The Explainer: Can reform begin at home?


Dear readers,
As we approach the end of what has been a momentous year for cycling, a lot of us are left wondering where the sport goes from here.

Padraig and I have been chatting back and forth and one thing he asked for was something of a follow-up to the piece I did on the likelihood of reform at the UCI.

As I mentioned in a recent column – “When it comes to the UCI, change is needed … but it ain’t easy” – the structure of our international governing body is such that, despite its superficially “democratic” façade – real power in the organization is held in the hands of a very small number of people with the same set of skewed priorities and ingrained conflicts-of-interest that caused the problem in the first place

Padraig was interested in hearing about how our own national governing body was set up and whether we could possibly start the “revolution” from this side of the Atlantic.

Is reform possible?

Well, the short answer is “no.”

Back in the day, the old U.S. Cycling Federation (USCF) was something of a democratic organization. You bought a license and you earned the right to vote for members of the board of directors. Admittedly, not all that many voted and we’d see boards composed of people chosen in elections with less than 10-percent voter turnout.

Indeed, you still have the right to vote for board members, but your vote just doesn’t count for much. In 1999, a few years after the creation of USA Cycling, the successor to the USCF, there was a “special” meeting of the Board of Directors called by president Mike Plant (who, you might recall, remains a member of the UCI Management Committee) for which the agenda included some major changes to the Bylaws of the organization.

The measure was essentially railroaded through the board, without much discussion, save a vigorous effort from board member Les Earnest. If you’ve not heard of Les, you should, especially if you’re a reform minded cycling fan. Les’ professional background is in computers. He’s responsible for the development of the first spell checker, the first effective pen-based computer and was appointed as the executive officer of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1965. The guy is wicked smart and he loves bike racing. We’re lucky to have him around. (Author’s Note: I was incorrect in naming Les Earnest as the sole opponent of the Plant “reform” initiative. Board Member Chuck Collins was the member of the board who voted against the measure, as is correctly reflected in his comment below. My apologies to Chuck and I guess I’ll chalk up my error to an aging brain. I even wrote about Chuck being a lone voice in the wilderness at the time.)

Anyway, Plant’s changes were couched as an “emergency measure” (with no real explanation as to what the exact “emergency” might have been) and as such went into effect immediately upon passage. The net effect of those “reforms” was to place considerable voting power into the hands of a small group representing the USA Cycling Development Foundation. Indeed, while representing less than one percent of USA Cycling’s membership, the Foundation can effectively choose the majority of the membership on the USA Cycling board of directors.

Now, if you want the particulars, I am going to direct you to Les’ site, where he recently posted an essay describing the cycling’s current problems, a series of “coups,” representing what Earnest calls a “flagrantly crooked takeover by business interests” of the sport and the legal challenges that have resulted from those.

What is disheartening is that you find yourself agreeing with Earnest’s conclusion to the question “is reform possible?”

In short, it is not, unless there are serious changes to federal law (namely the “Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act). It is a dire conclusion when you realize your hopes of reform are rooted in that painfully rare phenomenon known as “Congressional Action.”

We do have one huge advantage

Now, I have to say that I have my reasons to believe that the situation here in the U.S. is still better than that of the UCI. It’s not that this country’s governing bodies are somehow better or less encumbered by conflicts of interest.

No, what sets American governing bodies apart from their international counterparts is that collective decision by those U.S. Olympic Committee-affiliated NGBs to hand off their authority to deal with doping cases to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Recall, that one allegation out there in the whole Armstrong case is that his “donation” to the UCI to assist in its anti-doping efforts was merely a pay-off to the organization to cover up an alleged positive doping test from the 2001 Tour de Suisse. While the UCI has yet to share the documents associated with that incident, how can anyone – after having seen USADA’s evidence – reasonably conclude that Lance Armstrong honestly made a contribution to the UCI to actually boost its efforts to control doping? (If you’re one who can reach that conclusion, by the way, give me a call. I have a really nice bridge to sell you in New York.)

The one element of the American system that should serve as a model for the rest of the world is precisely that separation of powers.

Read Les’ article and think about it for a minute. Then try to imagine the outcome had every bit of evidence in the Lance Armstrong case been in the hands of Mike Plant, Jim Ochowicz or Thom Weisel. The record books would remain intacct and few would be talking about reforming things these days.

It took a tenacious – and, above all, independent – agency to reach the conclusion that the Emperor did, indeed, have no clothes (well, at least no yellow jerseys).

