Sports

Tadej Pogacar’s drug tests and bike X-rays are clean, insists UCI president


David Lappartient, the president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), insists there is “no reason to have doubts” over the performances of the Tour de France winner, Tadej Pogacar.

The 22-year-old retained the title he first won last year after building a commanding lead in the race following a prodigious display of climbing through the Alps and Pyrenees. The leader of the UAE Emirates team was asked repeatedly about his performances as the Tour reached a climax and consistently maintained his innocence in regards to doping. “We have many [doping] controls to prove them wrong,” the Slovenian said. “For example, I had three controls in one day – two before the stage and one after. So I think that gives enough weight to prove them wrong.”

“I’m not angry,” Pogacar said when asked if the questions over his performances irritated him. “They are uncomfortable questions because the history of cycling was really bad. I totally understand why there are all of these questions. I didn’t prepare anything for those kind of questions. I just like to ride my bike and what comes with it, comes with it, I’ll deal with it. I’m a good kid with a good education, I’m not one to take shortcuts.”

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, Lappartient has also ruled out any concerns of either technological fraud or conventional doping. “I have the pictures of Pogacar’s bike and everything is clean, regarding the results of the X-ray machine,” he said. “As UCI President, I trust the international [anti-doping] testing agency in Lausanne.

“The only limit is the capacity of the lab themselves to detect – in all sports – some substances. We have a very solid and robust testing programme in cycling for both anti-doping and technological fraud and there is no reason to have doubts. However, zero risk doesn’t exist.”

The UAE Team Emirates operation is run by Mauro Gianetti, team principal and chief executive. Gianetti was manager of the Saunier Duval team in 2008, when their star rider Riccardo Riccò was arrested by police after testing positive for a new generation EPO. Riccò was fired, along with his teammate Leonardo Piepoli and the team withdrew from the Tour. Gianetti insisted he was “totally unaware of any doping practices going on in the team”.

In 2011 Juan José Cobo, who had also ridden for Saunier Duval, won the Vuelta a España while riding for the Gianetti-managed Geox-TMC team. However, in 2019, Cobo was stripped of his title and found guilty of “a violation of the anti-doping rules [use of a banned substance] based on irregularities found in his Athlete Biological Passport in 2009 and 2011”.

During the Pyrenean stages of this year’s Tour de France, Pogacar said of Gianetti: “I can only speak for myself. When I met Mauro he was really great to me and a super good person and I believe that what is in the past is in the past. New cycling is a way more beautiful sport than it was before. But I can only speak for myself.”

Mauro Gianetti and Tadej Pogacar pose with the Tirreno-Adriatico Trident trophy in March.
Mauro Gianetti and Tadej Pogacar pose with the Tirreno-Adriatico trophy after the Slovenian’s victory in March. Photograph: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

In a statement, Gianetti, responded: “First of all, I am pleased with Tadej’s words and they represent the reality that we are witnessing a new beautiful period in cycling. Today, I, like many other team managers, can believe in this sport and in this new generation.”

Speaking to VeloNews, Gianetti said: “It was a very different culture and mentality. I still have nightmares of my time managing previous teams, nowadays I sleep a lot better. The systems the sport has put in place now have completely transformed cycling. I understand the current crop of riders are suffering from mistakes of the past, but I’m confident cycling as a sport has changed and we can be proud and trust in what we are seeing.”

Lappartient said of Pogacar’s team management, including Gianetti, that, according to World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) rules, they “have the right to be involved in a team”, adding: “Under the Wada rules and UCI rules, if you had a disciplinary procedure or sanction after 2011, you can’t be part of a team, or leading a team. That’s the international rule, but of course we are always very careful with team managers who in the past have been involved in negative stories.”

While the usual questions swirled over this year’s Tour de France, also fuelled by the preliminary investigation into the Bahrain Victorious team, Lappartient is also focused on the return of the women’s Tour de France in 2022 and the first staging of the world championships in Africa, rumoured to be destined for Rwanda in 2025.

“I’ve always been pushing for the comeback of the women’s Tour,” he said. “I met several times with ASO [Tour de France promoters] and I said that it was very important to the UCI to push for gender equality. Having a very strong organiser will really help to develop and increase women’s cycling worldwide.

“It was not fast enough of course, but we will be at the starting line in 2022. It took some time, but now we are back with this race. The organiser is not only thinking of gender equality, but they’re also thinking of the potential to reach a new audience, to have new business, to enlarge the sport.”

Another new audience is Africa, and despite the candidacy of Morocco, Rwanda is hotly tipped to host the 2025 world championships. This is despite the country’s record on human rights, as highlighted by Amnesty International’s reports of “enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, excessive use of force, unfair trials and restrictions on the right to freedom of expression”.

“In all the countries in the world, you can find some points where they can be better, but when I see where Rwanda was and where it is now, it’s great,” Lappartient said. “There are solid foundations now in this country. I visited the memorial of the genocide and that was difficult to see.”

Citing the cancellation of the European Track Championships in Minsk, after a Ryanair flight in May was forcibly diverted to enable Belarus authorities to arrest opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, Lappartient maintained that for the UCI “there are some red lines that remain red lines”.

“President Kagame has a vision for Rwanda and for Africa,” he added. “We are always careful about human rights because it’s in our DNA as an international federation to keep in mind the values of the Olympic movement, of peace, respect and human rights. But to have the world championships in this country, 30 year after the genocide, is in itself a success. Rwanda is more a message of hope.”



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