Former UCI president Pat McQuaid says Lance Armstrong was a “scapegoat” and the victim of a "witch hunt." His comments come as Armstrong criticises Brian Cookson, who succeeded McQuaid to the UCI presidency in 2013, for his record on tackling doping since assuming the top job at the governing body.
In October 2012, ratifying the lifetime ban handed to Armstrong by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the stripping of results including the seven successive editions of the Tour de France he won from 1999 to 2005, McQuaid said the former US Postal Service rider “has no place in cycling.”
But now he has told BBC Radio 5 Live that he feels "a certain sympathy" with him. "He was very much made a scapegoat, there was a witch hunt after Armstrong," he said.
McQuaid, who during his time in office faced uncomfortable questions about whether the UCI had helped cover up Armstrong’s doping, said it was wrong that USADA had treated Armstrong differently from other riders who had used drugs.
"That's the way it was. USADA wanted a big name,” he said. "They weren't really interested in the smaller riders and also they made deals with the smaller riders in order to get the information they needed on the big guys.
"I can have a certain sympathy because I don't think in sport, people in those situations, I think they should be treated equally," he added.
The Irishman was speaking as the BBC prepares to air the first television interview with Armstrong since his televised confession to Oprah Winfrey two years ago.
The programme, called Lance Armstrong, The Road Ahead, airs on BBC News tonight at 8.30pm.
In the interview, Armstrong is critical of the way Cookson has gone about tackling doping as well as his handling of the Astana affair.
The Kazakh team, which Armstrong rode for on his emergence from retirement in 2009, is on what Cookson describes as “probation” after two of its riders failed drugs tests last year, leading to its WorldTour licence being reviewed.
Cookson insisted the UCI had to act within its regulations and that any sanction on Astana needed to follow the letter of the law.
Some were disappointed he had not cracked down on Alexandre Vinokourov’s outfit, however, with Armstrong saying “everybody thinks”
Astana should have had its licence taken away, although he acknowledged that Cookson needed to follow the rules, but he also took the UCI president to task for allowing Vinokourov and Tinkoff-Saxo general manager Bjarne Riis to occupy senior positions in their teams.
He added: "If McQuaid had made the same decisions Cookson has made in his first year, he would have been lynched.”
Armstrong also acknowledged that USADA’s probe into him and his subsequent ban had in part overshadowed the achievements of Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, winners of the Tour de France in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
The 43-year-old said: "I'm sorry, and I completely agree that because of the timing of things, it is down to me," he said.
"[The USADA Reasoned Decision] comes out after the Tour in 2012, so it's logical that in 2013 there's going to be a lot of questions. Especially in a year when Chris Froome performs exceptionally.
"Look, Froome won the Tour in 2013, that's 14 years after 1999. If in 1999 I was asked questions about the 1985 winner of the Tour de France, I'd be like 'What are you talking about? Why are you asking me about the mid-80s?'
"But the story was so relevant to people. When this went down, people were left with the impression, in 2012, that I was hanging blood bags six months earlier. That's not the case,” he added.
"So I feel bad for those guys, they shouldn't have been put in that position. I'm not sure why they were put in a position to answer 15-year-old questions, but it's unfortunate for all of us, especially for them."
Away from sport, Armstrong is making an unlikely cameo appearance in the new single by Future User, founded by Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford. The video features a voiceover by Armstrong interposed with footage of a skateboarder administering himself an injection.
According to Rolling Stone the subject of the song, Mountain Lion, is “the misplaced outrage over performance-enhancing drugs.”
Commerford said: "The amount of attention given to PEDs is incredible, especially when you consider the amount of drugs – recreational, illegal and pharmaceutical – that America supports and profits from."
He went on: "Lance is a friend, an awesome person and, as far as I'm concerned, a punk rocker. We're cycling buddies and kind of go after each other in a trash-talking.
"We'll jokingly leave each other voice messages like, 'Dude, I'm gonna crush you the next time I see you. I'm gonna take you down.' I thought it'd be cool to put one of his voice messages in the song.”
He added: “When it came time to make the video, I asked him to recreate the voicemail and he was totally cool with 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.