Cycling: UCI to issue Lance Armstrong response as crisis builds

Troubled sport loses 17-year backing of sponsor Rabobank

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The Independent Online

The International Cycling Union will finally reveal its response to the Lance Armstrong scandal on Monday, the beleaguered governing body announced yesterday. Its conclusions cannot come soon enough after another dire day for the sport as it suffered its biggest blow yet in the wake of the US anti-doping agency's report with the withdrawal of one of its longest serving sponsors.

Rabobank is to pull out of the sport at elite level as a direct result of the US anti-doping agency's investigation, claiming cycling is no longer "capable of creating a clean and honest sport".

The UCI received the 1,000 page report 10 days ago and amid mounting criticism of its lack of leadership and wider handling of the affair, both historic and current, has at last decided on a course of action. There would seem little option but to support Usada in their banning of Armstrong for life and the stripping of his seven Tour de France titles.

It will require a display of firm leadership from the governing body to start to repair the damage done by what Usada termed "the most sophisticated, professionalised and succcessful doping programme that sport has ever seen". The decision of Rabobank to end its team sponsorship after 17 years demonstrates the crisis now facing the sport. The greatest concern will be that unless the UCI produces a convincing response, Rabobank could prove the first of many.

Pat McQuaid, the UCI president, will answer questions on the Usada findings for the first time in Geneva on Monday afternoon. If the UCI rejects the report, the case will move on to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

McQuaid has floated the idea of an amnesty in an attempt to try and close the book on a deeply troubled period in the sport's history. It would be for the World Anti-doping Agency to decide whether such a scheme could go ahead and its president John Fahey yesterday responded positively to the suggestion.

"I'm very interested," said Fahey. "But do you leave it as simply cycling, or do you say, 'well look, let's have an amnesty across the board and if there is a problem in any other sport – including cycling – let everybody come clean and let's start again?' That suggestion is one which I am sure my board would be very interested in entertaining."

Rabobank's withdrawal came the day after the UCI opened a doping case against one of its own riders, the Spaniard Carlos Barredo, but its timing, and the strength of the statements by bank officials, still shocked the sport and drew widespread criticism from current riders.

David Millar, the British cyclist, called it "sickening". He tweeted: "Dear Rabobank, you were part of the problem. How dare you walk away from your young clean guys who are part of the solution. Sickening."

Marianne Vos, who rides in the Rabobank women's team and won Olympic gold this summer in the road race, also believes it will hit the innocent hardest. She said it was "understandable in the light of the current doping cases, but unfortunately this hurts the many innocent [riders] in our sport." Another Rabobank rider, Robert Gesink, said: "It is extremely bitter that we are now paying for what happened in the past."

The team backed by the Dutch bank have had issues with doping in the past. Levi Leipheimer, one of those who testified against Armstrong, admitted taking EPO when he rode for Rabobank. Leipheimer said that the team's doctor helped him dope and that other riders also used banned substances. In 2007 Michael Rasmussen appeared set for victory in the Tour before being pulled from the race by the team and then sacked after it was revealed he had lied about his whereabouts and missed drug tests in the build-up to the race.

"It is with a heavy heart, but it is an irreversible decision for our bank," said Bert Bruggink, a member of the bank's board of governors. "We are no longer convinced that the international professional cycling world is capable of creating a clean and honest sport. We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future. For us, [Usada's report] was the straw that broke the camel's back."

The UCI said: "In light of the difficult period, namely the high public interest in past doping issues and perhaps a more recent action taken by the UCI against a rider of the team, the UCI understands the context which has led to this decision being reached."

* Bernhard Eisel, Mark Cavendish's key support rider for the last five years, has signed a new deal to stay at Sky for another three year. Eisel rode with Cavendish for HTC-Highroad and Sky but will not follow his "brother" to Omega Pharma-QuickStep.