American anti-doping controls watered down by UCI

Tour of California

There’s a worrying story over on about the lack of anti-doping testing in the Tour of California, and also in the Tour of Utah or USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado too. Specifically there were no blood tests and the story says this was because the UCI pulled out of a deal at the last minute with the US authorities, thwarting their plans for comprehensive testing. Read the piece first to make sense of the following.

The last minute change where the UCI sent USADA away worried me at the time, something was wrong. But the cyclingnews story says the motivation behind this was a petty political spat between Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the UCI President Pat McQuaid. McQuaid took offence to the notion that a governing body could be conflicted when it comes to running anti-doping controls. Sadly this idea is valid both in theory and practice.

  • In theory: for example someone trying to promote a new race in China has an interest to promote the sport rather than bust cheats and fill the newspapers with scandal.
  • In practice: we can see how, for example, the Contador positive case from 2010 was only announced after it was flushed out by the German media.

Now let’s be generous to the UCI and, for theoretical purposes, assume Daniel Benson’s piece is mistaken and that the UCI’s motivations for replacing the American anti-doping controls with UCI ones were quite noble. This still doesn’t work: we end up with the three biggest races on the US calendar going without blood tests. If a deal over the Tour of California fell apart why wasn’t something in place for the Tour of Utah? Even being kind it’s hard to make this look good.

Travis Tygart
Tygart learns of the UCI's anti-doping plans

Let’s not fool ourselves, the absence of blood tests doesn’t mean these races turned into a  supercharged festival of doping. Nor is blood testing perfect, it doesn’t catch everyone or everything; but there are arguments that it’s reduced a cheat’s room to manipulate their blood. So for whatever reason the sport needs good testing, it’s a form of insurance against scandal and a way of giving riders, fans and sponsors a degree of confidence. Therefore scrapping effective anti-doping measures looks bad and it’ll make more cynical people question the race results.

But if this is the result of petty turf wars and personality disputes my worries are compounded by a large factor. Ironically if the UCI stopped blood testing then this proves the very point made by USADA’s Tygart that the fox can’t guard the henhouse, namely that the UCI can’t always be trusted to manage anti-doping.

Who gains?
On the other side of this I’ll raise a point nobody’s mentioned yet. This news has come out in the middle of the Tour of Beijing. Just as the UCI tries to prove it can run something, here comes news to suggest it can’t. And we’ve had the leaked sponsor threat letters too. And maybe someone is going to explain just what is (and what isn’t) happening with the anti-doping controls in Beijing. A barrage of bad news is bound to make the UCI squirm just when many are watching its business in China.

There’s a James Bond film where 007 is told of a death threat. He asks who would want him dead as a means to identify the threat only for his boss M to reply “Jealous husbands, outraged chefs, humiliated tailors. The list is endless“. It’s similar with the UCI, it’s no secret some have an interest in destabilising the incumbent management for their own gains. But there’s a similar “endless list”. Sadly it includes many exasperated fans, frustrated by serial bad news, the refusal to properly address conflicts of interest, managerial bungling and more. The UCI isn’t all bad but it is too accident prone and this isn’t just bad luck, there’s a catalogue of poor judgement and widespread mission creep.

It’s not been a good week for the UCI. First the existence of letters sent out to scare team sponsors is reported, now it seems they’ve bungled anti-doping for major pro races in the US, and seemingly for all the wrong reasons. Maybe there’s an agenda behind the bad news?

All the same journalists and bloggers are exposing worrying practices at the top of the sport’s governing body. That some big races went without testing was a mistake and I’m interested to hear the UCI’s side of the story. We never got an adequate explanation of the last minute change to the promising scheme implemented by USADA and now the news of no blood tests needs to be explained too.

Finally if you read this blog for more than scrutiny of the UCI then I promise some more positive items are on the way. A preview of Paris-Tours is coming that will cover everything from the race favourites to the local wines.

21 thoughts on “American anti-doping controls watered down by UCI”

  1. “The UCI isn’t all bad but it is too accident prone and this isn’t just bad luck, there’s a catalogue of poor judgement and widespread mission creep.”

    should read

    “The UCI isn’t all bad but it is too accident prone and this isn’t just bad luck, there’s a catalogue of unethical and morally bankrupt behavior.”

  2. Cui Bono?… Does it really matter? Neither the “breakaway league” nor Johan Bruyneel nor anyone else forced the UCI to break their agreement with USADA and not perform blood testing at any of the biggest races on the US calendar.

    But some people may have been too hasty when they called JV a sucker and a pushover for letting McQuaid bully him on the radio/Beijing boycott thing.

    Thanks for the wonderful blog.

  3. I have to admit that I, like probably a lot of people, want to point my finger at Pat McQuaid for the catalog of failings of the UCI under his Reign of Error. Is that a fair call or do we have the wrong idea about his influence? Does the President of the UCI set the tone, standard of work, organizational transparency, for the organization, or is this just a case of the most visible (and notoriously grumpy) person gets the heat?

  4. You make the right points but I think you’re being too easy on McQuaid. If he cannot put in place basic anti-doping tests and behaves like a spoilt child then he’s is not doing his job and is making matters worse. It’s time for him to go right now.

  5. The UCI requires leadership and, as has repeatedly been demonstrated, Pat McQuaid cannot provide it. He should do the honourable thing, admit the job is beyond his capabilities and resign.

