Allegations of corruption, a stand-off with anti-doping organisations and a lack of understanding over the severity of the Armstrong case – just when will the sport's leaders wake up?
Out-played and outclassed, first by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and then the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), in a spate of publicly leaked letters, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has found itself outnumbered, out-gunned and now out-thought. Their arguments surrounding jurisdiction have fallen down at the first hurdle, their case diluted by first their vilification of Floyd Landis's whistle-blowing and then by Hein Verbruggen's unwavering support of Armstrong with his ‘never, never doped' lingo. If U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks finds against them and grants USADA the rope they need then cycling's governing body will find itself on the outside looking in as the biggest anti-doping case in the sport's history is decided upon. Not only that but its reputation - according to WADA's David Howman - will be further diminished.
But the question that remains unanswered is why the UCI is behaving in such a manner? Why go to these desperate lengths when in the cases of Landis's allegations, Valverde's dodgy blood and the lesser known case of Phil Zajicek's credit card statements, they stood back and allowed the national anti-doping federations to exercise complete control? What's the difference now? If Hein Verbruggen is so sure that Lance Armstrong is the poster boy of clean cycling, then why the need for control?
Part of the issue lies with the evidence USADA has amassed, but more specifically in the fact that USADA named the UCI in their opening letters to the accused and cited the alleged cover up a positive test from an edition of the Tour de Suisse. The UCI has always denied the allegations but such gravitas has not been seen in the sport before and the UCI needs to wake up. Fast.
McQuaid, for all his back-pedalling over USADA's case (remember he first stated that it was a US matter), has and even still has the chance to correct matters. However, at a press conference convened at the Olympic Games in London, he chose to focus on the matter of jurisdiction, aiming both barrels at USADA and WADA, the latter he accused of having a vendetta against cycling for over a decade.
"Historically over the last 10 to 15 years there has been a political campaign against cycling by senior people within WADA and I don't think that's acceptable," McQuaid told the press.
The President went on, stating correctly that any hearing or court ruling should be conducted fairly, with transparency and justice forming cornerstones of any judgement. But if the UCI is part of USADA's evidence then there is little they can ask for, and little has been given. Similarly, USADA is unlikely to hand over evidence in which individuals have cut deals for admitting their doping pasts just to see a UCI suspension slapped on them. Why would rider X co-operate under such uncertainty?
"There's a lot in those letters that's making statements without anyone knowing the facts," said McQuaid. "If they have evidence they should share it with the UCI and ask us our opinion. It's very easy to take statements from people and put them into a charge and say that it's evidence. The UCI has nothing to fear in relation to samples going under the counter because it's never happened. A lot of what I've heard over the years are statements coming from Landis and Hamilton which are hearsay about statements made out on the bike in training. That's all it is. The facts that show that that evidence is not there.
"This affair is a trial in the court of public opinion and that's not fair or just. I'm in no way trying to save Lance Armstrong's skin, in any way. The question at stake is that the authority of the UCI as an international federation and my colleagues by what is going on here with USADA and the support of WADA."