LONDON - Cyclists will be offered a chance to confess to past doping offences without fear of retribution in an attempt to uncover the full scale of the Lance Armstrong scandal and drug use in the sport.
The UCI agreed Friday to introduce a "truth and reconciliation" commission with the World Anti-Doping Agency, cutting out the independent panel established to investigate the governing body's links to Armstrong.
UCI President Pat McQuaid said he wants to ensure cycling has "drawn a line in the sand finally — and for the last time" on doping scandals that have tarnished the credibility of the sport.
After years of denials, Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life, admitted to doping in an interview last week with Oprah Winfrey.
"The truth and reconciliation process is the best way that we can examine the culture of doping in cycling in the past, and can clear the air so that cycling can move forward," McQuaid said after a stormy first hearing by the panel investigating his body.
The UCI's reputation has been badly damaged by accusations its leaders covered up suspicious doping tests given by Armstrong during his 1999-2005 run of Tour de France victories and improperly accepted donations from him totalling $125,000.
The independent commission formed to establish the veracity of those claims clashed at Friday's hearing with the UCI's lawyer over two key demands it has made — that it broadens the investigation into Armstrong's role as the ringleader of an elaborate doping scheme on the U.S. Postal Service team, and establishes an amnesty program of its own to ensure witnesses come forward.
The UCI rebuffed their proposals by insisting it would be too costly to fund wide-scale investigations, and the three-person panel will meet again on Thursday to discuss whether to proceed with a process it is unhappy with.
And McQuaid said that, since the independent commission was established, "several of our stakeholders have said they won't take part in it. Not just USADA (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) and WADA but others, national federations."
The UCI said it would update the independent panel on the talks planned this weekend with WADA President John Fahey about the amnesty commission.
McQuaid first revealed he was considering such an amnesty program to The Associated Press in September, but said Friday the plans were only finalized in recent days.
"WADA have indicated that they would share costs with the UCI," McQuaid said. "The WADA code is being reviewed and an amnesty is under discussion within that review. But we're just bringing that aspect forward."
But British judge Philip Otton, who heads the independent panel, accused the UCI of trying to use the delay in the truth and reconciliation process as "an excuse to kick the USADA allegations into the long grass."
Now the UCI is effectively asking the panel it established to suspend itself. It had been due to hold full hearings in April and report by June.
UCI lawyer Ian Mill said the "entire process has been derailed" because the panel is demanding a "truth and reconciliation" process of its own and a widening of its role into the wider doping scandal.
"Getting to the bottom and determining how the USPS team operated without detection or sanction in a reasonable timescale ... causes us considerable anxiety," Mill said.
"We can do something which we understand you don't want to do ... a limited inquiry taking place in April," he added.
In a heated exchange at the Law Society in London, Mill told the panel: "We're not trying to kill this inquiry. We set you up."
"Please do not raise your voice," Otton interjected.
"We are not the bad guys here," Mill said. "We have a finite amount of money available to us ... we are not like a football body."
McQuaid later said that delaying the hearing was not designed to help his own re-election prospects in September, insisting: "I have nothing to worry about."
The panel fears that the process is being intentionally stalled, complaining about a lack of full disclosure by the UCI.
"It just amazes me that we have had absolutely no documents whatsoever," former British Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson said to the UCI's lawyer. "When are we going to get the ... files?"
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris