McQuaid Exclusive: Cookson won't find skeletons in my closet

Former UCI President Pat McQuaid has told Cyclingnews that he may be willing to cooperate with the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) but that his replacement, Brian Cookson, and the Commission panel would not find any skeletons in his closet relating to alleged doping cover-ups.

In his first interview since losing the UCI presidential election in Florence last year, McQuaid, who is currently riding with Sean Kelly and the AN Post team in Calpe, Spain, told Cyclingnews that he could cooperate with the CIRC once its terms of reference were made public.

"I think the commission is made up at a high level of quality people. However, we've not seen any terms of reference so I think we'll have to see what they are before I make any decisions, but I'd be willing to cooperate as long as the terms of reference were okay and that they could ensure that the commission was independent," McQuaid told Cyclingnews.

However McQuaid was relatively coy when Cyclingnews asked him about the precise terms of reference required for him to offer his cooperation. "If they're looking for an independent result and not just a political result, then I would. By political, I mean Cookson won an election campaign [saying] that this and that were needed, and now he's set a commission but what's the result it needs to get or has the result already been predetermined?"

McQuaid's tenure as the leader of cycling's governing body came to a crashing end at the UCI Congress last September. The Irishman ran a campaign littered with setbacks, with his own national federation taking the unprecedented decision to remove their support before a botched episode with the Swiss federation ensued. In the end, Cookson ran out as the winner, beating McQuaid 24 votes to 18. The British candidate campaigned on an election mandate that included improving women's cycling and the promise of launching a full and independent enquiry into the UCI's history.

The governing body had been lambasted with accusations of corruption, collusion and cover-ups since Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamiltion blew the whistle on systematic doping within the sport. The UCI, eventually sued Landis and former president Hein Verbruggen even questioned the US Postal rider's mental state.

Once McQuaid was deposed, Cookson immediately set the wheels in motion and emailed the UCI staff to let them know about the new dawn at the UCI. Philippe Verbiest was dismissed from his position within the UCI legal team and upon returning to his home in Switzerland, McQuaid has his laptop seized by a UCI employee.

"It was four days after the election. [An] accountant from UCI was instructed to bring my laptop and iPad to get my emails. It came back three days later, and it was totally wiped," McQuaid confirmed.

Kroll, a private investigation firm, were then charged by Cookson with collecting data from the UCI staff's computers. Kroll specialises in fraud, financial, bribery and other investigations with an expertise in computer forensics.

"I only know what I've read - that the data has been locked and it will available to the commission if they chose to look at it."

The Commission is set to investigate possible wrongdoings by the UCI, both under Verbruggen and McQuaid. It is led by Swiss politician and former state prosecutor, Dick Marty. He will be joined by anti-doping specialist, and CAS arbitrator, Ulrich Haas and former Australian military officer, Peter Nicholson. Assisting the trio is Aurélie Merle, who has experience in investigation and justice work for the UN.

No time limit has been set, but it could be at least a year before their report and findings are delivered.

"I don't think that there's anything there that the commission would find interesting though," McQuaid said in relation to his laptop and his conduct in office.

"I would be expecting them to call me in, but there's no dirt and no skeletons in the closet."

Election loss

McQuaid would not be drawn on the reasons for his election loss: whether Russian Igor Makarov and his deep pockets influenced federation votes; if Makarov was sparked into a feud with McQuaid after Katusha saw their application for a WorldTour licence initially turned down; if the dossier compiled by Makarov and Mike Plant damaged McQuaid's credibility beyond the point of no return or whether his stubbornness to fight USADA's jurisdiction over the Lance Armstrong saga would lead to his ultimate undoing.

"All the allegations are a complete fabrication. I can only answer 100 per cent about the time that I was UCI President and during my time, there was no collaboration, complicity or anything in terms of hiding test results. And I believe that in the time before that, that nothing like that happened. The allegations that have come out from the USADA report from people like Landis and Hamilton were untrue."

Paradoxically, despite Armstrong's own running legal war with Landis, the Texan has joined Landis in the trenches for one battle, stating that the UCI had helped him on at least on one occasion when the rider was allowed to provide a backdated medical note after an illegal substance was found in a urine test at the 1999 Tour de France. McQuaid would only tell Cyclingnews that such an allegation had to be dealt with by the commission. However he could not but help take a shot at Armstrong.

"Armstrong has given different responses. To Oprah he said that the UCI didn't do anything for him and the fact of the matter is that Armstrong was never positive. He was treated the same as everyone else."

"All of that has to be looked at. Do we believe in what Lance was saying or any of those athletes, given that they were accomplished liars? That would be a bit naïve. They have spent their careers lying."

With  years of the sport to investigate, it's clear that McQuaid and Verbruggen remain bound together and that they sit at the polar opposite to a number of ex-riders who have publicly alleged that the UCI either chose to ignore the doping problem for many years or in some cases helped to protect certain riders.

When asked if only he and Verbruggen were telling the truth, and that the accusers weren't, McQuaid replied, "All I'm saying is that under my watch I know that there was no complicity, no cover ups and I did nothing but fight doping in my eight years. I can look back and say that the sport that I left is a lot cleaner then when I took over in 2005. I'm not blaming the previous regime, but the fact was that there was a product there that couldn't be detected for a number of years."

"I made mistakes, but suing Landis and [Paul] Kimmage was right."

McQuaid is adamant that his time as UCI President brought success to the cycling both in sporting and anti-doping terms. In the latter arena, the UCI signed off on the no-needle policy that was originally brought forward by Slipstream, and cycling was one of the first sports to bring forward the biological passport, a tool that is still missing from a number of major sports. McQuaid also helped, although at times controversially, globalise the sport with the Tour of Beijing now heading into its third year.

Yet the fight against doping overshadowed McQuaid's presidency at almost every turn. Landis became the first rider to lose his Tour de France title after a positive test and Alberto Contador followed suit in 2010. Armstrong's return to cycling in 2009 brought with it a mussette full of ghosts and headaches, with issues over the riders' testing pool time and holes in his passport profile becoming matters of public debate. Even when McQuaid publicly stated that "Lance Armstrong had no place in cycling", it was only a matter of time before "the witch hunt" headed to Aigle.

"There's a lot of things I would have done differently. I made mistakes, naturally, but none of them were of a nature that would be regarded as complicity or premeditated and wrong. I tried to fight doping, the no needle policy, there was the anti-doping declaration that didn't work, but there was the Passport and the rules on people coming back to the sport after they had doped."

McQuaid would not be drawn on what one of his biggest mistakes had been. Cyclingnews suggested the clumsy legal cases against Kimmage and Landis as examples, but McQuaid countered.

"I don't regret that. I don't think people have the right to say that the UCI is corrupt. That's 100 people that work there and they have said that with no basis. We suspended it because there was a commission coming out, and we felt it was in our interest if they did it."

What about the public sparring with Travis Tygart and USADA? "I'm not going to go into specific decisions made at specific times. Any decisions we as the UCI made at the time were in the best interests of the sport."

McQuaid must now sit by the phone, or his clean laptop, and wait for Cookson's enquiry to reach out. At this stage, two things are certain. Firstly, the whole story and every facet of truth has yet to be revealed and secondly, don't be surprised to see McQuaid at a major race in the future, possibly even at the start of this year's Giro d'Italia in Belfast.

"Right now, I'm looking at a couple of things inside and outside of the sport, but I'm in no hurry to make a decision and I'll wait and see."

And as for Cookson: "He's had his honeymoon period, as they say, but we'll have to wait and see. I don't want to comment on the decisions they have made so far or their strategy. Time will tell."

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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.