News Feature, February 23, 2008
UCI president Pat McQuaid was present for the stage five time trial at the Tour of California, and attended the post-stage press conference. While he was first asked about the racing in California, the ongoing fight between the UCI and ASO was the hot topic. The most recent development, the exclusion of Astana from RCS events such as Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo and the Giro d'Italia, was put to McQuaid for reaction. And McQuaid responded that he understood the decision rationale of the RCS because they did not single out Astana like the ASO did in the exclusion from the Tour de France.
"I would say that the RCS has the authority to exclude Astana because the rules of participation of the RCS event are different than the rules of participation of the Tour de France," he said. "Last September the AIGCP had a meeting, during the meeting, the teams asked that the UCI put in a rule that the 18 teams of the ProTour be invited to participate in the Tour de France. That then went to the Professional Cycling Council. It was discussed and approved. It then went to the UCI management committee, it was discussed and approved. I think you will agree that is a fairly democratic process."
"The ASO refused to accept that," McQuaid continued. "The others were free to invite who they wish. RCS did not invite four teams into the Giro and I think that was unfortunate because those races should want the best teams in the world to give their races credibility. What has happened really proves to me that we need participation rules and organizers need to respect participation rules."
McQuaid's main beef with the ASO at the moment is that there is no apparent rubric behind their exclusion of Astana. "The [ASO] decision is not consistent," he said. "I think it is a completely unjust decision, and it is not consistent because if they say that Astana damaged the Tour de France last year, and therefore the Astana team should not be invited to the Tour de France this year, several teams... I don't want to name names... damaged the Tour de France last year. So several teams should have been excluded from the Tour de France this year."
McQuaid made it clear that he and the UCI are completely against the ASO's exclusion of Astana. "The people who made this decision are not cyclists and have never been cyclists," he said. "They don't understand that since Levi stood on the podium of the Tour de France last July, every waking minute since then he has thought about getting back on the podium in a higher position this July. They don't understand what it is to do that. They don't understand the effort and the work and dreams and how much it occupied your whole life - not only for Levi but for Contador as well. It is completely wrong - it is unsporting and against fair play."
McQuaid also pointed out the difference between the Astana of this year and the one that damaged the Tour last year. "It is a collective punishment against riders, which is wrong," he said. "And it is particularly wrong because it is a collective punishment against riders who had nothing to do with the Astana team of last year. The Astana team this year is under completely different management, completely new group of riders. They have brought in the Damsgaard anti-doping program they are involved in the biological passport, so from that point of view the Astana team is on the same level as the other seventeen teams of the ProTour."
McQuaid was then asked how the decision by the promoters of the Tour of California, AEG, to exclude three Rock Racing riders - Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla, Santiago Botero - differed from the ASO exclusion. McQuaid stood behind the decision.
"AEG signed a contract with all of the teams that they wouldn't put in riders who were under investigation and in relation to the riders involved in Operacion Puerto, it could be maintained that they are riders under investigation. What AEG did is they don't want any riders in the race who are involved in a doping investigation. Organizers certainly have the right to not have blemishes and doping in the race. When I say the ASO is inconsistent, with four other teams in the Tour de France, I can go along with it. But they didn't do that. They singled out one team."
Returning to the particulars of the ASO decision, McQuaid was asked if Contador's involvement with Operacion Puerto qualified the ASO decision. "Contador is not under investigation," he replied. "There are several riders mentioned in the document, but it doesn't mean they are involved in an anti-doping investigation."
"That investigation was opened by the UCI providing their federations with files in which there was evidence that the UCI thought they were involved in an anti-doping violation. Those files have not been closed because the judge did not allow us to use the information for a sports disciplinary procudure. Now with the re-opening of Operacion Puerto we can get to the end of the investigation and the riders will get sanctioned or whatever it might be."
McQuaid vowed to fight the ASO until the defending Tour champion and third place are allowed to start. "We will insist our regulations are adhered to. If we have even one dissident organizer in our realm, we have to insist that our rules our followed. The decision was not made with any justification. It was an arbitrary, subjective decision - a decision made for reasons other than sporting reasons. What I can say is that the UCI will fight this decision until the first of July, in whatever means and whatever way we can."
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