Cycling’s governing body set up a drug testing system that was designed to fail, allowing Lance Armstrong and other riders to avoid detection, the former boss of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said.
Doping officials knowingly ran a testing regimen that the sport’s top teams circumvented and where competitors would be tipped-off in advance, Dick Pound, who headed WADA between 1999 and 2007, said in an interview.
Despite alleging eight years ago that cheating was rife, his complaints to the UCI (International Cycling Union) about the sport’s anti-doping measures were repeatedly ignored, Pound said.
“It is not credible that they didn’t know this was going on,” Pound said. “I had been complaining to [the] UCI for years.”
“They come in in the morning at 5am and do tests, then go away, and riders are not chaperoned. The race starts at 1pm to 2pm in the afternoon and there are no tests prior to [the] race to see if they are bumped up,” he said, adding that after a day in the saddle, riders would be unchaperoned for an hour before being tested again.
“So then you go in, and get saline solutions and other means of hiding the effects [of performance-enhancing drug] EPO and whatever else it is,” he said.
“You have to say: ‘I wonder if it was designed not to be successful?’” Pound said of the system, lambasting the UCI, which is under attack in the wake of a devastating US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) report on Armstrong.
The report, which was released on Wednesday last week, detailed Armstrong’s alleged use of testosterone, human growth hormone, blood doping and EPO, and it included sworn statements from 26 people, including 11 former teammates.
The sports agency, which had already stripped the cyclist of his seven Tour de France titles, said Armstrong orchestrated the most complex doping scheme in sports history.
Pound, a Canadian lawyer turned sports official, whose reported comments in 2004 about alleged doping earned a rebuke from Armstrong, said the buck must stop with the UCI.
“If they persist with denial then they put their whole sport in jeopardy,” he said, noting that doping investigations may spread to the Spanish and Italian professional cycling communities, among others.
UCI president Pat McQuaid argued earlier this week that the sport “has moved on” and better tests mean riders are now much cleaner than in the previous era, in which Armstrong, now aged 41, competed.
“The peloton today is completely different,” McQuaid said.
Pound, in reference to the USADA report, said he was dismayed by the scope and vivid details of the alleged doping practices by Armstrong and his US Postal Service teammates.
“I thought it was a very thoroughly researched report with evidence sworn or otherwise,” said Pound, who remains on WADA’s 38-member Foundation Board.
Armstrong has always maintained that he did not use banned substances during his career, but in August he chose not to contest the USADA’s charges.
The Texan rider’s days of sparing no expense to hire big-ticket lawyers to muzzle critics may also be coming to an end, Pound said.
“I don’t think it is credible for Armstrong to say: ‘All 26 of these people are liars and cheats, and axe grinders,’” the former WADA president said in reference to the sworn statements in the USADA dossier. “I am afraid his time has just run out on that.”
“What is going to be a surprise is [if] after all this, Lance persists in saying he never did it. You got to hope he will ... admit: ‘I was the best of the worst,’” he said.
Pound said cancer survivor Armstrong should also speak out against the use of performance-enhancing drugs, not just for himself, but his five children.
“What are his kids going to think of him? They are going to carry around this burden,” said Pound, while stating that many Armstrong supporters, especially in the US, are still likely to dismiss the allegations.
“There are a lot of people who have a big emotional investment in Armstrong,” Pound said, alluding to the rider’s comeback from cancer and the tens of millions of US dollars he has raised to help people affected by the disease. “They don’t want to know that he was a cheater ... but if the pedestal he is on proves to be something he got by cheating, it isn’t much of a pedestal.”