News feature: January 20, 2007
Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes talks to UCI President Pat McQuaid about recent Pereiro allegations, his belief that the rider and his team could have acted more professionally, and the proposed new WADA doping code revisions.
UCI President Pat McQuaid has strongly criticised the French anti-doping agency AFLD and the Le Monde newspaper over their suggestions that Tour de France runner-up Oscar Pereiro doped during the Tour de France.
On ThursdayLe Monde said that Pereiro had twice provided urine samples containing traces of the controlled substance salbutamol. The Spanish rider has a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) permitting him to use Ventolin to treat this, but according to the Le Monde story, he hasn't provided sufficient proof to show he needs this.
In a press conference, his personal allergist, Dr. Luis Sands, stated that Pereiro suffers from "moderate" asthma and denied that the usual dosage of medication could give a positive test. McQuaid also said that the rider's condition was genuine.
"There is no way he can be considered positive. He is an asthmatic, he has all the medical backup to show that he has been an asthmatic... . That should be the end of it." - The UCI's Pat McQuaid on recent news about Pereiro
"It is a completely ridiculous situation and is typical of the AFLD, the French anti-doping agency," the Irishman told Cyclingnews on Friday. "Everyone in the sport accepts the WADA rules [regarding standards for TUE's], but they go off and do their own thing. It is typical. There is no way he can be considered positive. He is an asthmatic, he has all the medical backup to show that he has been an asthmatic, and I believe he has now sent that to the AFLD. That should be the end of it.
"It is scandalous reporting on the part of Le Monde to put down that Oscar Pereiro was positive. He was not positive. He uses Ventolin to treat asthma, as many people do. It is not a doping product or anything like that."
Pereiro stands to be crowned Tour de France winner if it is proven that Floyd Landis was guilty of testosterone use. That hearing is due to take place sometime in spring or early summer.
Since taking up office in September 2005, McQuaid has taken a harder public stance against doping than his predecessor Hein Verbruggen. He has been outspoken about the need for a cleaner sport and stated on several occasions that if it is proved that the riders implicated in Operación Puerto are guilty, that the UCI will push hard for them to receive long suspensions. The UCI are working on an audit of the sport and are thought to be planning to introduce a new battery of anti-doping tests.
He said however that he is satisfied Pereiro is innocent and the story should never have been published. "Le Monde had that knowledge [that he has a valid TUE], they were fully aware of it, but went and made a big story out of it nonetheless. That damages cycling and is completely unethical reporting. The thing is, it will probably die down soon, and nothing more will be heard about it."
"If someone has a TUE then it is not a positive. The papers sometimes quote that a certain number of riders are positive, but then only later say that they had a TUE. We aren't bending medical science in accepting these.. the person has to see a doctor, or rather a specialist, in order to get one. The judgement [on giving a TUE] has to come from them in these cases, and you have to accept that. We cannot overrule that. So this kind of story is carrying things on too far."
Apart from feeling that the thrust of the article was unfounded, McQuaid also said that it was inaccurate. "The paper were [sic] wrong to say that the AFLD were waiting for information from the UCI. We supplied them with the TUE information back in August and they have not communicated with us since."
Lack of professionalism
While he is clearly unhappy with the AFLD and Le Monde, McQuaid also states that the Spaniard and Caisse d'Epargne are not blameless. "The UCI is also annoyed with the rider and the team, in that they got a letter from the AFLD last November and didn't respond. The rider was the one who received it, and he should have responded, but likewise the team should have had more control over the situation and should have been aware of the fact that he had the TUE. This wasn't the first time that the AFLD have done this. They do this every year.
"The team was aware of the situation and should have been more professional in dealing with it. This is damaging to cycling as it creates the wrong impression.
"Again, it is cycling that they [the AFLD and Le Monde] have hit at. There are lots of other sportsmen who have TUE's as well. Why don't they go after them and say that they are all positive? But they don't."
WADA code gets thumbs up
McQuaid concluded by talking about the proposed changes to the WADA code. He is broadly in favour with these, saying that it will help those who inadvertently made mistakes while also giving scope for greater sanctions for deliberate drug users
"The UCI are very happy with the proposed revisions," he stated. "The WADA code is now coming more in line with what the UCI has always said, in terms of looking for more flexibility. We have always maintained this should have been there in the past.
"The WADA people were in the UCI offices, and we spent a day with them going through it. We have now gone back them with comments. But it is step in the right direction, and we are a lot happier with it."
Conversely, he is also happier with the provision for longer suspensions. "The UCI would be," he said when asked about the suspensions. "If riders are involved in real doping, then they shouldn't be in the sport. They should get a long ban. But at least the proposed changes brings flexibility in it for guys who made a mistake through something quite simple and ordinary."
On Friday, McQuaid was quoted as saying he believed that cycling's place in the Olympics would be under threat if there were more serious scandals. "I think that is possible, yes. I haven't been told anything official by the IOC. It is my own assumption. I have been operating with the IOC, dealing with them.it is a realistic guess."
Fortunately, he believes that there is a climate of change. On the 13th of this month he attended the T-Mobile launch and liked what he saw and heard there. "We feel what teams like that are doing is the way forward. T-Mobile have now got a very young team, they are working with them and bringing them on in the right way. That is great and I think that is going to be the way forward for teams in the future..taking young riders and developing them in line with a new philosophy."