UCI president Brian Cookson has rejected any question of Russian UCI management committee member and Katusha team owner Igor Makarov having influence over the handling of the Denis Menchov case, saying that there was no interference in the matter.
On Saturday it was confirmed that Menchov had been handed a two year ban and disqualified from the 2009, 2010 and 2012 Tours de France due to biological passport violations. However the UCI came under criticism as the details were not announced to the media, but were rather picked up by cycling fans who stumbled across the information on a link on its website.
The detail was listed in an occasionally-updated list of positive cases, which can be viewed here.
Menchov had been part of Makarov’s Katusha team in 2012 and 2013 but suddenly retired in May of the latter year, citing a knee injury. The UCI told this writer at the time that no disciplinary process was underway against the Russian.
The timeframe was before Cookson came to power as the new UCI president in the Congress elections last September.
Cookson spoke to reporters at a press conference held to promote ASO’s La Course race for women, which will take place the day the Tour ends in Paris.
He was asked by a journalist if he realised that the UCI’s handling of the case raised questions about Makarov’s possible influence. “I understand exactly what you are saying and I understand the implications of that,” he acknowledged.
“But first of all, it was reported because it is on the website…it is not hidden at all, that is what we do normally. If I look at it, I think it might have been better if we made a more positive announcement about that, but that is not what we have done at any time in the past.
“The only time when we have commented on doping positive cases are cases that have been completed, or cases that are in progress when the rider or his team or the national federation or others have commented, and we have confirmed or not as the case might be.”
“So that is what we do, that is why we do it. I think it is absolutely important to recognise that cases have to follow our rules, they have to follow WADA’s rules and that is what happened here. I can absolutely 100 percent tell you that there has been no involvement in this case from Mr Makarov whatsoever. I haven’t even spoken to Mr Makarov on this matter, I haven’t seen him since we had a management committee back in June.
“I understand why people say these things, but it is not true. What I have to got to do is to balance my wish, my commitment to transparency against the need to carry these things through in a proper way and not have a presumption of guilt rather than a presumption of innocence when cases are ongoing.”
Lack of announcement of disciplinary processes:
CyclingTips pointed out to Cookson that, contrary to the Menchov case, that the opening of several biological passport procedures against riders in the past had been announced by the UCI. He disputed this. “My understanding is that we have only commented in the past when the rider or his team have made that announcement. It is not our role to announce that a case is underway because we don’t want to compromise the presumption of innocence. So we don’t announce cases as they are underway.”
Told there were past examples of the UCI announcing such procedures, he said that if that was the case, it was before his time as UCI president.
In June 2013 Cookson announced he was running for the top role and pledged full transparency. “We must restore cycling’s credibility and end the UCI’s ‘behind closed doors’ culture,” he stated then.
He was also asked by CyclingTips how the absence of an announcement into the doping ban of a triple Grand Tour winner such as Menchov synced with the promise of transparency, and so too the need for journalists to repeatedly examine a list on the UCI website in order to see if any new names had been added.
“I think we can do a better job there. I think we can produce that schedule and update it more effectively and efficiently,” he admitted.
“But there have been 70-odd cases since October when I took over. I don’t think you guys would be interested in every one, but I do accept that you will be interested in some more than others.
“So I think we probably do have to look at that again and look at the way in which we present that information to the public.”
“I think it is important when there is a case that is of legitimate public interest, that we make sure that we do announce it in a proactive way rather than a reactive way, which is what we have done in the past.”
As regards what constitutes a case of legitimate public interest, he said it was something he would consider in the weeks ahead.
Biological passport delays and limited disqualifications:
Cookson also faced questions about the delay in disqualifying Menchov from the 2009 Tour de France. It was pointed out to him that race was a full five years ago; he was asked if fans and sponsors would have to wait another five years to know if the current riders were clean or not.
He pointed out that the nature of the biological passport is that the system requires long term analysis of biological parameters in order to determine some suspicious profiles. Then, in addition to that, he said that there would also be time required for each rider to defend himself against the charges.
“That is why they do take a long time. It is very frustrating for everybody involved, and I can understand and appreciate that,” he said.
“We are looking at ways in which we can speed up the procedural side of it, but the science and technology of it is always going to be difficult when you are talking about long-term testing and looking at variations in values rather than the presence – or not – of a given substance.”
The issue of Menchov’s disqualification from the 2009, 2010 and 2012 Tours but not any other events was also raised. The Russian rider won the 2009 Giro d’Italia, yet is able to keep that result. He is also able to retain the other placings he achieved in the years since.
“I understand the scientific evidence was not there to sanction him for anything other than the events that he has been sanctioned for,” Cookson responded.
“It is a long time ago and I don’t know all of the details of that era. But what I can say is that the experts analysed the evidence and their conclusion was that from that 2009 Tour de France and on occasions thereafter, there were violations. Before that, there weren’t, or they weren’t sufficient violations.”
Froome’s Therapeutic Use Exemption and declarations of TUEs
The matter of the UCI’s granting of a Therapeutic Use Exemption to Chris Froome in this year’s Tour de Romandie was always likely to be one of the topics Cookson would likely be asked about, and so it proved. The matter was a controversial one as contrary to the UCI’s normal procedures, one individual – the UCI’s Dr. Mario Zorzoli – rather than a panel of three was able to give the 2013 Tour de France champion a green light to use a TUE in the race.
That TUE enabled him to take a normally-banned corticosteroid to treat a chest infection; he subsequently won the event.
“We have reconfirmed the members of the TUE commission and we have ensured that from now on, decisions on TUEs are not taken by any one individual but they are taken by a panel of TUE experts,” he said.
However Cookson defended Zorzoli’s granting of a TUE in the Froome case. “The commission had given a delegation to the UCI’s doctor to make those decisions where they were of a regular, non-controversial nature. That is what happened in the Froome case. It would have applied to any other rider. It was in accordance with the regulations. WADA confirmed two days later, if you remember, that it was in accordance with their regulations.
“But what I have said is that I think we can do a better job, because I understand why people would be concerned about that responsibility falling on the shoulders of one man. And we will now change our procedures, reinforce our procedures, as a policy of continuous improvement, to make sure that we have at least three people making those kind of decisions.”
As for a suggestion to publically declare the number and nature of the TUEs used by all riders, he said that the UCI was bound to follow the current WADA Code in relation to that area, and that any deviation from that could leave the UCI or others open to court challenge.
“The important thing is that we comply with the regulations and that we carry things out under the correct procedures. That is what we will continue to do.”