Were The UCI’s Anti-Doping Policies Inadequate?


Having been away for two glorious weeks without internet I missed the news of the UCI’s independent commission, UCIIC, being set up to investigate issues and allegations arising out USADA’s verdict on Lance Armstrong.

Now this body is seeking evidence here some evidence to suggest the UCI publicly rejected an obvious and easy method to catch cheats.

Here’s a story to chew on.

Amongst the terms of reference for the UCIIC is the following:

3. Whether, and if so, to what extent the UCI’s anti-doping policies and procedures between (i) 1998 and 2005 and (ii) 2005 and 2012, were inadequate or were not enforced with sufficient rigour; and if so, whether the UCI was at the time aware, or ought to have been aware, of such inadequacy or lack of enforcement.

The UCI likes to say it led the way in anti-doping. For example:

  • introducing a haematocrit test before other sports ahead of an EPO test
  • extensive testing, often far in excess of any other sport whether in absolute or relative terms
  • establishing the bio-passport

Only there’s a pattern here because each time the UCI had to take these measures because things were out of hand. Doping was endemic. It’s why we’ve seen blank results for the Tour de France after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his results, you have to dig down into the results to find a clean winner.

So the question for the UCIIC is whether the UCI was taking reasonable steps to prevent doping. Yes testing is a part, the toxicological process of searching for banned molecules is essential. But we know the cheats are often one step ahead of the testers. Within no time of an EPO test emerging Michele Ferrari found a way around it by injecting the hormone direct into the veins rather than the recommended subcutaneous route. And once the bio-passport was launched others discovered ways to game the system with microdoses and altitude training.

So if the UCI was always playing catch-up with the cheats what could it do about this? Well it could wait and play catch up. How? Just let time pass until a test is available and then go and test the stored samples from past races. Only the UCI explicitly rejected this. In an interview with the Associated Press in October 2008 President McQuaid ruled out retrospective testing:

From the UCI’s point of view, we prefer to look forward rather than look backward. To randomly say ‘OK, let’s take all the samples from 2007 from the Tour de France and put them all through testing processes’ … it’s futile, it’s expensive and it’s not going to serve the purpose in the anti-doping fight of today.”

If we’re going to start rejigging the podium of every major international race over the past two or three years, by finding new tests for new products, and going back to the organizer and saying ‘you’ve got to rejig your podium’ .. it makes a complete mockery of sport.”

I remember the quote from the time caused a storm. Time after time the UCI has said it wants to look forward rather than backward, in fact at the last annual congress in October passed a motion to this effect. But this is the procedural equivalent of sweeping dirt under the carpet, of letting dirty dishes stack up in the kitchen.

Indeed the story caused a fuss and McQuaid had to clarify his point. Speaking to cyclingnews.com he said he was asked about testing all the samples from, say, the 2007 Vuelta and rejected this because it was too much – although his original quote referred to the podium and not everyone – and also that you cannot retest samples stored in a lab for research purposes, there must be proper protocol with sealed B-samples and all that. But whilst McQuaid cleared up the need for protocol and other details he still came out and rejected the principle again:

“The reason I said it would make a mockery of the sport is that if a new product comes on the market, and because of that you decide to do all the tests you did last year and the year before. If you find some positives you are suddenly going back to the organiser and telling them that they better re-jig their podium…. …At some point in time you have got to take a pragmatic decision. That is why the UCI’s view is that we want to look forward, we want to progress. The scientists that are working on the biological passport tell me that this is the way forward and this will greatly assist us in the fight against doping. That is more important than retesting all of the samples of last year’s Tour de France for a product which, to the best of my knowledge and going by all the information we have on the field, wasn’t even available last year”

In short if you can retest for a new banned molecule you should not and busting dopers was still something to be avoided in case it embarrasses the UCI and the big races. So much for the clarification.

Yet, along with prevention, catching cheats and stripping them of results is what the anti-doping mission is all about. The UCI knew it was behind the cheats but here is the President rejecting the chance to at least try and get them after the event.