That sole element, though, doesn’t mean that the U.S. system is otherwise any better than that which governs the UCI. We need fundamental reform. If you have a racing license, vote. And then let your opinions be heard. Contact the members of the board. Despite the lopsided and undemocratic imbalance of voting power, there are some good folks on the USA Cycling Board of Directors. Let them know how you feel. Demand changes. Finally, be willing to back up those demands with action … or as some suggest, in-action, meaning that you don’t renew your license for a year.

The sad truth, though, is that the current structure is largely the result of the inherently apolitical nature of folks in the sport. Hell, we didn’t get involved in cycling to add yet another political aspect to our lives. As a result, though, we let these folks take control. In some cases, they’ve done okay. In others … well, not so much.

If you want to see change in the organization, get involved. It will take all of us.

The big events of 2012?

Padraig had some other thoughts about closing out the year. I know at my old job, we would have editors and a few contributors sitting around voting on who was worthy of this, that or the other prize for things they did over the course of the previous year.

Certainly we here at RKP are not above pontificating now and then, but I want to hear from you, too.

I have my own opinion as to whom, for example, should rank as “Person of the Year” in cycling. What I like, though, is to hear what you have to say.

Please, use the comments section below or send me an email ([email protected]) and let me know your thoughts about the year in cycling.

  • What were the highlights?
  • What were the low points?
  • Who are the heroes?
  • Who are the villans?
  • Which was the greatest day of racing?
  • Which of the three was the best grand tour?
  • Which was the best one-day race of the year?
  • What great technical development may actually prove to be more than just a way to get you to spend more on bikes?

Feel free to comment on anything and everything. We’ll cobble together an awards column, but rest assured, it will be with your input.

Thank you

Finally, dear readers, I first want to thank you for indulging my off-topic detour last week. Like all of us, I was pretty shaken by the events of the previous day.

My buddy, Bob.

Professor Bob.

I managed to attend the funeral for my friend, Bob, and tears aside, the event quickly devolved into an opportunity for many of us to share stories about an old friend. My contribution?

Well, a few years back, we were having lunch on campus at the university here in Laramie, when a young man walked past, resplendent in full western regalia: hat, boots, vest and even chaps, despite there not being a horse anywhere within miles.

“Ya know, Charles, I never got that; the whole cowboy thing here in Wyoming,” Bob said. “I mean, I’m from New England … and I don’t dress up like a @#$% ing Pilgrim.”

A lot of us ended up the day laughing as we shared a host of Bob’s best one-liners. I hope we can all leave that kind of legacy when we’re gone. I’ll miss you, Bob, but I will almost always remember you with a smile.
– 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. SusanJane

    What were the low points?
    – The Lance groupies who believe blindly regardless of the evidence. Holy moly did any of them even bother to read the testimonies? Most of all the sponsors who continue to pull out of cycling at all levels.

    Who are the heroes?
    – The young riders who are coming into the peloton who know the horrible costs of their elders and choose to ride clean. Tygart who fearlessly took on the code of silence and found ways to get testimonies. The journalists, riders and staff who stood up and said “I doped.” The fans and sponsors who continue to believe in cycling. RKP writers and participants who are unafraid to talk about cycling critically and personally.

    Who are the villains?
    – Sadly all of us for buying into the omertà. And more for the riders who continue to say “I didn’t dope” when the evidence says otherwise or “I never saw anyone dope” when the evidence says otherwise.

    Which was the greatest day of racing?
    – Christ Froome leaving Wiggins behind again and again on climbs during the Tour. I do believe it was not on purpose but I have a soft spot for the tireless domestiques who have that little extra.

    Which of the three was the best grand tour?
    -Velta! No question. The Giro was boring for most of the first part. The Tour was hardly a contest and for the first time since Lance doped his way to win after win I was bored. The Velta was exciting and hard fought — for many years the Velta was almost soft peddled and disregarded. This year was televised and super exciting all the way through!

    Which was the best one-day race of the year?
    – The classics as a group. I also enjoyed the Coors Classic… I mean the Tour of Colorado… I mean whatever it’s called… where Voit smoked the field as if it were a one day race against riders who somehow thought the race was not going to be a media outing.

  2. Skippy

    Found this Article by Les , as disturbing as the ” Donati Report “!

    ” Doping is just part of the problem ”
    By Les Earnest, Cyclops USA, 2012 December 8

    When i saw Les’s reference to Alpine Skiing , i couldn’t help thinking of Lindsay’s recent withdrawal from competition and some of the recent ” Four Game suspensions “!

    Would appear that the ” fix ” is not as apparent to the general public !

    Knew that Greg LeMond could not expect any assistance from the US Cycling Club so already suggested that Tracey Gaudry persue the UCI Presidency .

