Dark side of cycling is left unspoken, or at least off the record

Ruling on Astana ban will show how much has changed since McQuaid’s term at UCI

There often comes a moment in any wordy or indeed worthy interview when the subject suddenly shifts uneasily in his seat and points towards the small recording device in front of him. “And this is off the record,” he says.

There were several such moments in the interview Pat McQuaid gave this newspaper this week – and not all of them had to do with the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC), which looked into allegations of corruption and anti-doping cover-ups during McQuaid's term as president of Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the governing body of world cycling.

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, and just because the CIRC report didn’t find any evidence of corruption doesn’t mean it wasn’t going on. McQuaid never actually said that – on or off the record – in relation to anti-doping. Although you only have to look a little closer at the CIRC report to understand some of the things McQuaid was talking about – off the record.

Like on page 210, where the CIRC looks at various conflicts of interest within the UCI during McQuaid's term, and mentions a certain Igor Marakov, quite clearly one of the most influential men in world cycling.


As well as being on the UCI management committee, Marakov is president of the Russian cycling federation and founder of the Russian Global Cycling Project. Itera, his billion-dollar oil and gas company, sponsors three of the five UCI Continental Federations (Europe, Africa, and Pan-America), which together account for 30 of the 42 votes in the UCI presidential election.

Katusha doping

In 2008, Marakov founded the Katusha cycling team. Four years later, while McQuaid was president, the UCI stripped Katusha of its racing licence on the basis of its doping record (five riders testing positive, seven hired with previous doping convictions, and 12 whereabouts mistakes in three years, etc). Katusha appealed that decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and won.

Here’s where McQuaid went off the record (and here’s a little hint why: Vladimir Putin), although the CIRC report, in a direct reference to Marakov, warns the UCI of the need “to avoid a situation where the financing of development projects is synonymous with political influence and indirect vote buying”. It also considered it both “unexplainable” and “unacceptable” that Marakov did not meet the CIRC commission.

Big deal, some might say, except that Marakov continues to exert his considerable influence on the UCI under its current president and McQuaid's successor, Britain's Brian Cookson.

This is in relation to the ongoing dispute over the licensing of the Astana cycling team, again on the basis of its doping record: five riders tested positive last year, including the Iglinskiy brothers Maxim and Valentin, who both tested positive for EPO, and Ilya Davidenok, who tested positive for anabolic steroids. Astana is managed by Alexander Vinokourov, formerly one of the peloton's most infamous dopers.

Astana backing

Astana is also the team of reigning

Tour de France

champion, Italy’s

Vincenzo Nibali

, although that’s not the only reason they’re so keen to hold on to their UCI licence. Astana is financed by a coalition of state-owned companies from


(and thus named after its capital city). It also has the clear and open backing of Marakov as well as

Renato Di Rocco

, the president of the Italian cycling federation, who has reportedly just entered a joint venture with the Kazakh cycling federation.

Cookson, meanwhile, desperately keen to present an unyielding anti-doping stance, has been campaigning to strip Astana of its licence, adamant they were “drinking in the last chance saloon”.

He also ordered Astana to go before an audit at the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne, which also found sufficient reason to strip them of their licence: "After careful review of this extensive report, the UCI strongly believes that it contains compelling grounds to refer the matter to the Licence Commission and request the Astana Pro Team licence be withdrawn," read a statement from the UCI.

So, on Thursday, Astana and the UCI went face-to-face before that Licence Commission. After nine hours of debate, it was announced that a decision to strip or retain Astana’s licence was put back until April 24th.

Cookson’s credibility

It could go either way, but more worryingly, it seems, is that Cookson is realising the UCI presidency doesn’t carry much weight when it comes to the war on doping in the peloton. He’s already invested much of his credibility on this one, claiming that “the case of the Astana Pro Team remains a very serious situation for our sport, given the number of doping cases”.

Cookson has also lost, it seems, the support of Marakov, which is why the Astana decision is not just about whether or not they get to ride in the peloton this summer. It will be a statement, and a very important one, about just how much things have changed or not since McQuaid’s term as UCI president.

There were lots of reasons why McQuaid, in his interview with this newspaper, made that perfectly clear, all off the record. Plus ça change, etc, etc.