Now McQuaid’s right. It does cause trouble when you kick riders off the podium, it does make a mockery. Just ask Christian Prudhomme, Javier Guillén and Michele Acquarone who have seen the final podium changed in each of their grand tours thanks to positive doping tests, it’s the last thing you want. But the villain here is not the UCI for telling a race to re-engrave the trophy, it’s not even the sport which looks silly. It’s the cheats.

You can also wonder about one line within McQuaid’s statement. Here it is again:

If we’re going to start rejigging the podium of every major international race over the past two or three years

Every major international race? He seems to imply that retests could expose widespread doping. Now let’s not get too forensic on the quote, I’m more interested in the conceptual idea of rejecting retrospective test rather than guessing scale of the problem and the number of races involved. But it does suggest the UCI might have feared the scandal was so scary it didn’t want to start asking too many questions.

Green light
Still whether it’s one race or all it causes problems but McQuaid’s refusal here is an implicit green light to riders to experiment with cutting-edge doping practices because cycling’s most senior official broadcasts they’ve got a window in time to exploit it. On a strategic level McQuaid should have said the opposite and scared dopers with talk of banks of lab freezers humming the night as they store a rider’s blood and urine until the day every molecule and marker can be detected. Even only a few select samples were stored it might have deterred a marginal case or two.

The IOC went where the UCI did not

Finally retrospective testing is neither new nor unavailable to the sporting authorities because of law or science back in 2008. As the UCI President spoke out against retroactive testing, somewhere else samples from the Beijing Olympics were being stored on behalf of the International Olympic Committee for the specific purpose of retests, and all with the accord of WADA too. In fact it caught a big name cyclist as six months later road race silver medallist Davide Rebellin (pictured) was caught, along with Bahrain’s 1500m gold medal winner Rashid Ramzi, German cyclist Stefan Schumacher, Greek walker Athanasia Tsoumeleka and Croatian runner Vanja Perisic. It could be done, it was done.

Indeed it was later done by France’s anti-doping agency on the samples of 17 riders from the 2008 and everyone got the OK. The good news is that this practice is now accepted and the UCI seems to have dropped its objections.

Doping was rife and often the UCI did the best it could. The UCI gets flack yet often it was powerless: with no test for EPO how could it catch those abusing the hormone? In fact the UCI dedicated a sizeable amount of money to funding research into a test. Short of hiring private detectives to put riders under covert surveillance the only practical policy is one of sit and wait, banking samples until the day arrives when a test is ready.

Retrotesting is imperfect. In an ideal world a system would detect banned substances immediately. But since that doesn’t exist, retrotests have a role and the WADA rules allow for the authorities to test up to eight years backwards although science probably means storage is an issue.

Such tests are not a binary option, you don’t have to reject the principle outright, nor embrace it in full and store every sample every collected. You can opt to discreetly store a few samples for example the top-10 in a grand tour. You can even scare riders by the threat of storing samples. But telling the world you won’t act was a strange choice.

If the UCIIC wants to explore whether the UCI’s policies were inadequate, here’s a public example. I’m sure they’ll get confidential submissions and insider accounts but here’s one case that’s still an uneasy read. Whilst others were storing samples the UCI rejected this in such explicit terms that it might even have helped the cheats sleep better at night.

38 thoughts on “Were The UCI’s Anti-Doping Policies Inadequate?”

  1. Another excellent post. Thank you.

    There are so many questions that the UCI refuses to answer, and this is just one amongst many. If many of us fans were aware, just from race observations, what was happening from the early 1990s, its not creditable that the UCI were ignorant. Of course they knew, and did almost nothing to challenge the problem. Tests were generally just a tool to make the general public and sponsors think that the situation was under control.

    I see WADA is questioning if it will be party to the UCIC, because of its limited terms of reference. With McQuaid again mothing off about Greg LeMond, the message is clear. Without real change at the top of the UCI nothing but nothing will ever change. There is little point in chasing the small details of the past, unless we have new, respected people in charge. People who are prepared to confront and accept the past for what it was. Only once we reach this point can the sport move forward.

