Embattled UCI set for reform talks
Embattled world cycling officials will meet on Friday under pressure to implement real reforms in the wake of the doping scandal around global icon Lance Armstrong.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) this week effectively erased Armstrong from the cycling history books when it decided not to appeal sanctions imposed on the American by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
A damning report by USADA last week concluded that Armstrong helped orchestrate the most sophisticated doping programme in the history of sport.
He will now lose all of his results from 1998, the year he resumed racing after successfully battling cancer, and a year before the first of his seven consecutive yellow jersey wins from 1999-2005.
Having failed to catch Armstrong in over 200 anti-doping tests, the UCI believes it is now far better equipped and says it has the support of many in the sport, including riders who want to leave the murky doping past behind.
But UCI president Pat McQuaid said recent events had forced a rethink on how the entire sport is structured and run. He hinted at proposals to change how the gruelling three-week races, the Grand Tours, are held.
"We want to take what we can learn from it and put in place measures to make sure it doesn't happen again," McQuaid said.
The UCI's management committee, which can make changes to the rules of the sport, will discuss those changes at the body's Aigle headquarters on Friday, as well as issues such as the return of prize money and the re-attribution of placings.
"It's up to the UCI to look at the sport, look at team structures, look at race structures and try to create an environment for this to not happen again," said McQuaid, eager to demonstrate that the UCI is showing a tangible effort to evolve.
"Let's face it, most of our problems revolve around our teams in Grand Tours. Let's look at that.
"I have some ideas I'm going to put forward on Friday, and we may make some decision on Friday with relation to this."
Asked if that would include the reduction in the number of nine-man teams, McQuaid said: "Possibly."
The UCI is also expected to rubber stamp Tour de France organisers' wish not to re-attribute Armstrong's seven yellow jerseys from his triumphs on cycling's most prestigious race.
Tour organiser Christian Prudhomme last week said that he would prefer it if the top of the podium was left blank, describing the whole episode as a "lost decade" and demanding that Armstrong refund his winnings.
McQuaid added: "This is a very critical moment for cycling, the biggest icon in the sport has been brought down and the way he's been brought down."
He hinted that teams would be asked to contribute more in the anti-doping fight, with each professional team currently paying 120 000 euros into the UCI fund to do so.
"We may look at increasing that amount from the teams now, if people feel like we're not doing enough out-of-competition controls," McQuaid said.
"The platform for the sport is very strong, the audience participation and popularity of the sport are very strong.
"It's up to us to come out of this affair and show everyone that we do see this as a crisis but also as an opportunity, because there is a danger that it could have a fatal effect on the sport, and I don't want that to happen."