Cycling will never be free of doping, the president of the sport's governing body admitted yesterday as Lance Armstrong was officially stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.
Pat McQuaid, the head of the UCI, also accepted his sport was enveloped in "its greatest crisis" but refused to resign as the governing body finally responded to the United States Anti-Doping Agency's damning report into Armstrong. Beyond the basic stance of supporting Usada's findings, it was a highly unconvincing response.
Asked whether the sport would ever be clean, McQuaid replied: "That's a very difficult question to answer. I'd probably, to be honest with you, would say no." Despite that, McQuaid insisted the culture has changed within the sport and most riders compete clean today.
The UCI's decision not to appeal over Usada's findings meant further damaging fallout for Armstrong. Oakley has withdrawn its sponsorship and SCA Promotions, an insurance company that lost a court case to the Texan six years ago, are preparing legal proceedings to recover $7.5m (£4.7m) awarded to him.
During an hour-long press conference at the UCI's Swiss headquarters, McQuaid again denied that Armstrong had made a donation to the UCI in return for covering up a positive test in 2001, but refused to rule out accepting future donations from riders to help combat doping despite the clear conflict of interest.
The 63-year-old Irishman also denied that the UCI had been wrong to accept money from Armstrong despite the suspicions already attached to him. Armstrong donated $100,000 to the UCI over the course of several years up to 2007, $25,000 of which was spent improving testing on junior riders.
McQuaid said neither he nor Hein Verbruggen, the honorary president who ran the UCI during much of the Armstrong era, would step down and insisted – despite his own talk of crisis – that no more sponsors would abandon the sport.
"UCI has nothing to hide," he said. "Don't try to make the connection between the suspicious test and the donation. There were no positive tests from him. It's certainly not a resignation issue. It would be better if we hadn't done it, and if we were to do it in the future, we would do it in a different way.
"Cycling has a future. This is not the first time cycling has reached a crossroads or that it has had to begin anew. When I took over [as president] in 2005 I made the fight against doping my priority, I acknowledged cycling had a culture of doping. Cycling has come a long way. I have no intention of resigning.
"Lance Armstrong deserves to be forgotten in cycling. I was sickened by what I read in the report."
The UCI's management committee will meet on Friday to determine its next course of action and whether to begin moves to reclaim prize-money won by Armstrong between 1998 and 2005. It will also decide whether to re-assign the seven Tour titles. Christian Prudhomme, the Tour's director, said yesterday there should be no winner for those years but the UCI should demand Armstrong repay his winnings.
"The UCI regulation is clear," said Prudhomme. "When a rider loses the place that gave him a prize, he must pay."
While the UCI accept Usada's report, it still quibbled over details and suggests the World Anti-Doping Agency mount an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over Usada broadening its investigation beyond the eight-year statute of limitation laid down by the Wada code.
The UCI rejected any criticism of its role in the affair. It suggested the evidence should have been assessed by a "neutral body or person" to "avoid the criticism of a witch-hunt against Mr Armstrong" and even attacked the "animated or overstated" language used in the Usada report.
The UCI tested Armstrong 218 times but said the responsibility for not catching him should be shared with anti-doping agencies who also tested the him. But David Millar, the former doper now on Wada's athletes' commission, said: "The buck has to stop somewhere and I think the UCI have to assume that responsibility."
The Usada chief executive, Travis Tygart, said: "[Usada] is glad that the UCI finally reversed course in this case and has made the credible decision available to it."
Tygart supports the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a suggestion that will be discussed by the UCI on Friday but a move that would need to be agreed by Wada. "For cycling to truly move forward and for the world to know what went on in cycling, it is essential that an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission be established so that the sport can fully unshackle itself from the past," said Tygart. "There are many more details of doping that are hidden, many more doping doctors, and corrupt team directors and the omerta has not yet been fully broken. It is important to remember that while today is a historic day for clean sport, it does not mean clean sport is guaranteed for tomorrow."
Who is Pat McQuaid?
The 63-year-old from Dublin comes from a cycling family. His father rode and three of his brothers competed for Ireland at the World Championships. McQuaid twice won the Tour of Ireland. He would have competed in the Olympics but was caught riding in South Africa during the apartheid era and subsequently banned from the Games.
A former teacher he became president of the UCI in 2005 and has sought to expand the sport's global reach – pushing for events like the Tour of Beijing.