David Millar believes cycling's governing body has to accept responsibility for failing to prevent a culture of drug use from developing within the sport. Millar, a reformed doper and now on the athletes' committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency, has said that process should begin with the resignation of the honorary president of the Union Cycliste International (UCI), Hein Verbruggen.
The UCI is currently studying evidence assembled by the US Anti-Doping Agency revealing a programme of wide-scale doping among Lance Armstrong's US Postal team from 1998 to 2005. Verbruggen was president of the UCI at the time and remains on the management committee.
"The UCI have to accept they have to carry some responsibility for this because it was obvious what was going on," said Millar, who served a two-year ban from 2004 after admitting using the blood booster EPO.
"The UCI had all the blood data, the medical reports, it was part of the culture of the sport. In the big races the majority of riders were doing it on drugs. The first step for the UCI is that Verbruggen has to be removed. There is no doubt about that -- Pat McQuaid (Verbruggen's successor) has to distance himself because it was under Verbruggen's presidency that it was at its worst and yet there were all these denials coming from the UCI.
"He was at the head of an organisation with the biggest doping problem in the history of sport. He's still there. He doesn't have to commit hara-kiri, he should just admit that mistakes were made and we have all made mistakes. But the UCI is not a commercial company so there is no one to answer to."
The USADA report details Verbruggen's response to suggestions that the UCI covered up a positive test recorded by Armstrong in 2001. "That's impossible, because there is nothing," said Verbruggen. "I repeat again: Lance Armstrong has never used doping. Never, never, never. And I say this not because I am a friend of his, because that is not true. I say it because I'm sure."
Cycling in the Armstrong era is so tainted that the Tour de France's race director, Christian Prudhomme, said that the American's seven titles should not be awarded to any other rider. "When you read the USADA report, you can't be indifferent," Prudhomme said. "It depicts an era and a system which are forever soiled. The best solution is to say that there should be no (Tour) winner those years."
The UCI is facing growing criticism for its handling of the affair. It received the USADA report three days ago and has 21 days to respond, including whether it will ratify USADA's decision to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. McQuaid defended the governing body. The report is critical of the UCI, suggesting members of Armstrong's team were tipped off about when drug tests were to be conducted.
"All we can do is test and test and test and send the tests to the lab, and if they come back negative they come back negative," he said. "If athletes, not just cyclists, can beat the system, the system isn't strong enough."
McQuaid believes the reputation of the UCI will not face long-term damage: "It's not something that we have never dealt with before, we've had problems like this before. We've got through and the sport has got through and we will work through this one as well."
Millar insisted current riders are largely drug-free: "A whole generation are now going to have clean careers and results that should never be doubted," he said. "Cycling went into an abyss but we have climbed out and changed the sport, yet there is still all this baggage we are carrying around. Hopefully this will remove that and the sport can confront and be honest about the past." (© Independent News Service)