  6. 100% there’s an agenda to the ‘bad news’. It’s been clear for some time that there are areas of the cycling media that want to force major changes to the sport’s governance and view these types of stories as the way to achieve them. The mock media shock surrounding Festina 1998 feels like a very very long time ago now. And thank goodness. Nobody should be turning a blind eye to the UCI’s errors. Regardless of whether you think the structure of cycling needs an urgent overhaul (which I do – Tygart is right about independent testing), the very least we deserve is for the governing body to do its job properly.

  7. I think the UCI has NEVER been interested in getting rid of doping. They ARE dedicated to getting rid of doping SCANDALS though their ineptitude in this area is laughable if it wasn’t so sad. I heard some rumors about ToC a few years back where more than a couple of the big stars returned positive dope tests and cynically challenged the officials to announce the sanctions during the race, knowing the people involved would back down in the face of any scandal affecting the image of their nearly new event, especially one they were (and continue to be as far as I know) trying to sell to a big-money backer at a profit. Sadly, NOTHING surprises me anymore, the sport is rotten to the core. I keep wondering how long the IOC will put up with this before they tell UCI either to fix it or let a new cycling sanctioning body be created to manage the sport. Pro cycling has no more credibility these days than Pro Wrestling.

  8. Larry T:

    I disagree – I think the UCI has been fairly schizophrenic on doping. In certain years (2007 TdF for example), it seemed that cycling was on an all out war to catch dopers, regardless of the impact on the media. However, I think somewhere during Lance’s comeback years, the UCI switch its approach, based on what I perceive to be their realization that they were never going to root out doping. Contador was the final straw, where the UCI finally took an all out position of doping controls as kabuki theater.

    Now, I also think a lot of this coincides with the creation of this new promotional branch of the UCI, and Pat McQuaid realizing that there is a lot of money to be made on his end if they can reduce the bad news.

  9. A good piece and a rather balanced take given the original cyclingnews article’s take. But, unfortunately, I do tend to believe the account given there of what is essentially an ego-trip by McQuaid. Simply, it’s believable because there is a history of McQuaid threatening people and teams (to Vaughters over the radios, the recent Beijing letter fiasco…) , defending what he sees as the UCI’s territory (spats with organizers over drug controls, team selections for races…) and downplaying conflicts of interest (organizing Beijing race, the fact his sons work in cycling- at least one as a manager…). Granted some of these incidents may have at least partially defensible reasons, but I think it shows a pattern of behavior that doesn’t speak well for whatever the UCI’s (or McQuaid’s, if there’s a difference) actions were in this case.

    I’m not sure I buy the line that McQuaid doesn’t care about stopping doping at all or something like that (it’s amazing how willfully evil we can think our opponents are). But it does seem that protecting the power of the UCI and himself has overshadowed what should be a higher mandate: securing integrity for the sport.

  10. To ColoradoGoat I would say that the UCI has been good with doping when Anne Gripper worked hard. But other people like McQuaid don’t do the same job. UCI is not all one man.

  11. @Larry T – “I heard some rumors about ToC a few years back where more than a couple of the big stars returned positive dope tests and cynically challenged the officials to announce the sanctions during the race”

    Can you back this up in any way? I’m not expecting chapter and verse, but conspiracy theories in cycling are too cheap to take at face value.

    And the decision not to blood test at the ToC is just rubbish. Cycling doesn’t need to make itself look flakier than it already is.

  12. Been intimating for some time; as have many others, that Lone Woof McQuaid is bad for the sport!

    Having a unique background as trained & experienced psychologist as well as professionally trained manager with global experience I am constantly reminded of a study when reading about McQuaid or seeing him in video interviews! The study was published almost ten yrs ago, and accepted by the business community, where a key finding centered around the frightening statistic that out of all managers/bosses who have no professional training in management and leadership, roughly 40% show characteristics of a clinical psychopath!

    When the old men at the UCI finally wake up (hopefully before it’s too late) they will fill the top spot not with a politician/would-be diplomat, but fill the seat with someone with a professional background! The sponsors, teams, riders, and race-organizers all deserve a UCI that truly has their back, and not one that consistently stabs them in the back!!!

  13. The question of whether or not these leaks are a campaign against the UCI is not really relevant. The facts remain that the UCI *is* engaging in this sort of conduct and it shouldn’t be. The most charitable and arguably the most naive explanation is that the threats & doping stuff-ups are simple mistakes or oversights, but I don’t think anyone is really buying that any more.

    Though the UCI may have previously gotten a free pass, the general mood seems to have changed and, as more people become aware of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, the heat *should* be turned up on the UCI, ideally in the most embarrassing way possible. Those idiots need to realise that it’s time to get their house in order.

    @LarryT: I think you may be waiting a long time. Boxing is still in the Olympics…

  14. Was it 2009 that the UCI refused to allow AFLD to test at the Tour and we ended up with lots of dodgy tests, with certain riders/teams getting advance warning etc.

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… you can’t get fooled again. (to quote GWB 🙂

  15. Amgen manufactures epoetin and is the world’s largest biotech firm, right? I see conflict of interest from the sponsor all the way to the governing body. Punt again. I didn’t watch any of these races this year and I won’t in the future.

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