The Explainer: This time I’m serious


Eight years ago, it was a pretty good joke. Now, it’s a damned good idea.

Dear Readers,
If you’ve read my stuff over the years, you might recall that, while at my old gig, one of my favorite times of year included the last two days of March. Alas, it wasn’t for anything that appeared on the racing calendar, though. It was largely because I had the privilege of setting aside my normal duties and concentrating on fake news.

Yup, over those couple of days we would all concentrate on coming up with the goofiest – but potentially believable – “news” story for an appearance on the homepage on April 1. Indeed, the tradition pre-dates the web and, in the old days, we would produce at least one page in the appropriate edition of VeloNews dedicated solely to our April Fools’ Day coverage.

We had our hits. We once printed a story about Eddy Merckx’s decision to mount a comeback. As I recall, Sports Illustrated actually believed the story and repeated it as news. (I mean, come on, SI. Who would be crazy enough to believe that a five-time Tour winner would be in such need of adulation that he would return to the sport after retirement?)

The big score for me, though, was in 2005 when, under the nom de plume, Philippe Farceur, I wrote about a major shake-up in the management of the UCI. Ridiculous as it sounded, a heated argument between former UCI president Hein Verbruggen and WADA president Dick Pound resulted in Pound agreeing to take over the top spot in cycling after Verbruggen told him that “he was a windbag and that he couldn’t do better if he was in my shoes.”

Yeah, yeah, pretty nutty, but some actually bought it, including the Boston Globe, whose sports columnist John Powers reprinted it as gospel (and without attribution) and then became indignant when we pointed out it was an April Fools’ Day story. (I’m still rather proud of that, especially since Powers’ column appeared on the same day his newsroom colleagues were getting a Pulitzer Prize.)

Well, maybe Powers was just ahead of his time. I, for one, think it’s now time for life to imitate farce.

Change requires … actual change

That cycling is facing a tough road these days is something of an understatement. Think about the response to the events of the past few months, not by you, your cycling buddies or die-hard cycling fans. Instead, think back to how your non-cycling friends have reacted.

If yours are anything like mine, the first response to your interest in the sport of professional cycling usually involves a question, or two, or three about that fella from Texas and all of that there doping stuff.

To paraphrase, “Austin, we have a (credibility) problem.”

This is serious, too. It’s a crisis that far transcends the problems we faced back in the day, when the Festina scandal threatened to “forever change the face of cycling.” Remember that the best response from that total [email protected]#$% came from the International Olympic Committee itself, when it held the world’s first international conference on doping in sport and took the first critical steps toward the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency. The Olympic movement embraced the idea that the interests of a sport and the enforcement of doping rules may be inherently in conflict and that they should – at least at some level – be separated.

Cycling’s response was a bit more tepid. Far from changing the face of cycling, the guys in charge of the sport when it almost careened off a cliff, remained in charge of the sport. Topping that list, of course, was the aforementioned Hein Verbruggen and his heir apparent, then UCI vice president, Pat McQuaid. No new faces. Same old … uhhhh …. stuff.

Rather than embracing reform, cycling’s governing body did all that it could to fight it, delaying even its endorsement of the WADA Code until the last possible minute – the eve of the Athens Olympics in 2004.

I was at that first conference and I have to admit that I left more than a little skeptical of its outcome, particularly since they appointed a long-time IOC vice president, Dick Pound, to head the new anti-doping effort. I had serious doubts about an IOC insider being able to get past the inherent conflicts of interest that kept us from taking major steps toward serious reform.

I was quickly proven wrong when it came to Pound. Sure, there were problems with the new arrangement, due in no small part to the decision to leave national and international governing bodies in place as the first line of defense in the war on doping. But WADA effectively staked out its independence and Pound did his best to build a wall between the IOC, its international governing bodies and the new agency. In large part, he did so by speaking out publicly and offending more than his share of entrenched insiders, taking particular aim at cycling.

Cycling deserved to be singled out. It still does.

Pound was quoted in 2004 as saying that the public continued to know “that the riders in the Tour de France are doping.” I think we can all now agree that he was right. At the time, however, Pound was criticized by Verbruggen, McQuaid and one Lance Edward Armstrong, who characterized Pound’s comments as “careless and unacceptable.”

Remember when, in August of 2005 – not long after Armstrong’s “I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles” speech from the podium in Paris – L’Equipe revealed that an examination of pre-EPO-test samples from the ’99 Tour showed several turned up positive and that six of them belonged to Mr. Miracles.

In response, the UCI appointed Emile Vrijman, a Dutch attorney and FOH (Friend of Hein) to “investigate” the matter. Vrijman’s report was largely critical of WADA, Pound, L’Equipe and anyone else who raised the critical questions of what those samples may have represented.

Pound and WADA characterized the Vrijman’s work as “flawed” and “farcical,” a critique soon dismissed by the UCI and Verbruggen, who took umbrage at anyone who challenged the report and its conclusions.

Okay, now flash forward to the present. We now have a situation that again offers an opportunity to reform cycling.

