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  • On the Record -- David Lappartient, UCI President


    (ATR) A busy year for cycling has put the International Cycling Union back in the spotlight.

    David Lappartient at SportAccord in 2018 (ATR)
    The sport’s yearly marquee event, the Tour de France, had moments of brilliance and controversy before crowning a new winner, Geraint Thomas, in Paris. Spectator antics, a high number of crashes, and as always concerns over doping in the sport were all major storylines beyond the cycling in Le Tour.

    All this does not take into account the doping controversy involving the then-holder of all three Grand Tour jerseys Chris Froome in the weeks before the event.

    UCI President David Lappartient took questions from Around the Rings in a wide ranging interview about the current storylines in cycling. Part one of the interview can be found below.

    This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

    Around the Rings: How do you think the 2018 Tour went?

    David Lappartient: I went along to the Tour a few times and I saw the same wonderful event it always is. There was plenty of sporting excellence and passion on show, but I did feel as if there was something weighing down on it all. You could feel it in the air and the conversations people had. There was [Vincenzo] Nibali’s crash on Alpe d’Huez, and the Froome case didn’t help at all. As for the actual cycling, you can’t argue with Team Sky’s dominance, and Geraint Thomas was a worthy winner. My congratulations to him.

    ATR: Is there a worry that spectators were encroaching too much? Was it a shame that many of the sprinters crashed out with incidents?

    Riders at the 2018 Tour (Wikimedia Commons)
    DL: There wasn’t any more than usual. As for Chris Froome and Team Sky, I asked spectators to show restraint and to respect the riders. It’s never nice as the head of a sport to see the race favorite being whistled at. It’s not good and it’s not healthy, but you can’t legislate for how people are going to behave in public. There are 12 million spectators lining the roads in the Tour, so it’s inevitable that you’re going to get a few idiots. You have to remember that the event is policed by 10 percent of the country’s police officers, some 10,000 of them in all, not to mention the other law enforcement agencies. You can’t put barriers up on every mountain pass. Fortunately, though, that kind of behavior is still the exception. Cycling is an outdoor sport that takes place on roads, which is what makes it magical.

    ATR: Do you think cycling is a cleaner sport than when you took over as president? What still needs to be done to make it cleaner?

    DL: We have a clean sport today. It would be unrealistic to say it’s 100 percent clean, but in comparison to 20 years ago we’re seeing real cycling. Today a cyclist can win one of the Grand Tours clean. The work carried out by our federation has a lot to do with that. The UCI is a pioneer in the fight against doping, thanks to the biological passport, the independence and effectiveness of the [Cycling Anti-Doping Federation], the funding provided by stakeholders in the fight against doping, an €8 million [$9.29 million] budget, the emphasis on information and collaboration with other agencies involved in the fight, etc. That's led to results. We now have excellent relations with WADA and the national anti-doping organizations. We have credibility. We have also extended the fight to equipment. Since taking on the job as UCI President, I have stepped up my efforts in the fight against technological fraud. We have invested in X-ray technology and we can now deploy all tried and tested equipment (scanners, X-rays, and thermal imaging cameras), while also working on the technologies of the future. My aim is not to say that hidden motors have been used in the past, but to make it clear that they will never have a place in our sport. The results we have achieved are credible and the checks we make are designed to safeguard that credibility.

    Chris Froome (Wikimedia Commons)
    ATR: What were your feelings about seeing Froome on the podium?

    DL: Froome was perfectly entitled to race from the moment that WADA said his abnormal test result did not constitute an anti-doping rule violation and the case brought against him was dropped. On the road, he relinquished his status as race favorite to teammate Geraint Thomas. He rode very well for his teammate in yellow in the last week and he defended his place on the podium well. I can understand that some people might have been gnashing their teeth, but in my capacity as UCI President I have no issue with it.

    ATR: Do you have any regrets about how the Froome and Team Sky doping-ban challenge played out? Is UCI looking to do anything differently in the future to prevent such drawn out situations?

    DL: I spoke with WADA President Craig Reedie and said to him that provisional suspensions should apply to all substances, including those specified in the Froome case and salbutamol.

    For our part we will not be waiting for the 2021 World Anti-Doping Code Review before taking action. We are in the process of implementing independent medical supervision for the peloton as a whole with the aim of identifying riders’ fitness to compete. With regard to these provisions governing medical clearance for competition, we are looking to bring in a measure to prevent riders from taking to the start line if they have low cortisol levels, which is caused more often than not by the use of corticosteroids. A drop in blood levels of cortisol brings with it a genuine risk in the event of a crash or a medical or surgical emergency. In such cases, a rider will be deemed medically unfit to compete. Only certain forms of administering corticosteroids are prohibited and there is very good reason to believe these medications are being misused. In taking a medical approach, we are going to address the issue in a different way.

    Craig Reedie, WADA President (ATR)
    As for tramadol, it is associated with significant unwanted side effects, such as vertigo, drowsiness and a risk of opioid dependence. It is a powerful analgesic that we are looking to ban from use in competition on health grounds, bearing in mind the significant increase in the risk it poses to riders suffering falls. We are currently working on bringing these provisions into our Medical Rules and we are hoping to introduce these two measures, concerning corticosteroids and tramadol, on 1 January 2019.

    ATR: WADA appears to be at a crossroads due to the ongoing Russian doping crisis. How has that changed UCI's relationship with the body?

    DL: Our relationship is unchanged and has no connection to the latest developments in the fight against doping. I talk on a regular basis with Craig Reedie and I have specifically asked him to add tramadol to WADA’s list of prohibited substances and for the provisional suspension of all positive results. Our teams are also working very well together on an operational level. We are keeping a close eye on the November 2019 presidential election campaign, and I am determined to continue fostering the same spirit of cooperation that binds our two organizations, both of whom are key players in the global fight against doping.

    Check back tomorrow for part two of our interview with David Lappartient, where he discusses going to Africa for the 2025 Road World Championships, relationships with the IOC, and cycling at Tokyo 2020.

    Interview conducted by Aaron Bauer

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