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British cycling leader saddened by doping doubts

July 17, 2013

CHORGES, France (AP) — The head of British Cycling is saddened that Chris Froome’s dominant performance at the Tour de France has been clouded by persistent questions about doping.

But Brian Cookson understands why they’re asked.

“It’s really disappointing and sad for Froome or whoever it would be,” Cookson said in an interview with The Associated Press at the Tour. “Are we now saying that any exceptional performance must by definition be drug-fueled?”

This week, Froome and his Sky team manager Dave Brailsford again assured reporters covering the race that they are racing clean and offered to give the World Anti-Doping Agency unlimited access to Froome’s performance data.

It is the first Tour since Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour titles for serial doping. The suspicion surrounding the sport, coupled with Froome’s exceptional performances, has fueled intense debate.

Froome is the favorite to become the second straight British rider to win the race, following Bradley Wiggins’ success last year.

His astonishingly fast ascent of Mont Ventoux on Sunday — one of cycling’s hardest climbs — prompted questions on social media sites, cycling blogs and in mainstream media.

“It’s sad but it’s understandable, because we have not as a sport grasped this nettle effectively,” Cookson told AP. “We haven’t drawn a line under the problems of the past decades, and until we do that, we’re still going to be in this situation.”

Cookson will challenge Pat McQuaid for the presidency of world governing body UCI in September’s election. The winner needs a majority of 22 from the 42 voting members: 14 from Europe, nine from Asia and Panamerica, seven from Africa and three from Oceania.

McQuaid is seeking a third term but his future has been clouded since the scathing 200-page U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report last year led to Armstrong being banned for life from cycling.

McQuaid denies allegations by USADA that UCI helped cover up some suspicious samples from Armstrong, but his reputation has been hit. He and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen have been accused of closing their eyes to the endemic doping culture and accepting money from Armstrong in exchange for turning a blind eye to his team’s doping practices. Both denied any wrongdoing.

“I just think we’ve got one terrible problem coming after another that is coming as a result of the poor leadership,” Cookson said before a stage start. “Constantly at war, constantly fighting the very people — like WADA — that we should be working with to give us credibility back into our sport. What we seem to be doing is trying to save the reputation of one or two individuals, rather than to save the reputation of the sport.”

Earlier this year, the UCI disbanded its own independent commission set up to investigate any alleged involvement it had in the Armstrong case.

Setting up that commission cost “a ludicrous amount,” Cookson said. “Two and a half million Swiss francs ($2.7 million) was the cost of the independent commission that never had a single meeting.

“We’re still waiting for the outcome of the .... well, we’re still waiting for the start of the inquiry around cover-ups and so on, and now we have the ethics commission of the UCI looking at the allegations that were raised at the last management committee.”

By coincidence, McQuaid and Cookson were at the same hotel earlier in the Tour, when the race started on the island of Corsica.

“A handshake and ‘hello’ and that’s it,” Cookson said, when asked how to describe their current relationship. “It’s probably wise that our paths don’t cross too often. I’m not trying to run a personality-driven campaign. I’m trying to look at the issues.”

He thinks Armstrong, who confessed to doping on TV after years of aggressive denials, should come forward with more information, rather than wait for a proposed truth and reconciliation commission — where riders would have a chance to confess to their doping pasts.

“I’ve never met Lance or spoken to him, the only thing I had (was) when I had an open internet session. He sent me a question and we answered it. He was asking what my plans would be for a truth and reconciliation commission,” Cookson said. “Yes, there will be a form of truth and reconciliation commission (if he gets elected). We’ll have to have something which has a degree of amnesty in it.

“Lance has told some of the truth. He’s obviously got other things to tell and I’d encourage him not to wait. If he’s got things to say, come out and say them.”

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