The Explainer: When it comes to the UCI, change is needed … but it ain’t easy

Dear Mr. Pelkey,
I’ve been a follower of LUG, RKP and the social media cycling community for a while, now.

I am really happy about the recent events in pro cycling. Success and openness of Garmin, support for Paul Kimmage and, of course, the USADA report and consequences.

My huge concern is that those running the sport, Hein and Pat, will remain and we risk having the situation of 1998/1999 repeat – big scandal followed by business as usual. UCI leadership has no credibility, is incompetent and very probably corrupt.

Is the UCI election process capable of bringing change? Is there a way for grass roots activists to make a difference?

An Explainer to give us a little hope would be good, really frightened that this opportunity could be missed.
– Peter

Dear Peter,
I have to agree with your assessment of the opportunity we lost in 1998 and ’99. I was among those who were convinced that the Festina Scandal of the ’98 Tour had finally proved that the cost of cheating would exceed the benefits and that riders, teams and officials would realize that it wasn’t worth the risk. Well, I was disabused of that Pollyannaish notion by the middle of the ’99 Tour.

This year has presented us with an even bigger opportunity. We have compelling evidence to suggest that not only did the sport not get cleaned up after Festina, it got worse. It appears that there is also enough evidence to suggest that the UCI was, at best, willfully ignorant of those developments or, at worst, complicit. As a result, it’s time for the two most visible and influential leaders at the UCI – Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen – to step down for the good of the sport.

Former – and now “honorary” – president, Verbruggen, has always struck me as having something of a Machiavellian streak, the sort that is intent upon working his way up the hierarchy not just of the UCI, but of the International Olympic Committee. He’s always struck me as one of the “Lords of the Rings,” described in Vyv Simson’s 1992 book.

I have to say that I actually like the current president, Pat McQuaid. He’s personable, bright and he seems to love the sport. Unfortunately, he and Verbruggen – whether by acts of commission or omission – have become part of the problem. Both really should resign from their respective positions and from the management committee for the good of the sport of cycling. But that ain’t gonna happen. And laudable as they might be, reform efforts face an uphill battle, largely because the organization is structured in a way to discourage genuine reform by limiting real power to a very, very small group of entrenched “leaders.” Here’s why:

The antithesis of democracy

First let’s have a look at the election process you asked about. There are two organizations that exercise control over the UCI. Those are the Congress and the Management Committee. Along with the president and vice presidents, the system is truly and example of how power in the organization is progressively distilled into the hands of fewer and fewer and fewer people.

The Congress is, according to the Constitution of the UCI, the “general meeting of members and the highest authority of the UCI.” But what does that mean? Are you, for example, one of those “members?”

Well, not exactly. Let’s assume that you hold a license to race bikes; one issued to you by your national governing body, which is USA Cycling. For purposes of this Congress, that doesn’t make you a “member” under the definition of the UCI Constitution. For purposes of this Congress, the members are the 171 national federations affiliated with the UCI. Member federations may be represented at the Congress by a delegation of not more than three persons.

Article 28 of the UCI Constitution requires that the statutory Congress be held at least annually, although exceptional circumstances could justify an emergency meeting. So, let’s imagine that all 171 member federations send three delegates to the Congress and those 513 representatives of the world cycling community assemble for the mandated annual convention. What do they get to do there?

They can talk to each other. They can listen to speeches. They can pick up gift packs of swag. Oh, and they can vote, right?

Well, not exactly. Let me explain.

Article 29 of the UCI Constitution grants broad authority to the Congress:

1. The Congress shall have the following exclusive powers and duties:

a) Alteration of the Constitution and dissolution of the association;
b) To transfer the registered office of the UCI to another country;
c) Admission, expulsion and suspension of federations, without prejudice to Article 46, d;
d) Setting the annual amount of contributions on a proposal from the Management
e) Election of the President of the UCI and of nine other members of the Management
f) Dismissal of the members of the Management Committee of the UCI;
g) Appointment of the public auditor, on a proposal from the Management Committee and his

2. In addition, the Congress shall each year decide on:

a) the management report of the Management Committee;
b) the auditor’s report on the accounts;
c) the annual accounts of the previous year;
d) the budget for the following year.

So we have up to 513 members of the global cycling community who wield considerable power, right?


