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Pat McQuaid was on hand in Wevelgem.
Four year bans could become a reality
The International Cycling Union is currently exploring the possibility of instituting new rules to discourage doping by hitting people in the sport where it hurts most: their wallet.
One idea would make riders coming back from sanctions less attractive by disallowing them from accumulating any points towards the UCI's team sporting ranking for a to-be-determined period following a ban. The rankings determine which teams enter into the sport's top division.
A second propsal would be to prevent those who have served doping bans from coming back into the sport in their post-racing careers.
The first idea was presented at the meeting of the professional cycling council (PCC) by former Credit Agricole manager Roger Legeay, and was accepted for consideration by the UCI's management committee.
If implemented, it would have an impact on any team which took on riders such as Alejandro Valverde, who stand to do well upon their return, making them less attractive as new recruits.
The second idea is still being examined, according to UCI president Pat McQuaid; he clarified the new rule would not be applied retroactively to those currently in director, management or staff positions in the professional peloton however, although the involvement in the sport of any rider who tests positive and serves a suspension would stop at the end of their racing career.
"We're studying it to see if we can legally put this in the rules," McQuaid told Cyclingnews. "It's still being examined, but we know we can't apply this retroactively. There are guys currently in the sport, as we know, who are admitted dopers. But we can't do anything about them now."
The new rule could prevent former ONCE and Liberty Seguros team manager Manolo Saiz, who was implicated in the Operación Puerto doping affair, from making his desired comeback to the sport. However, it would not affect Saxo Bank manager Bjarne Riis, who admitted to using EPO during his career, nor to Leopard Trek's Kim Andersen, who tested positive multiple times during his career (stimulants norephidrine and amineptine, and testosterone from 1985-1992).
However, once instituted it could allow the UCI to block teams from hiring the 'ethically challenged'. "If any person licensed by the UCI as team staff were to be implicated in a doping affair or were caught by the police for trafficking for example, they would no longer be welcome in the world of cycling.
"It's a message the cyclists need to hear that if they ever fancy becoming directeur sportif or staying in cycling after their career, then they better stay out of doping."
However, the regulation can only apply to those who are licensed by the UCI to work within the teams, although lawyers must examine the rule to determine whether it violates existing labour laws in various countries.
Four year bans could become reality
McQuaid has also advocated for enacting an existing clause in the World Anti-doping Agency's code that allows for four-year bans. It has been in place since the last revision of the code, but has yet to be instituted despite several high-profile doping cases.
"The rules make it difficult not just for cycling but for all international federations - because the rules that allow for four year bans are in the case for "aggravated circumstances". A lot of international federations have difficulty understanding what's meant by that phrase."
The clause is meant to allow for extended bans for athletes involved in trafficking or other egregious doping offences. McQuaid said that WADA is currently looking at clarifying the language of the code in the revision of the code in 2013.
While the UCI is bound by its own rules and those of the WADA code, McQuaid said that teams could go further to make it more difficult for those who have served doping bans from coming back.
"We're limited because we have to follow the rules. The rules state that if an athlete is sanctioned and serves his time, he's allowed back into the sport. As a international federation we have to accept and understand that. I do believe the teams can go further than that. They did have an internal code some years ago, and it got broken, but I do believe they can go further by not taking these athletes."
Following the Operación Puerto affair, most of the ProTour teams instituted an ethical code where they would refuse to hire riders who were currently under investigation for doping, but the Discovery Channel team broke from the agreement by hiring Ivan Basso after he was cleared of implication in Operación Puerto. They later released him from his contract him following his confession to his involvement, but he was quickly signed by the Liquigas team after serving a ban.
When asked if he agreed with the current provision in the WADA code which allows for reduced bans for athletes who test positive, but then provide information to the authorities about others involved in doping activities, McQuaid said he did agree with the rule.
"Doping isn't an individual activity, it's done by a circle of people. If you can give assistance to authorities to catch those rings and get those guys put behind bars - in some countries you can get prison sentences for providing drugs to athletes - if you can do that then I do agree that certain sanctions can be reduced because it furthers the fight against doping.
"The regulations do state what kind of information [it must be], and how valuable that information needs to be, but the fans don't always get that information," McQuaid continued. "That's given to the authorities to deal with and they eventually put guys in prison but we don't know about it. But I can see how fans find that difficult to support."
There have also been some who have advocated for instituting a rule requiring a psychological assessment of riders before they return from a ban to determine if they were at risk of repeat offences.
"That's something that could be looked at, it's something that's been suggested to me. Our medical and anti-doping experts will look at that. At the end of the day we can only go by the regulations," McQuaid said.