Cookson on Armstrong's data and the UCI's hunt for credibility

British Cycling president and UCI management committee member Brian Cookson has reiterated that any investigation into cycling’s past must be sanctioned and backed by WADA. Cookson, who has been previously been mooted as a potential candidate for the UCI presidency has also reacted to the news that the UCI biological passport panel never analyzed Lance Armstrong’s data after May 2009.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of restoring credibility to a number of the bodies involved in the sport,” Cookson told Cyclingnews.

“Cycling can hold its head up in that it’s generally leading the way in the fight against doping, I believe. Other sports are going to go through this process in the next few years. The media are starting to understand that this isn’t just an issue with cycling. WADA are too.”

The UCI has faced a barrage of criticism in recent months. The USADA’s Reasoned Decision, coupled with the UCI’s dogged resistance to investigate the past has weakened the body’s credibility, with accusations of corruption and collusion rife. The situation has worsened in recent weeks with former UCI President Hein Verbruggen confirming that riders were often tipped off if they were close to testing positive. Verbruggen currently serves as the honorary president of the UCI.

However, the UCI’s current president, Pat McQuaid, has taken the most flak. As Verbruggen’s successor, he has overseen a number of important changes in the sport, including the globalisation of cycling and the introduction of the biological passport – a programme that cycling pioneered with the backing of WADA. That work has been overshadowed by the case against Armstrong, however, and not helped by the UCI’s refusal to cooperate. The dissolution of an independent commission that the UCI had set up intentionally to investigate allegations of corruption was another embarrassment .

McQuaid has stated his intention to stand for a third term as president with elections later this year, but there are rumblings that all is not well within the UCI and that new candidates may appear before September’s election. Cookson has been quick to distance himself from any speculation, stating that the UCI currently needs unity.

“The public confidence in the UCI has taken a number of knocks in recent months and we need to do a lot of work to restore that,” Cookson acknowledged.

“I think McQuaid has being doing a good job in many ways and he has my support. Pat is showing all the signs of wanting to continue. There are number of months until the election. If there are other candidates, we need to see who they are and so on. At the moment, I think he’s been doing a good job. There have been a number of knocks and controversies. I think we can improve the performance of the UCI in a number or areas but Pat has faced a lot of unfair criticism too.”

One way in which the UCI is attempting to restore faith is by setting up a new investigation tasked with delivering a form of truth and reconciliation. Any such plans will need the backing of WADA – something that the original commission sorely missed.

“We’re absolutely convinced that we need to carry on the fight against doping. The feeling amongst the management committee is that we’re making good progress in comparison to other sports, something that we’re not given credit for, but there’s a lot of work still to be done and we need to make sure we move forward in the right sort of way.

“We’ve got to look at all of these issues and have a proper investigation that satisfies all our other partners and stakeholders, including WADA. That’s why we want a system that is appropriate and acceptable to WADA because if they don’t accept it then I think it’s never going to be accepted by the wider world either.

“The problem with the first commission was that it clearly failed to gain the credibility and support of WADA and without that, it was a waste of time, so it’s back to the drawing board really."

“In terms of looking backwards, frankly we know most of what went on. We know most of the riders and what they did. Most have been caught and sanctioned one way or another over the years. But let's have a look and try and get things out in the open so we can get to the point where stakeholders and fans can trust the integrity of those governing the sport. We need to investigate accusations of collusion from the past. We need to do that quickly and effectively.”

Armstrong’s passport checks

In the last few days the UCI has been hit by more negative comments with Michael Ashenden criticising the passport programme and the UCI’s management of the doping situation during the American’s comeback. Ashenden had originally claimed that during his service on the passport panel he had never analyzed Armstrong’s data. The UCI quickly responded, proving that Ashenden had seen data prior to the Giro in 2009 and that he has passed the profile off as 'normal'.

However, Ashenden has always claimed that Armstrong doped during the 2009 Tour, an allegation Armstrong has denied. On Tuesday Ashenden took a further step, releasing Armstrong’s biological passport number to the press and calling on other experts to clarify whether they had analysed the rider’s data. The UCI volleyed back almost immediately with a press release stating that Armstrong’s data had not been checked by the passport committee because it had not been flagged up as abnormal.

“Again as I understand it, those samples, those tests are all done anonymously so no one would know if Armstrong’s test had been examined until after the process. What’s happened, is that those test have been within the acceptable parameters during that period. I’m not saying Armstrong wasn’t doping, he may have been flying under the radar in some way, and that may mean we need to tighten up the parameters.

“I’m pretty confident nothing was covered up as it were, but that doesn’t meant the science can’t be improved as people can find ways of flying under the radar. We need eternal vigilance.”

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Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.