In Brief

Drugs still widespread in cycling, says report

One cycling professional claims that 90% of the peloton continues to take performance-enhancing drugs

A report released today claims that cycling is still riddled with doping and delivers a savage blow to the sport's leadership during the Lance Armstrong years. The authors of the 227-page report, commissioned by the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (Circ), interviewed 174 anti-doping experts, officials, riders and other figures within the sport.

The purpose was to discover how cycling became synonymous with drug-taking during the late 1990s and early 2000s, culminating in Armstrong's dramatic confession two years ago in which the seven-times Tour de France champion admitted his career was constructed on systematic drug-taking.

The findings make for troubling readings, as BBC Sport reports. The Circ report stops short of accusing the International Cycling Union [UCI] of corruption but heavily criticises the organisation, particularly former presidents Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid who didn't adhere to their own anti-doping rules and in effect turned a blind eye to the widespread doping, even showing  "preferential treatment" to Armstrong at the height of his career for fear of damaging the sport's reputation.

The report, which was compiled at a cost of £2.1m, was authored by chairman Dr Dick Marty, a former Swiss prosecutor, and two vice-chairs, German anti-doping expert Professor Ulrich Haas and Australia's Peter Nicholson, a respected investigator who has reported on international war crimes.

The BBC says that among their most disturbing findings were

  • One interviewee, described as a "respected cycling professional", stated that 90% of the peloton continues to dope. Another interviewee said the figure was 20%
  • The trend is now for riders to micro-dose, consume small amounts of banned substances regularly in order to avoid updated detection tests
  • Riders commonly use weight-loss drugs, experimental medicine and strong painkillers as part of their doping programme, which cause eating disorders, depression and on some occasions, crashes during races
  • Although doping is not as widespread as it was a decade ago, riders and their teams are now cheating in other ways, "particularly related to bikes and equipment".
  • Doping in amateur cycling is "endemic".

The report will make for uncomfortable reading for the UCI, but president Brian Cookson, who took up office in 2013, confronted the findings head on, declaring: "It is clear that in the past the UCI suffered severely from a lack of good governance with individuals taking crucial decisions alone. Many [of these decisions] undermined anti-doping efforts; put the UCI in an extraordinary position of proximity to certain riders; and wasted a lot of its time and resources in open conflict with organisations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)."

One of his predecessors, Hein Verbruggen, was in combative mood when contacted by the [2] BBC for his reaction to the report. "How can I be annoyed about being cleared of cover-ups and bribes?" he replied, adding that it is "so easy to rewrite history 25 years later".

Lance Armstrong  responded to the report with a statement  in which he said: "I am grateful to Circ for seeking the truth and allowing me to assist in that search. I am deeply sorry for many things I have done. However, it is my hope that revealing the truth will lead to a bright, dope-free future for the sport I love, and will allow all young riders emerging from small towns throughout the world in years to come to chase their dreams without having to face the lose-lose choices that so many of my friends, teammates and opponents faced."

Unfortunately for cycling the report comes amid a fresh doping controversy concerning Servais Knaven, a sporting director for Team Sky. He has denied reports in one Sunday newspaper that he took performance-enhancing substances during his time as a rider for the Dutch TVM team in the late 1990s. As the Times reports, the story is "another sign of how cycling remains trapped in its doping past".

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