Friday Group Ride #87


To follow professional cycling in Europe is to be familiar with the machinations of the UCI. The organization’s attempts to do more than just administer the sport, but to, in effect, control the sport have resulted in more disenfranchised stakeholders than you’ll find in an oil spill.

Normally, you’d expect to find an organization with skewed priorities playing favorites. Not so with the UCI. They’ve managed to upset the riders. They’ve upset the race organizers. They’ve upset the teams. One could be forgiven for surmising that even the IOC has their issues with them, once behind closed doors.

Earlier this year Johan Bruyneel made some noise about starting a breakaway organization to replace the UCI. Pat McQuaid responded with his typical bluster.

What McQuaid may not know, and what I can say from first-hand knowledge, is that an investigation has already been undertaken into the requirements necessary to start a new governing body for cycling. The UCI is in people’s cross hairs. Why? Because the accusations that the organization is corrupt and doesn’t have the sport’s best interests at heart have legs.

Just this week Inner Ring reported that letters went out to team sponsors detailing the problems they would have trying to conduct business in China, should the teams they sponsored not show up for the Tour of Beijing. Forget for a moment that McQuaid intimated that the teams themselves would have problems getting their licenses renewed. That’s a pretty standard shakedown. What’s truly disturbing is the mob-style intimidation of suggesting that it will be difficult for the sponsor to do business in China should the team not show. After all, one wouldn’t want to insult the Chinese government, would one?

Ladies and gentlemen, that is good, old-fashioned blackmail. I’m no lawyer, but I play one in the bathtub and around my low-stakes soap dish that constitutes a felony.

The standoff began with the conflict over race radios. Bruyneel, Jonathan Vaughters and several other team managers considered using a boycott of the Tour of Beijing as way to take a stand on race radios. There was another, better reason to boycott the race, a reason still in place: Because the UCI organizes the race, their financial stake in the race constitutes a conflict of interest. As soon as the UCI begins promoting races for profit, races that can conflict on the calendar with other ProTeam events, such as Paris-Tours, then they become a competitor to those race organizers. What’s to stop them from organizing events in other parts of the world in July to undermine the ability of a team to send its A-squad to the Tour de France?

And now we find out that the UCI killed blood tests during the Amgen Tour of California.

Folks, if we can’t count on the UCI to carry out in-competition blood-tests at major races, we might as well take the gloves off and stop pretending that we’re trying to clean up the sport. Let’s just hold all the races in Las Vegas, hand out testosterone patches like jugs of Gatorade and educate the odds-makers on how to handicap a bike race.

When the day comes that McQuaid is ousted from the UCI, he’ll be able to find instant work with a certain family known for running most of Boston. He’d be right at home in Charlestown. I can here him now: “Hey, that’s a real pretty car you got there. It would be such a shame if something was to happen to it. If you want, for a small fee, I could watch it for you, make sure nothing happens while you’re gone.”

The question today is whether anything can be done to reign in the UCI, or what can be done to oust Pat McQuaid. We can’t trust the UCI to act in the sport’s best interest, so we must ask what can be done to resolve their negative impact on the sport.

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  1. Ben

    Amen brother Padraig. Amen. I was thinking today as I read the CN piece on the tour of Cali dope-testing piece how easy it would be to base a new HBO series on McQuack and the UCI. a cross between the Wire and the Sopranos perhaps.

    Can anything be done? Short of the new pro-league idea? No. In too deep. Tony, err Pat has his position set and blows anything to the contrary outta the water (like the USADA?). He’s got the power and whoever his would-be successor is will too. Ugly ugly shite!

  2. Robot

    I still believe that ASO holds the keys to this particular lock. They own enough races to shut down the sport. If they pair with RCS, then it’s over. ASO and RCS have their businesses damaged by drug scandals. If they can’t trust UCI to do the basics to clean up the sport, then I think they have the muscle to effect another solution.

    I just wish they’d get started.