    Those voting in the UCI Elections , that vote for ” Status Quo ” , will be sending a signal , that they deserve investigation for a variety of unconscionable behaviours !

    Currently think , that the only successful assault on ” Fortress Aigle ” , will be by the Swiss Authorities as a result of the submissions offered them by Paul Kimmage & co !

    There is not the will for ANY substantial number of Cyclists to refuse to renew Licence registration for the period required for a result .

    Seems to me Charles , the sooner YOU start ” ”

    The sooner US Cycling gets a FRESH Makeover !

    Will take a person of your calibre to do this , but count on me as ” first in the ” sign on queue “!

  3. Evan Shaw

    Well done. Brightest spot in USA cycling is Dieter Drake Tour of the Battenkill. Youth Cyling farm team. Brilliant organizer and promoter. Integrity honesty values guts.

    Rare !

  4. djconnel

    I don’t know about national solutions, but for a period Northern California / Nevada broke away from USA Cycling, forming its own local organization with its own rules. Rather than hoping for change from within, I think breaking away from broken organizations is more productive. Local organizations are in a better position to respond to the needs of local riders and for the majority of races and racers (excluding perhaps those who have international aspirations), are good for cycling.

  5. RobbieCanuck

    Congratulations Charles on once again clearly explaining the political landscape of international cycling ( and for Americans, the USA situation (I am Canadian)) It is disheartening at best.

    The 2012 highlight is without question the ignominous charade that was Lance Armstrong. I am one of those who have long believed LA was a doper, a fraud a bully and an egomaniac. The perseverance of Travis Tygart, Jeff Novitsky and many others to finally expose the truth is not only a testament to USADA but a reflection on the abject failure of the UCI as the governing body of cycling and its useless minions of firstly Verbruggen, now McQuaid and the entire UCI Board, to allow the worst sports fraud in sports history to occur under their nose and on their watch.

    The low point was not only Armstrong’s duplicity but the failure of McQuaid to resign. I agree with SusanJane that it is astounding to the nth degree, how so many besotted by faux celebrity could continue to support Armstrong, be blind to his false pretence and ignore the obvious and overwhelming evidence against him.

    My concern is that we in North America fall into the trap of idolizing “heroes” and “celebrities”, manufactured by these people themselves, their manipulative organizations (read Livestrong, Nike, Trek etc) and/or the fawning uncritical media.

    As a retired Crown Prosecutor and Defence lawyer, my training and experience perhaps gave me an advantage in being able to understand the accumulating body of credible evidence against LA, to which the Lance fawners were hopelessly wilfully blind. I am happy my mother’s refrain that Cheaters Never Prosper has once again been vindicated and a life lesson worth following.

    The hero is clearly USADA. The villians are clearly LA, Bruyneel, Ferrari etal and Verbruggen/McQuaid and the UCI.

    The greatest day of racing was every day Contador attacked in the Vuelta. The greatest Tour was the Vuelta. The greatest one day race was Wiggins Olympic win. The greatest one technical development was and continues to be my alarm clock that gets me out on the road in the morning.

  6. High Plains Drifter

    I’ve never understood these cartels where the guys running the show offer nothing save for their seal of approval.

    File under ” might not help, but it can’t hurt”: union! The status quo nearly always remains the status quo when they’re up against individuals instead of a collective body. Each individual gripe is a mosquito, easily swatted away. But together, it’s a charging rhino.

    And if management is seen as the reason for a revenue-losing strike, at some point the board will identify the non-performers. At some point …

  7. Chuck Collins

    Ah Charles, Chuck Collins here. I believe you’re one of the most informed journalists of the activities of USA Cycling at the time. So I’m puzzled as to how you missed this.

    I was the only USA Cycling Director to vote NO when this legislation was first presented to the USA Cycling Board of Directors at the regular meeting in Phoenix, AZ February 1999.

    My fellow Directors expected me to vote in the affirmative to this legislation, Amended Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, which, among other reforms, unilaterally removed the membership’s right to vote.

    I’ll do my best to recall the sequence of events without referencing any notes.

    In September/October of 1998, as a United States Cycling Trustee, (USCF) I was more or less recruited by John Vande Velde to run for election by the United States Cycling Federation (USCF) to the USAC Board of Directors, as I recall, left vacant by departing USCF Trustee Mike Fraysee.

    In my opinion, I believe I was recruited by Vande Velde as some USAC Director’s did not trust the potential antics of other potential USCF candidates, Les Earnest among them.

    I won that election as the second USCF Trustee represented on the USAC Board of Directors, the other being Vande Velde.

