Cycling risks being ejected from the Olympic Games because of the consistent spate of drug scandals surrounding it, a senior European IOC member told AFP on Wednesday.
Speaking under condition of anonymity the IOC member, in the wake of the revelation that Kazakh rider Alexandre Vinokourov had failed a test for blood doping - possibly two according to a report - said that the constant spate of scandals had placed it in serious danger of being voted out at the 2009 session of the IOC in Copenhagen.
Aside from Vinokourov, the image of the sport has taken a huge battering with even the current yellow jersey leader Michael Rasmussen's integrity being questioned as it has been revealed he missed four random doping tests in the past two years.
Also several members of the former Telekom/T-Mobile team have admitted to doping including 1996 Tour de France champion Bjarne Riis - who has been stripped of the title - while all the winners since him have also had shrouds of doubt thrown over them. Jan Ullrich (1997) has denied he ever took drugs but was sacked by T-Mobile after being implicated in the Puerto scandal last year in Spain, the late Marco Pantani (1998) was thrown off the 1999 Tour of Italy after failing a blood test.
Seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong has been subject to several allegations - all denied vehemently by him - while last year's winner Floyd Landis failed a test during that race and is awaiting the verdict of his arbitration hearing against USADA. All this and more has taken the sport to the brink of seeing the IOC members lose their patience according to AFP's source.
"Cycling is now a serious point of concern among IOC members," he told AFP. "There is scandal after scandal and it is in serious danger of exiting the Olympics."
He added that there were several sports - seen to be clean in the eyes of IOC members - who were lobbying hard for inclusion and could well supplant cycling as a sport at the global showpiece. "Softball, rugby and karate are seen to be clean sports and do not carry the dirt of doping in cycling.
"Cycling is dreadful for the image of the Olympic movement and the Games itself."
Were cycling to be ejected it would see it barred from the 2016 Summer Games and with a fight on its hands to regain admission for the 2020 edition.
The IOC member said that it was not all present International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid's fault, adding that the problem had been there well before under predecessor Hein Verbruggen - now head of the IOC's co-ordinating commission with Beijing for next year's Olympics.
Verbruggen was in charge when the infamous Festina scandal broke in 1998 and which saw a soigneur caught with a carload of drugs and ended in the elite team - including top climber Richard Virenque and Christophe Moreau - thrown out of the Tour de France. Verbruggen did not draw favourable comments when he spent the last half of that chaotic Tour on holiday in India and the IOC member told AFP that he should take some of the blame for the present state of affairs.
"Verbruggen has questions to answer from his term as president," he said. "The fall guy has been McQuaid and he is taking all the hits."
He added that it had been a certainty that cycling would come to such a stage of desperation. "The problem in the sport is endemic and it is getting worse and worse and worse.
"They tried to avoid everything that WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) said should be done, and they certainly didn't like the fact there was a new sheriff in town in the persona of Dick Pound (WADA supremo, who steps down later this year)."
Pound himself had blasted cycling earlier this month at the IOC Session in Guatemala declaring 'its credibility was in shreds'. "I don't know what the sport of cycling has to go through to shed this image," said the straight-talking Canadian lawyer. "They (UCI) have allowed it to get out of hand. First it was a denial of a problem, and saying that the positive doping cases were isolated incidents and now they accept that it is endemic and organised.
"Their credibility is in shreds. Networks are not interested and sponsors are diving out of the sport."
Pound, though, did give McQuaid guarded support. "The UCI has not done enough to date but at least they have now come to recognise this."
© AFP 2007