  2. There is no need to retest ” Stored Samples ” every year or after each discovery/ breakthrough ! Sampling ” Stored Samples ” on a periodic basis , would create a Lottery situation , an uncertainty that Guilty Racers would find unsettling , could be one approach ?
    Some ” Cheaters ” would have a stronger stomach than others , for the ” RisK ” , but generally Racers would not want to live with ” Past Misdeeds ” hanging over their heads ?

    On the day that ” Yorkshire Grand Depart 2014 ” is announced , Sky News are showing ” phat is on fire ” mouthing off at ALL challenging his Mismanagement , with an ineptitude that is baffling !

    As i said in my latest post ” Does McQuaid get up every morning and ask himself , “what stupid thing will I say today?”
    Can you imagine why he chooses to remind people on this Happy day for Yorkshire , that he leads the organisation , that failed to detect , ” The Greatest & Most Successful Doping Conspiracy in Sport “?

    Just beyond belief !

    Congrats to Yorkshire ! Met all those shown on TV at the Tour de France arrival , back stage , on the Champs Elysee ! Photos of Francesco Moser and me wearing the ” Yorkshire Bid Shirt ” to be found in one of my posts in August .

  3. I remember this at the time and did not understand it. If the UCI ran anti doping for the Olympics cycling races it would mean Rebellin would never be catched. .

  4. While I believe retro testing could be a strong deterrent, in addition to the logistical/expense issues (storage, sample integrity) would there also be procedural/legal issues?

    For example, under current protocol, samples are taken in Part A and Part B. The A sample is tested soon after the event. If the athlete tests positive for a banned substance, they have the right to have their B sample tested. If the B test comes back negative (or non-negative), the athlete is typically acquitted. Lack of a sound B sample to test has led to acquittal in the past. Most agree that this system is fair.

    Thus for retro testing to be effective, consistent with the current protocols/system of jurisprudence, and fair, we might need, not only samples A & B, but C, and possibly E, F , etc. After all, the original A sample would have been used up contemporaneously, and found negative. Thus one would need a tertiary sample to maintain proper standards for an athlete to be able to contest any negative findings to a retro tested B sample.

    We have to keep in mind that many of the higher profile prosecutions/scandals have revolved around athletes not failing tests, but based upon non-analytical findings. I would hope that any retro tests would really be considered solid analytical evidence (by having a backup available to be tested) rather than loose evidence leading towards more non-analytical convictions.

    Also privacy concerns must be addressed, particularly with long term storage. The integrity of the anti-doping testing is based upon blind samples. Maintaining the anonymity of samples stored long term has allegedly been an issue in the past. Building fail safes into the system are necessary. All the more reason to get National and World Governing Bodies out of the testing game.

    • Not all the sample has to be used in a test. Sample A can be tested today, and there can be plenty left to test again in 7½ years. I’m almost sure the WADA Code and WADA lab directions must already cover this, as re-testing is one of the revisions to the original WADA Code, added after the ’05 Armstrong EPO retest positives, and the UCIs’ refusal to prosecute on grounds of sanctioning procedure.

      However, even if inability to follow A/B protocol in a re-test meant the test couldn’t be used in a sanctioning process, it would *still* be useful to do re-testing. Such later re-testing would still tell you:

      a) Who likely cheated, and hence should be focus-targeted in the future.

      b) The extent of the abuse in the sport.

      You can’t make good decisions about how much resources are needed, or what measures are required, if you don’t know whether you’re dealing with a few bad apples, or a whole peloton of them.

      • True, but once the sample container is opened, re-sealed, and later re-opened, you raise the possibility of tainted samples (real, imagined, purposeful, accidental…) and mishandling.

        Sure re-testing has real value, even beyond the ability to sanction. However, my point is, do it right, to get maximum value.

