A press conference lasting an hour and a half, held by the group Change Cycling Now, heard the three-time winner of the Tour de France, Greg LeMond, agree to accept interim presidency of the UCI if the current leadership of the governing body accedes to CCN’s demands to step down immediately.
LeMond, who won cycling’s biggest race in 1986, 1989, and 1990, and who said he had been the subject of three law suits issued by the UCI, was among the speakers on a heavyweight panel who called for a truth and reconciliation commission followed by zero tolerance for those who continue to flout doping regulations after a period of amnesty.
Leading anti-doping expert, Dr Michael Ashenden, campaigning journalist, Paul Kimmage, and Jaimie Fuller, the president of sportswear brand, Skins, which is suing the UCI for £1.25m for a “total loss of confidence in professional cycling”, also addressed the packed conference.
Fuller called for the immediate resignation of UCI President, Pat McQuaid, and Honorary President, Hein Verbruggen, to allow the task of an independent review panel to remain credible. He said an interim leader “whom the whole world can trust” should take over, describing the candidate as one “whose credibility is beyond reproach; a person with the future prosperity of cycling as their singular objective.”
Asked if he would be prepared to assume the presidency, LeMond said Dr Ashenden was more qualified, but did not rule himself out of taking the role temporarily, “if nobody else was willing to do it.”
“I’m saying I would love to be part of the process to change, and if that means an interim presidency, I’d be willing to do that, yes,” LeMond said.
He added: “I would do it, but I’m not coming here because I want to be president. Zero. I’m not really a politician, as most people will know…I would do what I had to do and my goal would be to help the group. This is a collective effort.”
He said he hoped riders and race organisers would demand the resignation of McQuaid and Verbruggen and confessed to being shocked that they hadn’t already. He called on cyclists to ‘vote with their pocket’ and take part in non-UCI officiated events, offering as an example the many Gran Fondo rides not officiated by the body.
LeMond added: “If our sport doesn’t change, I’m done with pro racing. I’ll continue to ride bikes. It’s my last attempt to think I could be part of the sport. But if it stays the way it is, I’ve got better things to do with my life.”
Ashenden said the group’s proposed truth and reconciliation commission was a medium term measure designed to establish why riders had doped and to “improve the rules” to remove the motivation to do so.
He refused to elaborate on a “short term, intensive approach” which he pledged would guarantee that the winners of next year’s major tours had not blood doped, saying he would wait to hear the riders’ views from former world road race champion, Gianni Bugno, president of the professional riders’ association, the CPA. “I do want to say that I believe the riders want to do the right thing and that if they are given an opportunity, they will do the right thing,” he added.
Several of the panelists, including LeMond and Emma O’Reilly, a former masseuse at US Postal, whose testimony to USADA was central to its case against Armstrong, disagreed with Team Sky’s zero tolerance policy. LeMond said doctors, who remained in the peloton during successive generations of riders, were those who needed “forced change”, while O’Reilly said zero tolerance led to “zero talk”, but backed its implementation after a truth and reconciliation commission. Ashenden urged concern for what he described as “the greater good”.
“What has led to this situation? What was keeping it in place? The riders are the ones who can tell us that. If you put a zero tolerance in place, then they’re not going to be able to help. It’s simply asking too much of someone to sacrifice themselves, and any way that would be futile. The greater good it to change the environment,” he said.
Kimmage, a retired professional cyclist, whose seminal 1990 book, Rough Ride, exposed doping in ProTour peloton, was scathing in his denunciation of Verbruggen and McQuaid.
“They’ve held their press conference, they’ve implemented their independent commission, and we’re all supposed to forget about this for six months now. Well, we’re not going to forget about it,” he said.
“Hein Verbruggen has been at the helm of this sport since 1990. Since 2005, his puppet has been at the helm of this sport. So nothing’s going to happen until we remove McQuaid and Verbruggen and that’s number one on the list of what we’re suggesting needs to be done to move forward here.”
He stressed that his membership of Change Cycling Now stemmed from his love of the sport and said his appearance at the press conference was “as a former bike rider, not as a journalist.”
O’Reilly called on journalists to be more robust in their questioning of the UCI, while Fuller urged members of the public to sign CCN’s petition and put pressure on their national federations and the IOC to accept its charter.
Fuller said his company Skins was funding CCN’s efforts, while LeMond added that he had flown to London at his own expense, and that Fuller had paid only for his hotel room.