The International Cycling Union likely turned a blind eye to alleged doping by Lance Armstrong and others, the former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency has suggested.
Dick Pound said he complained for years to the UCI that the seven-time Tour de France winner and other cyclists were given advance notice of their drug tests and then allowed to go off unsupervised.
"It is not credible that they didn't know this was going on," Pound said. "I had been complaining to UCI for years."
Pound, who was head of Wada from 1999 to 2007, said drug testers would do tests on riders in the early morning, hours before they had to appear for a competition.
"The race starts at 1pm to 2pm in the afternoon and there are no tests prior to a race to see if they are bumped up," he said, adding that after races, competitors had an unchaperoned hour before being tested. "So then you go in and get saline solutions and other means of hiding the effects [of performance-enhancing drug] EPO and whatever else," he said.
"You have to say, 'I wonder if it was designed not to be successful'?"
Pound's comments come in the wake of a damning US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) report that charged Armstrong with orchestrating the most complex doping scheme in sports history.
Released last Wednesday, it detailed Armstrong's alleged use of testosterone, human growth hormone, blood doping and EPO and included sworn statements from 26 people, including 11 former teammates.
"Where the rubber really hits the road is with UCI," Pound said. "If they persist with denial, then they put their whole sport in jeopardy."
UCI president Pat McQuaid said last week that the sport had moved on from its murky past and better tests meant riders were now much cleaner than in previous days. "The sport has moved on," McQuaid said. "The peloton today is completely different."
Pound, in reference to the Usada report, said he was dismayed by the scope and vivid details of the alleged doping practices by Armstrong and his US Postal Service teammates.
"I thought it was a very thoroughly researched report with evidence sworn or otherwise," said Pound, who remains on Wada's 38-member Foundation Board. "I was disappointed to see the extent of the scheme and of the conspiracy and the large number of people involved in it," he said.
Armstrong has always maintained that he did not use banned substances during his career, but in August he chose not to contest charges put forward by Usada.
Armstrong's days of sparing no expense to hire big-ticket 8lawyers to muzzle critics might be coming to an end, Pound suggested.
"I don't think it is credible for Armstrong to say, 'All 26 of these people are liars and cheats and axe grinders'," he said. "I am afraid his time has just run out on that."
Meanwhile, Cycling Australia (CA) will meet this week to discuss what action it will take after former road racer Matt White admitted involvement in the Armstrong doping conspiracy.
White, 38, said he was part of a strategy of doping when he rode on the Armstrong-led US Postal Services team from 2001 to 2003.
"In light of the admissions by Matt, the [CA] board will meet this week to discuss what options are available to us and to determine what action should be taken," CA president Klaus Mueller said yesterday.
White announced on Saturday he was stepping down from his jobs as the sports director of the emerging Australian professional team Orica-GreenEDGE and his role in CA's men's road racing programme.
"I am sad to say that I was part of a team where doping formed part of the team's strategy and I too was involved in that strategy," White said. "My involvement is something I am not proud of and I sincerely apologise to my fans, media, family and friends who trusted me and also to other athletes in my era that consciously chose not to dope."