Article 36 of the Constitution limits voting rights to just 42 delegates. Those delegates are selected to represent their respective Continental Federations and are distributed in accordance with the following formula:

  • Africa: 7 delegates
  • America: 9 delegates
  • Asia: 9 delegates
  • Europe: 14 delegates
  • Oceania: 3 delegates

It is those 42 delegates who get to vote on important issues and, more critically, select the president and 10 of the fifteen members of the Management Committee, which, according to the Constitution, is “vested with the most extensive powers as regards the management of the UCI and the regulation of cycling sports.” It’s where the real power in the UCI sits.

As I said, the power is increasingly distilled into the hands of smaller and smaller groups of people. Who are those 15? The Management Committee is composed of the President of the UCI and nine other members elected by the Congress. Of those ten elected members, at least seven have to belong to European federations. They are then joined by the presidents of the five Continental Federations.

In his day, Verbruggen worked that Management Committee like it was an extension of his own personality. He pretty much ran the show and hand-picked McQuaid to be his successor. I am not under the impression that McQuaid exercises as much power as did Verbruggen, but do keep in mind that Verbruggen remains involved in the Management Committee in his capacity as “honorary president.” It’s a non-voting position, but given that Verbruggen is also a vice-president in the IOC, he continues to wield power and influence in the UCI in general and the Management Committee in particular.

It is, by any definition, an old boys club and the old boys want to keep it that way.

Is there a way to change it? It may require a bit of creativity and, as Deep Throat told Woodward and Bernstein, it will require us to “follow the money.”

Time for reform?

After the USADA document dump in the Armstrong case, we suddenly had an opportunity to attack the way this sport is managed. The revelations were serious enough to even give the UCI, McQuaid and Verbruggen pause to reconsider their lawsuit against Irish journalist Paul Kimmage … at least until an “independent commission” completed a report as to the UCI’s involvement in the scandal.

That independent commission turned out to be structured quite like a normal three-member Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) panel. This one will be led by British appeals judge, Phillip Otton, and will include Australian lawyer Malcolm Holmes and British Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson. The three will meet in April to review evidence and then issue a report by June.

I’ll take a wait-and-see approach with regard to the panel’s independence. Superficially, it looks like a good group. Meanwhile, we won’t see much internal action from the UCI until that report is issued in June.

There is an admirable grass-roots effort underway right now, though. Following the whole Armstrong kerfuffle, Australian clothing entrepreneur Jamie Fuller started Change Cycling Now and the group organized a summit conference in London earlier this month. They are calling for a host of reforms, including the removal the UCI’s authority to administer its anti-doping enforcement and place it into the hands of a truly independent agency. (Do recall that is the model used in the U.S. and is likely the only reason we saw the Armstrong case pursued as it was.)

There were some heavy hitters involved, too, including Kimmage, his friend and colleague, David Walsh, the head of the Association of Professional Cyclists, Gianni Bugno, anti-doping expert Michael Ashenden, Garmin’s Jonathan Vaughters and the only American to win the Tour de France, Greg LeMond.

It may be a good sign that Johan Bruyneel referred to the meeting as “a bunch of douches.” Looking beyond that flash of Bruyneel’s rhetorical brilliance, it is important to remember that the quality of a man – or of an organization – can best be judged not only by the quality of their friends but also by the quality of their enemies. If you’re pissing off Johan Bruyneel these days, you’re probably doing something right. (Note to Johan: Take a cue from that Lance guy. Twitter is not your friend.)

It may well be the start of something good. Indeed, LeMond – who, by the way, is the only American to win the Tour de France (did I already mention that?) – said he was ready to run for the post of UCI president. Frankly, I can’t think of anyone better qualified than LeMond, who, by the way, is the only American to have won the Tour de France.

It will be an uphill battle, though. Again, think back to those 42 voting members of the UCI Congress. We’re not talking about a cadre of committed reformers when we mention those 42. The odds are good that these are people with the same set of skewed priorities and  ingrained conflicts-of-interest that caused the problem in the first place.

As I mentioned, it may be time for us to “follow the money,” and come at the UCI from the financial side. It’s time to organize and, yes, even boycott, sponsors whose support is critical to the UCI.

According to its annual financial report, the UCI’s “resources consist of contributions, sponsorship and royalties generated by sports activities.” Indeed, those sponsorships are the biggest single item in the governing body’s list of receivables each year.

