By Shane Stokes
Contacted by Cyclingnews today at the UCI offices in Aigle, Switzerland, UCI president Pat McQuaid has said that he is "saddened, but not surprised" by what has happened today at the Tour de France.
"I’m sad that some of our top riders find themselves implicated in a doping affair but, on the other hand, if they are eventually proven guilty, then cycling is better off without them – we must insist on a clean sport," he stated.
"This development is not a shock, because it is something that we knew was coming. We have known about this affair for several weeks, I have been down in Madrid and spoken to the Spanish minister. We have had indications as to who is going to be involved, and now we have the actual facts.
"Now it is a question of clearing up the sport. There have been some courageous decisions taken by T-Mobile to exclude their riders and likewise there were courageous decisions taken by the teams today to exclude any rider involved on the list of names which has emerged. It is on the basis of the code of ethics of the UCI ProTour that they are excluding the riders."
McQuaid did underline the need for caution until further facts emerge. "No riders have been sacked, they have all been suspended until this affair is over."
"I have to stress that everything we are dealing with at the moment is allegations. Everybody is innocent at the moment, until we go through a process which proves them guilty. That has got to be stated. These riders that are being sent home from the Tour de France today are being sent home on the presumption of innocence, but because their name is implicated in this report, they have been suspended. They have not been fired, they will continue to get paid, they have been suspended."
However, he says that if they riders concerned are found guilty, they deserve to be punished. "From the sport's point of view and the Tour de France’s point of view, it is a disaster that such big names are going out of the race…. But if these allegations are eventually found to be true, it means that we lose these guys out of the sport. At that point in time, I won't really have much sympathy for them.
"Anybody that gets involved in doping will be found out and will be thrown out from cycling. We have the strictest rules of all sports as it is, in relation to the sanctions, and in the ProTour if any of these riders are eventually proved guilty, you could virtually say that their career is over. They will not just get the two years of the Wada code, they will also get two years extra out of the ProTour. So they are facing a four-year sentence out of the sport, that effectively will finish their careers.…
"This is hard for cycling, but I have to look at the positive side. It has to be a message to all the other riders in there that no matter how clever you think you are, you will eventually get caught out."
McQuaid also says that harsh penalties will also await any manager who is found to have encouraged systematic doping within their teams. When asked if they could face longer bans, he agreed. "Yes, you could take them out of the sport for good. We have that rule currently in there, as far as I know, and if through the information we are getting me find out that that has been happening, you can be sure that the managers involved will not be involved in cycling any more."
As to the rumoured involvement of other sports, McQuaid says that he believes more details about this will come out in time. "You must bear in mind also that this isn't just a problem of cycling. We have got this list from the authorities in Spain because we forced the issues; pressure came from the UCI and the French Ministry as well that we wanted this list before the Tour de France. There are other sports people from other sports involved this affair as well, and in time their names will also come out... I have been told that athletics, basketball, tennis and football are involved in this. Those details will all emerge over time."
A full interview with Pat McQuaid will appear on Cyclingnews later today.
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