Tuesday 20 March 2018

Cycling: UCI ready to respond as Rabobank pull the plug

ASPEN, CO - AUGUST 25: Lance Armstrong finishes the Power of Four Mountain Bike Race on Aspen Mountain on August 25, 2012 in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo by Riccardo S. Savi/Getty Images)
ASPEN, CO - AUGUST 25: Lance Armstrong finishes the Power of Four Mountain Bike Race on Aspen Mountain on August 25, 2012 in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo by Riccardo S. Savi/Getty Images)

Brendan Gallagher

The International Cycling Union (UCI) will finally reveal its response to the Lance Armstrong scandal on Monday.

Its conclusions cannot come soon enough after another dire day for the sport, which suffered its biggest blow yet in the wake of the US anti-doping agency's report with the withdrawal of one of its longest serving sponsors.

Rabobank is to pull out of the sport at elite level as a direct result of the USADA's investigation, claiming cycling is no longer "capable of creating a clean and honest sport."

The UCI received the 1,000-page report 10 days ago and, amid mounting criticism of its lack of leadership and wider handling of the affair, both historic and current, has at last decided on action. There would seem little option but to support Usada in their banning of Armstrong for life and the stripping of his seven Tour de France titles.

It will require a display of firm leadership from the governing body to start to repair the damage done by what Usada termed "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen."

The decision of Rabobank to end its team sponsorship after 17 years demonstrates the crisis now facing the sport. The greatest concern will be that unless the UCI produces a convincing response, Rabobank could prove the first of many.

Pat McQuaid, the UCI president, will answer questions on the Usada findings for the first time in Geneva on Monday afternoon. If the UCI rejects the report, the case will move on to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

McQuaid has floated the idea of an amnesty in an attempt to try and close the book on a deeply troubled period in the sport's history. It would be for the World Anti-doping (WADA) to decide whether such a scheme could go ahead and its president John Fahey yesterday responded positively to the suggestion.

"I'm very interested," said Fahey. "But do you leave it as simply cycling or do you say: 'Well look, let's have an amnesty across the board and if there is a problem in any other sport -- including cycling -- let everybody come clean and let's start again?' That suggestion is one which I am sure my board would be very interested in entertaining."

Rabobank's withdrawal came the day after the UCI opened a doping case against one of its own riders, the Spaniard Carlos Barredo, but its timing, and the strength of the statements by bank officials, still shocked and drew criticism from current riders.

David Millar called it "sickening." He tweeted: "Dear Rabobank, you were part of the problem. How dare you walk away from your young clean guys who are part of the solution. Sickening."

Marianne Vos, who rides in the Rabobank women's team and won Olympic gold this summer in the road race, also believes it will hit the innocent hardest.

The team backed by the Dutch bank have had issues with doping in the past. Levi Leipheimer, one of those who testified against Armstrong, admitted taking EPO when he rode for Rabobank.


Leipheimer said the team's doctor helped him dope and that other riders also used banned substances.

In 2007 Michael Rasmussen appeared set for victory in the Tour before being pulled from the race by the team and then sacked after it was revealed he had lied about his whereabouts and missed drug tests in the build-up to the race.

"It is with a heavy heart, but it is an irreversible decision for our bank," said Bert Bruggink, a member of the bank's board of governors.

"We are no longer convinced the professional cycling world is capable of creating a clean and honest sport. We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future."

• Bernhard Eisel, Mark Cavendish's key support rider for the last five years, has signed a new deal to stay at Sky for another three years. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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