Those sponsors include such notable companies as Shimano, Santini, Tissot, Skoda and Swatch. Let those sponsors know that their support of the UCI as it currently stands is not something that necessarily endears you to their product. Don’t necessarily boycott them yet, but do encourage them to use their influence to force reform within an organization that has failed to live up to its obligation.

Yes, we can push for change, but it ain’t gonna be easy.
– Charles

The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at [email protected]. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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  1. John in Milwaukee

    Not only is Greg Lemond the only American winner of the Tour de France, but his “Name” immediately gives the UCI strength in their “World” vision. Add me to the list of his supporters.

  2. rickvosper

    Brilliant, incisive, but, IMO, entirely too conciliatory to the UCI. The plain fact is that the very mission of the UCI is to *represent the interests of the riders*, and– especially post-Festina– no group has been more instrumental at turning those riders from athletes with brains and bodies of their own into a pack of radio-controlled diplegic racehorses.

    But you certainly got the part about Greg LeMond right, and how he’s the only American to win the Tour de France. I only hope you enjoyed writing that part as much as I enjoyed reading it.

  3. Skippy

    AS you have pointed out , the ” UCI “is a ” Closed Shop, OLD Boys Club “! phat is laughing like a hyena about what he thinks is the ” Futility ” of the petition ! His ” Achillies Heel ” will be the ” Extraordinary Meeting ” that will be called when enough of the 42 Delegates realise that ” The Party is over “!

    Question is , HOW do we call time on those at the “Feeding Trough “? Paul Kimmage has offered ” Information ” to the Swiss Authorities that should be strong enough to stand the glare of Publicity and cause the Swiss Judiciary to decide Criminal Charges be laid ! IOC being domiciled in Switzerland will enter into this fracas and the 9 man Board Governing Switzerland will put a stop to this matter , if not already !

    Sad to think that ALL SPORT is being interfered with by Criminal Elements whose only interest is in manipulating results so that the Betting and Doping Industries will profit ! A quick look at the ” Donati Report “will open anyones eyes to this sad situation .

    Currently the Petition is around 4000 signatures and seems to be languishing but when zou consider that 2 other petitions :

    have gained little support , that is an exceptional start !

    Eric Boyer has a letter that shows phat in ” Bad Light ” but that is from 2009 , ancient history ?

    Monday “UCI ” expect to receive submissions from “Stakeholders ” on ” Cyclings Bright Future “, another diversionary ploy of the phat & heinous dancing troupe ! Still awaiting details of the ” Doping Hotline “? Don”t hold your breath !

    Cycling Sponsors are going to be fleeing , EN Masse , during 2013 since ” Enough is ENOUGH “!

    Oh by the way , anyone notice the lance jokes lately ? They are coming to you thick and fast from those Media Hacks who spent a GEneration trying to be at the front of the Brown Nose Queue , some examples are in my latest blogs ?

    The ” CCN Initiative ” would do well to read this POst ! Jaimie Fuller is a Talented Guy in bringing the Group together , but they are only at the bottom step in the foyer of the World Trade Centre size building !

  4. Gary

    I don’t know if the UCI’s books are public knowledge but judging by the building, there’s some money in calling the shots:

    Without a mass mutiny, I don’t see Mr V and Mr M giving up their situation. Not that I don’t want to seem them thrown overboard, just don’t see the leverage to do so in standard reform.

    USA Cycling and it’s predecessors (ABLA, USCF etc) are not all that different, just a much smaller scale. Les Earnst has made this information public for many years. Here’s on on the voting fraud history of the US federations:

    This is a fairly recent post:

    Not a whole lot has changed but I still hold out hope.

  5. Peter Dedes

    Isn’t it time that professional racers organise, unionize and collectively bargain for fairer working conditions?

  6. MFC

    I realize that Lemond may have a lot of credibility, but what qualifications does he have to run a international organization. It takes, I presume, a lot more than a good reputation is being the only clean cyclist. Picking someone with no organizational experience may not be the best way to reform the UCI, especially if it has other embedded factions.

    Also, you say “I was disabused of that Pollyannaish notion by the middle of the ’99 Tour.” While I am not trying to engage in personal attack, journalist such as yourself were generally quiet for a long time,so claims such as those above ring rather hollow.

    No,I am not a Lance troll.

