THE FORMER HEAD of world cycling today said that the sport’s governing body previously warned riders that they were at risk of failing drug tests but denied that there was every a cover-up of positive results.
Hein Verbruggen was president of the International Cycling Union (UCI) when Lance Armstrong won seven, straight Tour de France titles that he has since admitted were fuelled by the blood booster EPO, blood transfusions and human growth hormones.
He was banned for life and stripped of his wins back to August 1998 last year, plunging the sport into crisis and forcing a painful re-examination of the scourge of banned substances in the sport that have tarnished its reputation.
Verbruggen said last week that the UCI turned a blind eye to his misdemeanours but now maintains they did what they could to warn riders who appeared to be at risk of failing doping tests because their haematocrit or red blood cell count was too high.
“The UCI took the line, as did other sporting federations, to talk to racers whose blood test results appeared suspect,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with the Dutch news agency ANP.
“That sent out a signal to those who were doping but who had yet to turn in a positive test, that they risked getting into hot water. And if the anomaly was not down to doping that allowed the rider to have a medical analysis.
“The managers and team doctors were kept up to date.”
With red blood cells carrying oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, having a higher concentration — either naturally through fitness training or artificially through blood doping — improves an athlete’s endurance capacity and performance.
The UCI has come under pressure since the US Anti-Doping Agency published a damning dossier into Armstrong’s activities last October to answer how he was able to escape detection for so long.
It has been claimed that a suspect test given after the 2001 Tour of Switzerland was covered-up while Armstrong donated cash to the organisation to keep a lid on his doping and he was given the inside track about how to beat new tests for EPO.
The Vrij Nederland weekly, in an article to appear tomorrow, meanwhile reported that Armstrong had received such a warning from the UCI in 2001 on the way to his third Tour win.
Verbruggen, UCI chairman from 1991 to 2005 before Pat MacQuaid took over, told the publication that “the UCI’s objective was always to clean up its sport.
“Sometimes you could convince (riders) to stop doping and sometimes not,” he was quoted as saying. “When the biological passport was brought in (in 2008), the abnormal blood readings could be used as proof of doping,” added Verbruggen, who insisted that “cycling has always been in the vanguard when it comes to fighting doping”.
While some observers connected with the sport, including US three-time Tour champion Greg Lemond, are of the view that the UCI protected Armstrong, Verbruggen last week said he was pleased that the latter had denied as much in his interview.
“Nothing was ever covered up,” Verbruggen told ANP. “The UCI has always fought against doping.”