    Fast forward to Phoenix, my first appearance on the big board. At about 11:30 am, the USAC Board was presented with Amended Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. At the moment, I do not recall who presented the legislation. I do recall that the legislation had the support of staff, USAC legal counsel, Jim Ochewicz, and Mike Plant.

    Besides the procedural violations of this legislation, the legislation was not on the agenda thirty days prior to the meeting as required by Roberts Rules of Order, the legislation was an abomination as the legislation unilaterally removed the member’s right to vote by the USA Cycling Board of Directors, among other reforms.

    The Board discussed legislation for thirty minutes. I was very uncomfortable with this legislation. I was ambushed. The membership was ambushed. I successfully postponed a vote upon the legislation until after lunch.

    During the Lunch break, I called among others, Les Earnest for consultation.

    Upon returning to official business after the lunch break, I voted NO to the legislation.

    Long story short, the membership sued USA Cycling and eventually won it’s case upon appeal in Federal Court in Colorado.

    By the time the “emergency” legislation, now the properly presented legislation you spoke of was presented to the USAC Board of Directors, maybe winter/Spring 2002, I was no longer a USAC Director as I had been replaced by John Tarbert, a former staff USAC Technical Director.

    By that time, conditions on the ground had changed somewhat, and the membership seemed to have less adversity to the legislation, or more likely, they had fully realized their indifference.

    That’s the best I can recall.

  8. Aar

    Low points: Every time a doper competed
    Hero: Travis Tygart & USADA
    Villains: Professional Cyclists (none of them are above suspicion at this point)
    Greatest day of cycling: The one when all competitors were clean (I doubt there were any)
    Best Grand Tour: (see greatest day, above)
    Best One Day Race: (see greatest day, above)

    2012 is the year we learned that there is no competition in bicycle racing. It’s all just staged entertainment – like WWE, figure skating and “Twilight”. Nonetheless, I find staged bicycle entertainment more enjoyable than those options. Tom Boonen, Taylor Phinney, Ryder Hesjdal and Tejay van Garderen are really great entertainers. Paris-Roubaix and the Giro d’Italia are really entertaining venues.

    Technical development: For my future ‘cross, city, rando or touring bikes, “road” disk brakes are likely to provide material benefits but not for road (ie racing-style) bikes. Disks could be the solution for the structural issues with rim brakes on carbon rims but they’re most likely more than totally offset by the aerodynamic disadvantages at road bike speeds. Now, solve the dish issues that disks create on front wheels for all types of bikes! If Campy EPS was lighter than cable shifting, we’d have something else to talk about.

  9. Jesus from Cancun

    Hmmmm… high point of the season? I think, all these guys coming forward and saying “I did it too and I saw Lance doing it too”.

    Low point of the season? All these guys coming forward and saying “I did it too and I saw Lance doing it too”. I think it will be good for the long term future of the sport, hence the high point. But I also think it was a huge blow to the credibility of cycling as a fan sport and as a business opportunity for sponsors. Good bye Rabo, Good bye Nissan……

    Heroes? Kristin Armstrong, Marianne Vos, Taylor Phinney, Purito Rodriguez, all for different reasons. And Vino, too. I might be alone in this, but I was thrilled when I saw him breaking away and then sprinting for gold in the Olympics. Way to go for an old guy back from 2 years off.

    Villans? That’s an easy one. UCI as a whole.

    Greatest day of racing… I am split between Rabottini’s emotional win at the Giro, and Contador’s long range attack to earn the win at the Vuelta. Maybe also Thomas de Gendt break at the Giro. He looked for a while like he would steal the show.

    Best GT no doubt the Vuelta.

    Best one day race the Olympic women’s road race.

    I don’t follow tecnhical developments, so for me anything after the introduction of brake lever shifting and carbon fiber frames is an easily avoidable expense.

  10. Khal Spencer

    Power grabs are the norm. The LAB has done much the same by taking the power to elect board members out of the hands of membership and giving it to the existing Board. The existing Board vets prospective candidates, rejecting those it doesn’t like, and elects almost 50% of its own members. Kinda like democracy in East Germany.

    Perhaps the best thing we can all do with these organizations is what those East Berliners did: vote with our feet.

  11. d

    i was once a USA Team mecanic. It cost me a couple hundred dollars a year to maintain my license, so that I would be legal to volounteer to work for them for free for the rest of the year. I loved working for those riders. They got NO support from USA Cycling unless you made it to Worlds. So if you made it there on your decrepid equipment, we could replace the broken stuff, if we had it. I got tired of paying money to work for free. I stopped paying, and pissed off an exutive. I have never had the opportunity to work for a USA rider again. According to someone I know, they are smart enough now to comp your license if you give them all of that time and labor. I miss the riders not the Overlords.

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