        • I agree it has to be done right and in the “clarification” issued by McQuaid, he is making this clear. But he is also rejecting the idea in principle, above and beyond technicalities such as storage and security. It’s this that alarmed me, especially since other sports were using this techniques and the IOC themselves were doing this and were willing to “rejig” the podium and Olympic medals in the name of catching CERA abusers.

          • All very sensible BUT the real question which arises is: Have the UCI and organizations like ASO ever really wanted to “rejig’ the podium in any meaningful way. All the evidence would suggests not.

            There are many solutions to the current problem, but the will for change must first be there .

        • Medical phials with caps with self-sealing, rubber tops have long existed. You use a needle to extract the sample through the rubber top. The self-sealing rubber minimises the chance of contamination of the sample – the sample itself need *never* be opened. An additional cover minimises the chance of the rubber top surface being contaminated (which can also be cleaned before use anyway). Further handling processes can minimise contamination risks.

          I don’t know exactly how they do it, but the point is that processes to minimise contamination certainly exist and certainly could be specified by WADA to allow re-tests. Indeed, I’d assume they already specify them. Like I said, WADA already looked at this after the Armstrong ’05 EPO re-test fiasco.

          • Paul, what you say is true but there are others factors. To test one sample multiple times means it undergoes multiple freeze/thaw cycles. This can have a significant effect on sample stability. Also some tests require more sample volume than others meaning after a round of tests there may not be enough left.

          • If that’s an issue, then divide the initial sample up into multiple, test-sized sub-samples before the first cold store. When you re-test, you obviously take just one of these sub-samples, leaving the rest undisturbed.

  5. This removes all doubt for me: McQuaid almost certainly is a simpleton. He’s lacking even that basic level of intellect that’d clearly tell you that “no future re-testing” would send a “if there’s no test for it today, then dope away” signal to riders. The only other alternative is that he is actively on the side of doping in cycling, and is purposively enabling it, but if so then he’s still a simpleton for being so amazingly obvious about it.

    Pat McQuaid is a simpleton. A slick-talking, glad-handing one perhaps, but still a simpleton.

    • And he even lacks the intellect to first discuss these things with any of the less cerebrally-challenged colleagues he has at the UCI (they certainly exist), and at least work out a plausible message before shooting his mouth off.

  6. Welcome back

    Yes, to answer your question Mr Inring.

    We all agree that some type of measures should be taken to help assure that cycling competition is as clean as reasonable possible.

    All pro sports governing bodies, MLB, NFL, FIFA, and UCI explain away lax self-governance until such time as they have to address the obvious lack of doping rules and processes. I think that we should not hold harmless the teams themselves.

    Lets try this ////
    If a Worldtour team has two different riders podium and subsequently test positive for illegal substance in a single year the next year the team will be relegated to next lower level of competition i.e. Pro-conti for two years.

    Lets let the guys who sign the riders checks be responsible for a change. We know that the riders can’t police themselves, and the governing bodies UCI or whom ever will not be proactive.

    What doth you all think?

    • I like extending the sanctions to the team. When people’s livelihoods are affected by fellow cheater Omerta would die fast. By the way, this happens in other competitions: some team sports vacate/suspend whole teams if one member is found doping.


      I’m not sure if relegation is the proper choice, but I’d consider it for discussion. Maybe a temporary suspension? One of the issues with this alternative is that Pro-Conti teams still get invites to the top events, so it might not automatically result in punishment at atll.

      • Cycling tried this in that if a team got three anti-doping cases in a year then it would be suspended from the World Tour. Only when Lampre got the three in a season nothing happened.

        I’m not sure about these team punishments, they are a form of collective punishment where innocent riders can pay the price for the those who are cheating. Imagine you ride for a team with five guys who have secretly decided to dope. Three get caught and your team is suspended, you can’t race and you soon lose your job.

        Note the team suspension is back on the agenda with the MPCC group of teams. But given the UCI didn’t enforce its own rules, it’ll be interesting to see if a team suspends itself after signing up to the MPCC’s own voluntary code of conduct. I’d be amazed if it happened.

