Biological passport still evolving
On the eve of the 2012 Olympic Games, UCI president Pat McQuaid sat down with members of the press to discuss the glowing state of British Cycling following the Tour de France victory of Bradley Wiggins, the honour with which Mark Cavendish has held the rainbow jersey, the high hopes the UCI has for these Games, and the future of the sport's Olympic programme. But there was a huge elephant standing in the middle of the room in the form of the US Anti-Doping Agency's doping procedures against cycling's most celebrated athlete, Lance Armstrong, and his managers, doctors and trainers.
The UCI is currently planning its quest to fight for more Olympic medal events for cycling at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio - a process which begins straight after these Games and continues on for a year. At the same time there are outside forces pushing for the elimination of an entire sport from the Olympic programme to make room for more participants and more medal events in existing sports. With a high profile doping and conspiracy case against cycling's most well-known figures, could the other sporting federations exact pressure on the IOC to boot cycling out of the Games?
Cyclingnews sat down one-on-one for a brief period with McQuaid to discuss the issues, and we wish to present his responses in full.
Cyclingnews: Because I'm with Cyclingnews and it's my job to be a downer, I would like you to comment on an article in the New York Daily News (by Nathaniel Vinton), who wrote, "If USADA’s case against Armstrong is valid, then professional cycling has been the victim of breathtaking corruption", bigger than any other sport. If USADA can prove its case, how does that impact the UCI, cycling in the Olympics - if a sport is going to get voted out of the Games in Rio...
Pat McQuaid: First of all, I have said and the UCI said they won't comment on the Armstrong case until it's over.
Secondly, to give you a brief comment on what you just said, it's not going to have any effect on cycling. If guys are beating the system, they're beating WADA's system, they're beating the controls. The UCI can't do anything about that. We don't control the laboratories and what they can and cannot test for, it's WADA that controls all that. If there are cyclists beating controls, then there are athletes from other sports beating the controls. We saw that with Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery. You can't therefore blame that on the UCI or on the sport of cycling.
CN: How does the UCI take such pride in being at the forefront of anti-doping technology with the biological passport and then push all of that back on WADA?
PM: I'm not pushing that on WADA but we can only work within the system that's there. We have the best system that's there today, and that's the biological passport. We were working with the best system we had at the time in the '80s and '90s and the '60s and '70s. The UCI has always been in the forefront in the fight against doping. It was the first entity to introduce blood tests, the first sport to introduce the test for EPO, so you cannot blame the UCI or the sport of cycling on the fact that there may be guys out there - I'm saying may be, because I'm not going to talk about any specific allegations against any specific individuals or any current cases - if there are guys out there beating the system, then the system has to improve to catch them. And I think with the biological passport we have improved the system dramatically, and it's acting as a very strong deterrent.
It's not a panacea, and we've said it's not a panacea, it's not going to change that. It's acting as a strong deterrent and it is one element in the fight against doping among many other elements, all of which means in my mind the fight against doping is much more advanced now than it has been ever. And that in the long term, what we are trying to do, what I am trying to do and the UCI is trying to do, is to change a culture, change what has been a doping culture in our sport that goes back a long time. I do believe we're in the process of changing that culture, and I do believe the next generation of cyclists and the generation beyond them will come into a sport which has a different culture than it has in the past.
CN: You mentioned before that you have analysis from your experts through the biological passport that the sport is, I'm not going to say clean, but promising. What kind of indicators do you see?
PM: That's a medical question, I'm not well versed in the medical aspects of the parameters, but there are levels of different things in the blood before races, during and after races - I've seen graphs by our doctors of the diminishing of levels over a period of years which shows that the peloton's levels are more normal in the parameters that they measure than before.
CN: That does seem to indicate that in the past there have been more riders with suspicious values. I know you've mentioned in the past that the UCI was looking at a number of riders with suspect values but only a small handful of cases have ever gone to suspension through the biological passport.
PM: It's no use having a suspicious value - you can do nothing with that except target test. You cannot declare a positive on a suspicious value. With the traditional tests where a machine says negative or positive, if the machine says negative, we have to accept that. If the machine says positive, then we open a procedure. If you're looking at the passport, it's a different system, you're looking at experts, and experts have to agree whether we open up a procedure or not, and it's a long process before we get to that stage.
Our process is overseen by WADA. It's not a question that we could see an athlete who is a star and we shouldn't be opening a procedure against him, we can't do that. We don't have that choice and we don't want that choice. Whoever it is, if he deserves to have a procedure opened against him, he will get it.
CN: So are you satisfied with the number of cases which have actually gone through the passport system to suspension or do you think there can be either improvements or stricter parameters?
PM: We're satisfied for where the passport is at the moment, we're satisfied with the numbers that have gone through. The passport is a living organism, so to speak, which is constantly being developed, We're constantly understanding more, and it could be that in the future that we can take (inaudible) ... it's all down to the experts and what they read into the passport. As it develops, and we can work with WADA to develop it so that it gives us more certainty in opening procedures, then more the better.