AIGLE, Switzerland (AP) — After years of doping scandals in which the very legitimacy of his sport was questioned, Pat McQuaid says cycling's best days await.
The president of cycling's governing body points to this year's "superb" Tour de France with young riders competing free of drugs, developments that will help attract new sponsors and race organizers worldwide.
"We are looking towards a golden era," McQuaid told The Associated Press. "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."
McQuaid urged professional teams, with whom he has sparred this season, to back the International Cycling Union's leadership and its strategy of taking cycling to such countries 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 London last Sunday.
The dress rehearsal road race was won by home favorite Mark Cavendish. The British sprint star 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," the Irishman 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 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.
McQuaid was elected to the International Olympic Committee last year, allowing him to help develop new cycling markets in such countries 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 for 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 confront its past. There are investigations involving winners of 10 of the past 13 Tours de France, Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador.
He says a U.S. federal investigation into alleged doping by Armstrong's teams has contacted cycling's governing body just once in 16 months.
"There was one email 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 joined the World Anti-Doping Agency in appealing a Spanish acquittal of Contador for his positive test for clenbuterol while winning the 2010 Tour. The case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport is set for November.
"Whatever the justice is, we will accept," McQuaid said.
Contador's Aug. 1-3 hearing was postponed because of legal delays, allowing cycling to focus on Evans and Cavendish in the aftermath of the Tour.
Another win for Cavendish next July — the first gold medal awarded at the Olympics — could present cycling at its best just 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."
McQuaid acknowledges that if Cavendish enters the Olympics as world champion "the pressure would be enormous."
At the Beijing Games, silver medalist Davide Rebellin was later disqualified for doping. McQuaid looks forward to a London podium where all the medalists are clean.
"I think it will be," he said. "We're going in that direction."