 priority.”
For Cookson, keeping doping out of cycling is an integral part of keeping cycling alive.
"It is always my intention to make clear the moral and ethical case against doping. And while we are talking about that, there is also an economic driver here,” he said.
"Media, sponsors, fans and the public don't want to be involved in a sport where doping is a big problem. We saw a clear example of this in 2008 when the German media pulled out of covering cycling at professional level. At one time there were three top pro teams in Germany - at the moment there are none.
"We are determined to do everything we can to stop some of the practices which have harmed our sport in recent years."
Cookson went on to say that cleaning up cycling was not just for the good of the professional sport: "I would certainly want cycling to have a good reputation that it deserves for the actions it has taken," he said.
"I would like it to be even more popular in terms of general participation, and of people using bicycles for transport. It's not just about elite level sport - we want to promote the fun and sense of sporting achievement that people can get from cycling in their everyday life.
"We want a good strong presence in the Olympic Games, involving more diversity but still respecting the heritage and integrity of our sport. And as far as road racing is concerned, we want to put an end to teams appearing and disappearing with such rapidity by making team racing into a more economically sustainable business, so that teams have a guaranteed future.
"And we also want to have greater numbers of women involved in cycling both in terms of competition and administration."
After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.