At lunchtime today Pat McQuaid, the president of the UCI, addressed the world’s media and announced that his organisation accepted the findings of the US Anti-Doping Association’s (USADA) ‘reasoned decision’ summarising its thorough investigation into doping practices within the former US Postal team, which enabled Lance Armstrong to win seven consecutive Tours de France between 1999 and 2005. Couched in the strongest possible terms – “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling. Lance Armstrong deserves to be forgotten in cycling” – McQuaid confirmed that the retired Armstrong would be stripped of his seven Tour titles and banned for life.
Those are the headlines which instantly winged their way around the world with electronic haste. What was more revealing was what McQuaid said in the Q&A session following his statement where, in noticeably self-congratulatory tones, he vigorously defended the policies and actions of the UCI under his watch (he became president in 2005) and claimed that cycling had come a long way in those years. He also added that he saw little need to introduce major changes such as the separation of responsibility for governing and promoting the sport. And he most certainly had no intention of resigning in the wake of a scandal in which the finger of complicity has been pointed firmly at the organisation of which he is the titular head.
With Panache and Jack unavailable for comment today, here’s how the other VeloVoices reacted to the news.
Like any flim-flam man worth his salt, Pat McQuaid gave the world’s media what they wanted to hear and fed them the soundbites that will dominate headlines for the next 24 hours: ‘Lance Armstrong stripped of Tour titles’, ‘Banned for life’ and ‘Armstrong deserves to be forgotten’.
But it was his performance in the subsequent Q&A which will have left those with a greater knowledge of cycling’s recent history scratching their heads in disbelief. He gave no assurance of a brave new world, only brave new words. Except not particularly new. Nor particularly brave. Just words, in fact.
From Armstrong’s perspective, the doomsday scenario which he has been trying so hard to spin his way out of for the past two weeks is fast becoming reality. Thrown under the bus by sponsors – Oakley, his last major backer, finally cut ties today – and now the UCI, the mass of civil litigation now coming his way could cost him tens of millions of dollars and leave him in financial ruin.
The UCI president tried to divert all the focus on to the Big Bad Wolf, dodging wider issues and mounting a stout defence of the UCI’s (in)actions. He fooled nobody, at times stretching the facts to a point which fell way outside even the most generous definition of ‘truth’. He obfuscated. He shilly-shallied. He lied.
In the world according to McQuaid, the UCI has behaved impeccably and cycling – by which he meant himself – has been winning the war against doping since he assumed the presidency in 2005. This, let’s remember, is the same man who has taken out libel suits against Floyd Landis and Paul Kimmage, and challenged USADA’s jurisdiction in its investigation of Armstrong. The disparity between McQuaid’s revisionist view of history and the actual facts makes the Grand Canyon look like a small ditch.
Talk is cheap, actions speak louder. What is the UCI actually going to do to improve things moving forward? The simple answer appears to be: nothing. That is the most worrying thing of all. At a time when the UCI needs to present a credible road-map for change, its president instead chose to serve up a diet of self-serving, self-congratulatory, protectionist twaddle. Yes, Lance Armstrong is gone from the record books – no thanks to the UCI – but who is going to ensure an Armstrong Mark II never emerges? Not the UCI under its current stewardship, it seems.
You can’t fool all of the people all of the time, Pat. Was this a “landmark day for cycling” as he claimed? Anything but.
I’m not angry today. I’m sad, so very, very sad. Today was a huge opportunity to write a new chapter for a bright future. Instead McQuaid elected to rewrite the past.
The press conference started with a nervous laugh from Pat McQuaid and a lot of hand-wringing from his PR honcho, Enrico Carpani. That pretty much set the tone for the entire conference with Pat distancing himself as much as possible from any events prior to his election in Madrid in late 2005. A number of tricky questions were allegedly answered in the press pack handed out at the meeting, while pretty much everything else was to be discussed at the forthcoming meeting of the UCI’s management committee or was deflected to one of the other three members of the panel.
Pat claimed it was a “landmark day”. How so? Surely the release of information by USADA into the public domain was landmark, not the UCI’s affirmation of its decision. If I was cynical I would say that this was an arse-covering exercise with Pat being (in)famously non-committal, admitting that without lots more cash, time, police powers and corroborating evidence what’s a poor Irish lad – who after seven years in Aigle still can’t speak French – to do?
And, no, he’s not stepping down nor is he advocating better segregation of the UCI’s duties. In fact, despite asserting that this “must never happen again”, Pat’s not proposing any changes other than to the winners of the Tour de Farce from 1999-2005.
Oh, and by the way, Pat, I wasn’t overly impressed with you quoting J F Kennedy, a man who famously called himself a doughnut: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Round, doughy and without a middle …
Since I became a cycling fan, I have heard a lot of astonishing things spouted by riders, commentators, sponsors and the UCI. Just in the last week we’ve had Sean Yates’ “I just drove the car” to Tom Boonen’s “we’re all clean now, we have nothing to worry about”. It has been a festival of bullshit.
But nothing comes close to the absolutely gobsmacking revisionist bollocks that came out of Pat McQuaid’s mouth today. He held himself up as a true anti-doping crusader yet refused to accept the USADA’s findings on Armstrong’s biological passport shenanigans in 2009-10, trying to sweep that under the carpet, along with donations, testing cover-ups et cetera.
But this is not what concerns me most about what was said in this press conference. It is this: “Lance Armstrong deserves to be forgotten in cycling.” No. No, no, no, no, no. If we forget about Lance Armstrong, we will be having this conversation again in five years’ time. We will continue to see widespread doping in the peloton. Cycling would be able to keep the omerta culture alive and well, forcing some riders to make that horrible choice of betraying their sport in order to stay in the sport that they love.
Lance Armstrong deserves everything coming to him, no doubt about that, but he cannot be forgotten. His legacy must never be forgotten in cycling. His legacy must be one that means riders, teams, sponsors and governing bodies are all held accountable and forced – by the fans, by journalists, by each other – to be transparent, really transparent, not the half-hearted bollocks that is namechecked as transparency these days. It must mean that questions are asked – and answered – around awkward subjects, that journalists do their f***ing job and not just go along for the ride, that bullying and intimidation are brought out into the open immediately so the bully has no power. That should be the legacy of Lance Armstrong, not being forgotten. Because if he’s forgotten, the sport that we love so passionately will make fools of us all.
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