News feature, May 30, 2006
As the Spanish police investigation into doping in cycling has unfolded, the UCI has remained largely quiet. UCI President Pat McQuaid and ProTour manager Alain Rumpf broke their silence in Milan on the final day of the 2006 Giro d'Italia. Airing their concern over the events in Spain, two of cycling's head honchos were keen to inform the press of their hope to resolve the problems for the good of the sport. But both say they are officially still in the dark about what's happening and therefore unable to take action. Anthony Tan asks: If not now, when?
A few hours before the conclusion of the final stage of the Giro d'Italia, UCI president Pat McQuaid told the press that cycling's governing body lacks the necessary evidence to sanction any of the five people involved in the anti-doping investigation performed by the Unidad Centro Operativo in Madrid, codenamed 'Operacion Puerto'.
"I have to say for myself, as president of the UCI, the UCI board of management, and the UCI itself, I am saddened by the events coming out of Spain, and I'm also very angry about what we hear coming out of Spain," McQuaid said.
"If we have the evidence, you can be sure, on Manolo, on everybody, we will act accordingly." - UCI President Pat McQuaid says that should evidence be found linking Liberty Seguros manager Manolo Saiz to the current investigation by the Spanish civil authorities, then they will suspend him
"At this point in time, although I have had contact with the Minister of Sport's office in Madrid, we don't know any more than what most of you already know. We only know the media reports; we have been told that information will be coming to us in the coming days and weeks, and we will be following up contact with the authorities in Spain for that information."
"We have no definite information or proof of information that would enable us to make any particular decisions as of today," he added.
However, what has been reported so far, should it be true, is very incriminating indeed.
Since Operacion Puerto began on May 23, the Unidad Centro Operativo (UCO) is said to have in its possession:
- €60.000 in UE currency and Swiss Francs, which Liberty Seguros-Würth team manager Manolo Saiz was reported to have in his possession at the time of his initial arrest;
- Four months' worth of telephone, photographic and video evidence, showing athletes entering and leaving the apartments of former Kelme doctor Eufemiano Fuentes in Madrid, where approximately a thousand doses of anabolic steroids and hormones were seized, along with two hundred packets of blood, products to manipulate it, machines to freeze it and material to perform transfusions;
- A list with 200 Spanish and non-Spanish sportspeople's names linked to doping practices.
"We must assume innocence until such time a person is proven guilty," said McQuaid, "and I would just like to remind you that we have two processes: we have a process through the anti-doping commission of the UCI, which is an independent body; and we likewise have a process through the licence commission of the UCI, which is also an independent body - but we cannot really explain or answer questions in relation to the details of those processes.
"At this stage, we must ensure everything is done in a right and proper fashion, because we did have an experience in the past, for example in the Hamilton affair, where people made statements in relation to Hamilton and Hamilton's lawyers were very quick to try and use that in his defence.
"The purpose of us coming today is to inform you that the UCI is in contact with the authorities, will continue to be in contact with the authorities, and we will give them every co-operation they require; and hopefully, we can resolve this process."
At this point in time, McQuaid says the authorities in Spain have not asked the UCI for anything specific, despite reading reports that he would be contacted. The UCI president also repeated he wants due process to be followed, and as quickly as possible.
However, one would think asking the Spanish authorities for a copy of the police report would be a logical first step in resolving some of the issues surrounding Saiz's arrest, since questions regarding his continued involvement as a team manager and one of two representatives on the UCI ProTour council (the other being Quick.Step's Patrick Lefevere) are now being raised.
Said McQuaid: "If we have the evidence, then it means Manolo [Saiz] should be suspended; at the moment, as I've said, we don't have anything concrete, other than what we read in the paper - and we haven't presumed guilt until such time as we receive that. If we have the evidence, you can be sure, on Manolo, on everybody, we will act accordingly."
What about the riders?
Alain Rumpf, the UCI's ProTour manager, was also on hand for questions pertaining to UCI ProTour regulations in relation to Liberty Seguros-Würth's ProTour licence under the current situation, and also how the situation affects the riders.
"First of all, we don't have any official confirmation of this news," Rumpf told Cyclingnews about the team's primary sponsor choosing to honour its agreement with riders' contracts, despite withdrawing their sponsorship money.
"We've heard that, but here we have two scenarios. One, the sponsor is continuing its obligations, and therefore allows the team to continue their activity, and unless the [UCI ProTour] licence commission withdraws their licence, the team will continue their activities. Now, if the team is not capable of fulfilling its obligations, we have another situation, and we have a provision at the UCI that may allow the rider to withdraw his contract and negotiate with another team. [In regards to the latter scenario], there are some conditions, but that is the basic principle."
The question then is, with just 30 percent of a €10 million a year budget to play with, how much longer can a team that employs 52 people - including 29 riders - go on?
McQuaid was also asked how long he expects it to take before the case is resolved, but without knowing any more than the journalists before him, how could he answer that?
"It's very difficult to say, because we don't have the information, other than what we read in the paper," he said. "If what we read in the paper is true, there's going to have to be a certain period of time before all the information is assessed, but I wouldn't like to put a figure of 30 or 40 days on it.
The ProTour is working
With greater competition, television ratings up, more newspapers being sold, a bigger international flavour, and a hugely popular winner at the 2006 Giro d'Italia, the UCI president could take some comfort in his predecessor Hein Verbruggen's parting plan: the ProTour.
"We've had an excellent classic series of races; we had new, young riders winning most of the races. And we we've had the Giro, which has had superb competition from day one, and equals if not improves on last year's Giro, and from our point of view, from a sporting context, we're very happy where the ProTour's gone," McQuaid was happy to say.
"Privately, I was on the Giro a week or ten days ago, and I sat with Angelo Zomegnan; I said to him he has in his hands, the capability of making an absolutely huge race from the Giro, and I think in the coming years, he will achieve that."
McQuaid finished by saying: "All the UCI can deal with is the sporting aspect. The UCI has a very strong set of regulations; certainly since 1998, our regulations have been improved and tightened up, and we are completely in line with the WADA anti-doping code.
"Anything we can do to eradicate doping in our sport, we will do. And if means we have to suffer to do that, then we will suffer."
April 2, 2009 - Valverde indignant over possible suspension
April 1, 2009 - Valverde: Italy requests two-year suspension
March 13, 2009 - Le Monde newspaper hit with fine over Puerto allegations
March 2, 2009 - WADA president Fahey asks for Puerto evidence
February 24, 2009 - Spanish federation seeks access to Puerto blood bags
February 20, 2009 - CONI considers Valverde case while UCI awaits verdict
February 19, 2009 - Valverde under criminal investigation
February 11, 2009 - Valverde summonsed for Operación Puerto in Italy
February 8, 2009 - Eight charged in Operación Puerto