'Golden era' for cycling
Aigle - Cycling can look forward to a "golden era" after years of doping scandals, according to International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid.
McQuaid told The Associated Press that this year's "superb" Tour de France with young riders racing clean will help attract new sponsors and race organisers worldwide.
"We are looking towards a golden era," said the Irish official, while cautioning that the governing body has more work to do with its anti-doping program.
"We are certainly coming out of a dark period, and we're not yet through everything. From the anti-doping point of view, we must not take our foot off the pedal," he said.
McQuaid called on professional teams, with whom he has sparred this season, to back the UCI's leadership and its strategy of taking cycling to new countries such as China, Russia and Brazil.
"It needs everybody working in that direction but it has to be led by the UCI, working with governments to deliver the products that we want," he said.
McQuaid reflected on the season in road racing, the discipline that largely shapes public perception of cycling, after overseeing the 2012 Olympic test event in central London last Sunday.
The dress rehearsal road race was won by home favourite Mark Cavendish, the supreme sprinter who has helped ensure that riders - like Philippe Gilbert, Tour winner Cadel Evans and Thomas Voeckler - rather than dopers have dominated the headlines.
"This year has been a very good year so far," McQuaid said. "We had excellent racing in the (spring) classics and everything about the Tour de France was superb."
McQuaid said the sport is gradually regaining its credibility.
"You get a lot of young riders coming through and believing each other that they are clean - which gives them the confidence that they won't come under pressure to go into a doping program."
The only doping blight on the Tour, Russian rider Alexandr Kolobnev's positive test for a banned diuretic, proved a distraction ahead of stage 10 rather than a crisis.
McQuaid, however, is not celebrating victory yet.
"You don't change the culture overnight. It takes a couple of years and it's still a work in progress," he acknowledged. "We must continue to do targeted, intelligent testing."
Eventually, riders' confidence in each other will be shared by the fans, media and finally "major companies" wanting to invest in cycling, McQuaid said.
The UCI leader has staked much of his presidential credibility since 2005 on taking a global view of the sport's future beyond Europe - a strategy he believes is justified by the continent's economic problems.
Elected to the International Olympic Committee last year, McQuaid said his membership helps develop new markets such as Brazil and Colombia.
"I need my IOC colleagues to open the doors for me and he will do that because he trusts the UCI and trusts the credibility of the sport," he said.
Talks are ongoing over staging a race in Russia after President Vladimir Putin approached McQuaid's UCI predecessor at Olympic meetings in 2007.
But cycling's brighter future must still deal with investigations delving into its past, involving the winners of 10 of the past 13 Tours de France, Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador.
A United States federal investigation into alleged doping by Armstrong's teams has, in 16 months, contacted cycling's governing body just once.
"There was one e-mail came in from a deputy attorney in Los Angeles, just asking what year did the use of EPO get introduced into our rules," McQuaid said. "It was one simple line, one simple question.
"That's the only contact we have had with that investigation. We know nothing,"
The UCI has joined the World Anti-Doping Agency in appealing against a Spanish acquittal of Contador for his positive test for clenbuterol while winning the 2010 Tour.
"Whatever the justice is, we will accept," McQuaid said of a Court of Arbitration for Sport case set for November.
Legal delays with Contador meant a scheduled Aug. 1-3 hearing was postponed - helping cycling stay focused on Evans and Cavendish in the aftermath of the Tour.
Another win for Cavendish next July, getting the first gold medal to be awarded at the Olympics, could show off cycling at its best just meters (yards) from the front door of Buckingham Palace.
"It shows what the value of cycling is to an Olympic venue. It shows off the iconic aspects of the place," McQuaid said. "Riders and managers said to me afterwards it really shocked them how many people were on the road.
"If (Cavendish) goes in next year as world champion, the pressure would be enormous. What we saw (on Sunday) would be trebled coming into the Olympic road race."
McQuaid also looks forward to a London podium where all the medalists are clean, after Beijing silver medalist Davide Rebellin was later disqualified for doping.
"I think it will be," the UCI leader predicted. "We're going in that direction."