        • Then riders who are clean would start to take into account what they know or hear about other riders when they decide whether or not to join a team.

          It might seem like collective punishment is unfair, but the team organisation has the greatest amount of power in the sport over the behaviour of riders. They have contracts with them, they have the power to institute team anti-doping procedures, to monitor riders regularly, to sanction them in much more fine-grained ways than the heavy hammer of ADA processes.

          If the teams face no sanctions, then the most potentially-capable agents in anti-doping have much less incentive to do anything. If you think collective punishment of the riders in a team is unfair, then consider the alternative: the collective punishment of *all riders in the *sport**, because doping remains a significant problem, because they then are under pressure to dope to get results, because the remaining clean ones are tarnished with the same dirty brush in the eyes of the public.

          The continuing collective punishment of the sport by not sanctioning teams is much worse than any collective punishment of a team.

        • There are codes within elite army squads where the whole group is punished for the actions of one mistake or performance and this makes the group/team work more efficiently to look after one another because their lives depend on each other this work ethic can also apply in all forms of interaction cycling as well.

  7. I don’t think anti-doping is only about “busting cheats”, no matter how, no matter when, no matter what for. Cheating and getting away with it is part of each and every sport, game or competition that has rules. We might end up with no road cycling to speak of. Sure, the “cheats” will be the only ones to blame, but who’ll care then? Retrospective testing is ok, but within a time limit, like one year. You don’t leave football results open forever to retrospective video reconsideration of refereeing mistakes.

    It’s also not bad for riders to know in advance what they will be tested for and by what methods. What doesn’t make sense in my mind is to ban something you cannot trace with the existing technology. A message to WADA: wait before banning, until you’ve developed a test.

    • I did write that “along with prevention” the anti-doping mission is to bust the cheats.

      I agree it’s awkward to go back but if you have the means to catch a cheat, for example a test for CERA, and refuse to use it then it’s odd. Especially since other sports and the IOC are deploying it.

      Either way if people are revisiting whether cycling did all it could to catch the cheats, here’s a case where it rejected the chance to lead and, believe the McQuaid quotes, because it would overturn race results.

  8. McQuaid said: “The scientists that are working on the biological passport tell me that this is the way forward and this will greatly assist us in the fight against doping.” What did the scientists say? Was it twisted by McQuaid to the conclusion that he wanted? This is a serious test of credibility. It can be verified.

  9. Beautifully put INRING , what I get so upset about with cheating in All sports is the thrill of standing on the podium with the medal around your neck and arms in the air can never be substituted for.
    To receive your rightful medal “after” the cheater is caught will never replace that euphoria
    Our drug enforcement bodies must work harder to protect all clean athletes.

  10. Nice piece! “Mr.Mars” and “The Mad Hatter” need to be removed. I don’t believe either one of them is stupid, the problem is they think everyone ELSE is stupid! They believe they can cling to power and ride this thing out as they so often have in the past. As Greg LeMond has said it’s now or never to clean up pro cycling. If it’s not done this time, the descent to the level of World Wrestling Entertainment is not far away. But perhaps these crooks can make just as much money with that?

  11. Well, as we have seen through the years Dick is about the dimmest bulb in cycling. How did that cretin become President anyway? What a schmuck!

  12. I find myself in the unique position of defending one part of what McQuaid said. If we support/allow the retesting of samples from of finishers, disqualify retroactively the “winners”, and name “new” winners, will there be a “Statute of Limitation”, or is it possible that the second new winner will also at some time in the future be subject to disqualification.

    What about the claw back of prize monies from the first, second, third winner? if those monies were distributed to teammate domestiques that were clean? Plus the bump in contract value winners benefit from? how ’bout the challenges of the rider being able to present a defense years after the fact?

    No record book could ever be written in ink, except for the (presumed) very, very few riders that truly were clean of all things, including tainted beef.

    While I at no point am condoning the use of banned substances, or methods, I do see lots of challenges in the clawback of previous winners.