  3. CAT4Fodder

    Something must be done before McQuaid promoted races become too frequent (with too much money at stake sponsorship wise) for teams to risk jumping overboard from the UCI.

    It really does all hang on the ASO, and whether they can finally bite the bullet, and finally break free from the UCI. The biggest issue is that with so many UCI teams quasi-National teams (Sky, Green Edge, Katusha, Astana, Euskatel….), and with the UCI holding the keys to the Olympics, the biggest, most well-funded teams are likely not going to jump until at least after 2012.

    So perhaps the ASO and others are waiting such that if a breakaway league were to be attempted, there is enough time between the next Olympics in 2016 for the new league to perhaps replace the UCI for Olympic eligibility.

    But for this to happen, the new league would have to also deal with the fact that the UCI handles all disciplines of the sport, and so the new league would have to somehow also take on that role, or else the UCI will always be the ultimate governing body.

  4. Simon

    Faintly disheartening in this is the presence of Christian Prudhomme at the initial press conferences for the Tour of Beijing. That indicates to me that for the time being ASO are firmly in the tent pissing out. Given that an invite to the tour plays such a major part in the team’s year it’s difficult to see them having, or more importantly – wanting to use – any leverage on ASO or RCS.

    Where the Olympics sit in this I don’t know, or to be honest, really care. Pro cycling used to exist quite happily on its own back when the Olympics were solely for amateurs. If the classics and the grand tours leave, Uncle Pat really does have squat. What’s sad is that there’s no sign of that happening, at all.

  5. Ben

    What’s worse than anything (apparent spite towards all stakeholders) is that Pat does’t apparently give a sh** about fans, riders, sponsors…or anything but his on face and the ego behind it. Is the bigger question, “who has the balls to stand up to him?”. We do but we don’t matter enough.

  6. randomactsofcycling

    I’m with Robot. ASO now have interests in races on nearly every Continent and in every part of the season. I think it is just a matter of time.

  7. Walter Nash

    Well said!

    In an economic time when sponsors are stretched thin, it is amazing that the sanctioning body threatens them. Does the UCI not realize that this kind of treatment makes existing sponsors rethink their position in the sport and potential new sponsors give the sport a pass in favor of something else where they are welcomed?

    The conflict of promoting a race and then requiring the teams you charge a fortune for the Pro Tour license to attend is also a conflict too large to ignore.

    My vote for a new Czar of road cycling: Bob Stapleton.

  8. Souleur

    Indeed the ASO does have the most skin in this game, but so do the other race organizers. If, and that is a big if, IF ASO and the others collaborated w/the teams, they could and would make the difference on circumventing the UCI.

    Ousting McQuaid at this point I think would do little in boosting confidence that the sports mutual/best interests are being protected and served. In short, there is an organized effort it seems by the UCI to work against teams, the riders and the races. Just look at the evidence, that is what they have done.

    So, where to go?? There does need to be some governance, but outside the UCI setting up something else Internationally will be a HUGE undertaking. Perhaps in a perfect utopia however, with the stars aligned and the right karma…perhaps, the teams, the PRO’s, the organizers/race owners could collaborate and make it happen.


  9. Big Mikey

    Seriously, though… we think the governing bodies of any other sports are legitimate and free from corruption and collusion? NFL, NBA, MLB? FIFA? And the biggest travesty of all….the IOC (including all the national olympic organizations).

    It’s never going to change….the new organization will be different from the current in name only.

    1. Author

      Corruption isn’t really the issue here. Corruption that harms the sport is the issue. No one in the NFL or elsewhere is getting crucified for doping that may or may not have taken place. Those other sports aren’t on a massive and sometimes seemingly effective campaign to stamp out doping. One minute the UCI seems to be addressing doping in a serious way, the other minute they appear complicit in a coverup. Those other sports don’t appear to be threatening team owners. Those other sports’ governing bodies don’t really have the power to just suddenly eliminate, say, the Chicago Bears. What’s happening in cycling has the potential to cripple the sport.

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