  7. Sam J

    @Peter Dedes

    Too many people making too many different sums of money playing under too many different rules in too many different jurisdictions. There are thousands of pro cyclists ranging from the Fabian Cancellara’s of the world to 19-year old Columbians who are neo-pros on a small domestic team. CQ Ranking lists 194 UCI registered teams, and that’s not even including a lot of the semi-pro domestic teams that don’t bother to pay because they only race at the NE level anyway.

    I think it would be good, but until I hear differently, I sincerely doubt it’s possible. Velonews had an interesting article by the guy who founded the MLBPA a few weeks ago on it, but it still seems highly unlikely.

    I’m not the biggest LeMond fan in terms of his management abilities, primarily because although Trek may have used the Lance-bashing as an excuse, they wanted to get rid of LeMond for a while because they didn’t like the way he handled his brand (which, although manufactured and sold by Trek, he still wielded a lot of control over). Vaughters talks a big game, but frankly he has hired way too many riders with seriously sketchy pasts (and presents), such as confirmed dopers Millar and Dekker, Ryder “guy who introduced vector doping to MTBing” Hesdejal, and the whole Cervelo crew, which as a team produced at a much higher level for those two years then just about any of them have done since. I don’t think he’s much more willing to turn a blind eye then he admits.

    My personal choice would be Marco Pinotti when he retires. Smart as fuck, loves bike racing to death, knows everything there is to know about the sport, and is about as humble and respectable a human being as you can find.

  8. Author
    Charles Pelkey

    I would never accuse you of being a Lance Troll. I have written plenty in the past of how the ’99 Tour proved to be something of an epiphany. I have also apologized in this column for being less than aggressive. I don’t count myself among the sycophantic, but I could have been more aggressive at points. I believe many of us have reason to be embarrassed, so I respect your assessment that “journalists” were generally silent.

  9. Sam J

    Sorry, relevant typo there (maybe an admin will come along an clean up), “I think he’s much more…” should be at the end of the penultimate paragraph. The “don’t” shouldn’t be there.

  10. Paul M.

    Maybe someone of the name recognition of a Greg LeMond will help bring some credibility to the UCI and pro cycling, though I have my doubts. (I’ve written elsewhere concerning my doubts about LeMond – including just how clean he actually was, especially during his second and third Tour wins, but I’m not going to go into that here.) I know I sound pessimistic – hell, I AM pessimistic – but I think the real problem lies in cycling’s success. These days, there is very big money on the line and as long as that’s the case, there will be people and organizations looking to subvert the system to their advantage. While it’s true that there are master’s riders, competing for nothing more than a trophy, who have been caught in the doping control web, they are the exception rather than the norm. But you don’t want to take the money out because that’s one of the great motivators (though not the only one, to be sure) for people to give 110% in pursuit of a win.

    So we have this conundrum – big money engenders cheating among some; but take away the money and you will see a diminution in the quality of racing events. And this is why I remain pessimistic – I would love to think that L’affaire Lance will have a sobering effect on the sport, but we all saw what happened after Festina.

  11. chiwode

    Love LeMond, but I’m not sure he’s an effective administrator. My guess is Ashenden would work better. He has the intellectual chops, a scientific background, and zeal.

  12. Bryan Barber

    As much as you might enjoy saying he didn’t, lance DID win 7 TDF’s. I watched 6 on tv and 1 in person. Your friend Pat may have banished his name from the record books but, it happened! And it was awesome! Ask anybody. I rode “le Alpe” as the French call it the day before lance blew uhlrich’s mind with the possum play in ’99. I can’t imagine a more incredible cycling scene(party).
    Getting back to the “main” point of the piece, now that you all have made lance out to be the almighty villain you have effectively closed the issue. The populous has a limited capacity when it comes to giving attention to big scandals. The journalist(rushtojudgementbandwagonists) gave them lance. Well done! It’s over. Not, because justice was served. But, because the journalists and all those self righteous c***’s missed the point and wasted the moment on the hit man and the bosses get away scot-free. Hope you enjoy another 20 years of fat cats in blue suits ruling over the entire world of cycle racing as the see fit. Change was within our reach. Sad result. Maybe next time. : )

  13. Skippy

    Elsewhere i have suggested that Greg LeMond be the Figurehead because he has done the ” hard Yards ( & Well recognised for this )” and Mike Ashenden be the CEO , controlling the backroom !

    From reading the ” Charter ” , it appears that Ashenden has already made proposals to the Racers , about their conduct before the 2013 TDF , which will no doubt be advised to the Cycling Fans when he has ” feedback ” ! Surprised there has not been a leak ? Could be the Racers are treating these proposals Seriously !