    • Yes, there is an 8 year window to go back although storage issues mean reaching back so far is problematic. As for prize money, true it’s a problem but surely this argument is like saying we should not go after bank robbers after a while in case they’ve spent the loot?

      McQuaid himself raises the technical problems and challenges but the attitude seems to be rejection of the principle because it could embarrass races, rather than working to overcome the difficulties.

      Like you and McQuaid (and Touriste-Routier above) I see the difficulties too but I’d like to have seen the UCI explore them.

      • I am not sure, but convicted bank robbers go to jail, and the monies are evidence, and remains part of the crime. If a doper wins, are the spoils part of the crime? Would your analogy be more to the point if we were trying to recover the banned substance itself? however, a moot point.

        I too would enjoy the exploration of the challenge.

        The energies, and funds UCI would have to devote to the pursuit of retesting and claw back, in my opinion, would become a substantial part of their budget. Even if the number of riders in any given 8 year window remains constant, the scientific side of testing becomes more and more detailed, and the number of substances and methods used to enhance performance becomes more sophisticated AND more understood, the clamor to retest old samples can not but increase.

        I would rather support a methodology to test every tested rider’s “sample” with one generic method, that would analyze for all chemicals, compounds etc, down to some level of 1 ppm (part per million) I know this is an exaggeration, but to some low level. This may be more expensive at the outset, but there would only ever be one expense for each sample. Then we would know all things, it could be published in some data base somewhere as a historical record. Sealed for confidentially or not, authorities would already have indisputable information.

  13. Not to jump to a conclusion, but there’s a simple (albeit brutal) answer the UCI could have taken: group punishment.
    Rider tests positive? Life ban for rider, doctors, soigneurs, team management, AND EVERY OTHER RIDER ON THE TEAM.
    Think Omerta would last very long then?
    In short, by NOT having done this ages ago, the UCI was totally inadequate in its anti-doping stance, measures and outcomes.
    I would hate to see a bunch of possibly clean riders and support staff get kicked out of the sport permanently, but it would only have to happen once to break the stronghold of omerta.

    • I think if you tossed cheaters for life with an exception (2-4 years out) ONLY for 100% cooperation in ratting out everyone else involved you could clean house and get rid of the omerta pretty quickly, without penalizing the innocent parties who would get caught up in the group punishment scheme.

  14. Whether or not they put any effort into preventing doping is questionable. Whether their testing was as effective as it could have been is equally debatable; but, what summed up the sorry siutation for me was the spat with the AFLD in 2008.

    It looked pretty clear to me that the UCI was going to go to any lengths to protect itself and its position in the sport – a position that was enhanced by lots of riders doping in huge quantities and not being stupid enough to fail well-publicised protocols.

    I don’t really care if their policies were 1st class, or enforced by the letter of the policy – they just shouldn’t have been in charge the testing as their position was conflicted.

  15. thanks inrng for an excellent, well thought through article. it just highlights (again) the lack of desire by the leadership of the uci to get to the core which is the TRUTH. the solution to this shitfight can be summed up in 2 words. TRUTH and CHANGE. all the while we have some arseclown at the top of the sport who is scared of or refuses to reveal the truth, we are wasting time. we desperately need someone at the top of the sport who is not only not scared of the truth but wants to bring it all into the open, no matter how ugly it is.
    we all know that there have been dastardly deeds done in the name of commercial gains (question of course whether the commercial gains have been on behalf of ‘cycling’ or perhaps some self serving few; my vote’s for both) and now we gotta acknowledge that as a sport we will never reach our full potential until we eradicate doping and step one on that journey is to acknowledge the reality of what has happened and use this knowledge to design systems/processes/culture to prevent it from happening again.
    Pat McQuaid is the chief number one arseclown at the end of the strings being pulled by his puppetmaster Heiny Verbruggen and the sooner we cut the ties to these dubious two the better. Best way to do this? Keep yelling until we get the full attention of the IOC and the NatFeds and make sure they hear us in full
    love ya work

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