  14. Kublai

    Charles, merely splitting hairs here, and you may have a way to split them back, but didn’t Marianne Martin win the TdF? Or perhaps that was the TdFF?

  15. jaimie fuller

    great piece of writing and insight into what is a real conundrum. how do you get the UCI to reform the whole voting system when the guys who need to vote for it are enjoying the benefits of the obviously flawed system? why does the current President spend so much of his time wining and dining the smaller nations whose support is relatively cheap to ensure? note that this is no different to the IOC by the way. why was Horst Dassler such a powerful man in the olympic and fifa world? because of adidas’ sponsorships of the 3rd world countries and the votes that he carried in his back pocket. ever wonder why juan antonio was so reliant on dassler? ever wondered why adi enjoys relationships to this day with fifa as a result?
    one small correction if i may. Greg LeMond does not want to run for President of the UCI. he doesn’t want to be President of the UCI. he graciously agreed to step in, in a caretaker interim capacity if required to oversee maximum compliance with the UCIIC plus oversee the search for a proper full time President. our desire is to de-politicise the appointment and not rely on the old boys network and the papal anointment that’s the current practice. easy to do? nuh. should we try? you betcha baby

  16. Evan

    Power and corruption never yield to pleading. Nonviolent social, political, and legal actions with a grassroots beginning, however, does bring down and transform corrupt regimes. JF is like any right minded person of integrity employing these time tested and valid means of change. Corruption, fraud, cheating, and the degradation of sport to serve money and power interests is a marker of a society that has lost one of its most powerful ways to teach children the importance of initiative, challenge, competition, and teamwork. Sports and athletes are role models whether they like it or not.
    It is imperative we succeed here. Cycling is not the world’s major sport nor it biggest money maker, however, it is one of the most spectacular, dramatic, and universal examples of how we can reach our human potential. It can inspire and motivate us in many various ways. We should save it.

    CNN has come up with a very excellent balanced charter and methods to give us confidence in clean winners. This is possible. But we must remake the regulatory body, institute these forgiving but accountable methods, and move forward. Fans, athletes, sponsors, and authorities could embrace this model for all sports, including the olympics!

  17. Evan

    Dr. Ashenden has presented to the riders first a method that would actually ensure a very high degree of validity to riders being clean especially during major races and tours. Such measure would definitely need both rider and regulatory buy in. As part of the proposed CCN charter this represents a very important development in being able to have both the riders and public enjoy true winners of cycling. I am hopeful that the balanced approach CCN and others are advocating wins the day. A groundswell of support is needed. Please sign petitions at CCN and elsewhere!

  18. Khal Spencer

    Perhaps it is time to start another international bike race organization and take the riders out from behind this iron curtain. Since UCI elections are run like those in the old Soviet Union, best thing to do if one cannot overthrow this version of the Supreme Soviet is to vote with one’s feet…not to mention, checkbook.

  19. gmknobl

    I had not seen the information from Les Earnest before ( Is there any way one of the writers here or you, Mr. Pelkey, could address the information on that page? That web page is very damning to the people that run the sport in the U.S. Let alone doping, cheating is their bread and butter and guarantee a crookedly run sport (and, if that page is to be believed, for many other Olympic sports in the U.S.) into the future with only the USADA left to catch the drug side of it. It also calls into question the BMC team’s legitimacy simply by having Jim Ochowizc at it’s helm. But the page is mostly made up of accusations I don’t have the time to investigate to see if they have any substance to them, despite having plenty of footnotes.

    So, can someone here check up on this information? If we’re to have true cycling reform in this country, all the truths have to be known and this looks to be a good place to start.

  20. gmknobl

    Looking up Wikipedia information on Les Earnest, it seems he’s quite the fellow in both cycling and computer engineering. He has much to loose and nothing to gain by making such accusations, except perhaps, clean and honest cycling. It’s a shame his name is not better know. I know I had not heard of it before as a fan but I felt I was fairly well informed.

  21. Bart

    Along with the UCI the IOC needs a huge shake up. Both seem to work hand in hand and for who’s benefit, certainly not the athletes, must be that age old power and money thing…
    Neither McQuaid or Verbruggen will have anything after if ousted from the UCI. You can bet both will hang on tooth and nail till the bitter end.

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