As far as cycling is concerned, little has changed in the governance of the sport. Verbruggen is gone … well, sorta. McQuaid has stepped in as president. We have a new scandal and, much like the controversy surrounding those suspect ’99 samples, the UCI quickly took steps to address the situation (or as Mr. Armstrong quite correctly surmised in his recent CyclingNews interview, they took steps to “CYA”).

Recall that following the UCI’s acceptance of USADA’s reasoned decision and the accompanying penalty against Mr. Armstrong, McQuaid called for the creation of an independent commission to investigate a number of questions surrounding the sport. Topping the list of questions that needed to be addressed quickly was whether or not the UCI itself was somehow complicit in covering up doping allegations involving the sport’s biggest star.

McQuaid promised to cooperate, offering to supply the commission with documents essential to answering that big question. Well, McQuaid has apparently reconsidered. When the independent commission proved to be a little too independent, the UCI backed off.

McQuaid has now withdrawn the UCI’s support of the commission’s work, after refusing to live up to his promise of cooperation and without having submitted any documents of importance. This past week, the commission ceased operations and the UCI is now embracing the idea of a “Truth and Reconciliation” commission as an alternative.

Look, I’m not sure reconciliation is possible at this point, but I’d be willing to concede that it might be. I am quite certain, however, that the whole “truth” thing isn’t, at least as long as we have the same people in charge of the same things in this sport.

McQuaid needs to step back. Verbruggen just needs to go away. We need a new guy in charge of cycling and – despite it being a joke the first time I floated the idea – I think that guy is Dick Pound.

Aside from doping, Pound probably doesn’t know a helluva lot about cycling. His athletic career involved swimming, a sport in which he represented Canada at the 1960 Olympics. That doesn’t bother me one bit, either. We don’t need a cycling insider to take over this sport right now. What we need is someone who has no vested interest in cycling; someone who doesn’t shudder at the thought of what exposing closeted skeletons will do to friends and associates or whether the truth will be – and lordy I hate this line – “bad for cycling.”

Since the Armstrong debacle, Pound has gone as far to suggest that, if UCI muckity-mucks were in any way complicit in covering up doping, the governing body should be stripped of its Olympic charter. He’s right. The alternative is complete and comprehensive reform and I can’t think of anyone more qualified to oversee that reform than Dick Pound himself.

Love him or hate him, Pound’s tenure as president of WADA and his continued presence on that organization’s board, has proven that his is a take-no-prisoners approach. Pound, if anyone, has proven his independence. It’s something we need right now. If we can’t do an independent commission, let’s take a shot at independent leadership.

I can’t think of anyone better to shake things up for a year or two and then hand the sport back to the “experts.” Right now, at this critical moment, we don’t need a former racer or a former team director to change the face of cycling. What we need is an obnoxious, in-your-face, SOB, who isn’t afraid to step on toes or to make enemies. What we need is someone whose independence is proven. What we need is someone who can put this sport back on the road. We need to put Dick Pound in charge of that effort.

I was kidding the first time. This time I’m serious.
– Charles

Small HeadshotThe 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. Charles Howe

    Yeah, I’m for Lance. He told the truth (what a man!), and he’s reconciled with Betsy. Who else to lead the T & R movement?

  2. Wsquared

    Doping positives and rumors of doping among the top stars in baseball and the NFL have been in the news for years. There’s little doubt that our big name home run champions cheated and were frauds. Deer antler spray anyone? Their testing is lackadaisical, the NFL still doesn’t test for HGH at all, and penalties for positives are a slap on the wrist. Compared to cycling, they are still in the dark ages when it comes to drug testing.

    Yet these sports are making more money than ever before, sponsors fall over themselves to get advertising space, and fans flock to parks in recird numbers to watch them. A lot of fans have a “if it helps my team to win, so what?” attitude towards doping.

    So my question is, how are the NFL and MLB doing this? How are they getting away with it? What are they doing that’s so different from cycling that all their doping scandals haven’t put a dent in their revenues or popularity? You can try to put it all on Armstrong, but I’m not buying that simpleminded logic.. Names like McGuire, Sosa, Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod and Ray Lewis are huge in this country, yet these sports are coated with Teflon when it comes to sponsorship. Their testing is half assed, but a lot if fans don’t seem to care. Yet cycling is “the dirtiest sport around” to many average sports fans and has been for years. Is there anything we can learn (or want to learn) from these other sports when it comes to managing their public image? Is it PR? I honestly don’t know.

    I don’t think there are any easy answers to this conundrum. We can continue to do all we can to clean up our sport, but will anybody care outside of cycling? Wats and all, cycling has tried a lot harder over the last 40 years than the other pro sports in the US to control doping, and what has it got us? Maybe the most we can hope for is developing young stars who will capture the public imagination. Events like the Pro Challenge mean a lot more to the average citizen than who runs the UCI. Nothing success like success. Most people want stars.

  3. Paul Matlin

    “…What we need is an obnoxious, in-your-face, SOB, who isn’t afraid to step on toes or to make enemies…”

    Charles, when I read that, my first thought was one Patrick O’Grady, though I suspect that he would run from that like the Road Runner from Wiley Coyote (though we would at long last some real integrity at the top of the food chain).

  4. Khal Spencer

    I second the nomination of the Mad Dog. He neither takes prisoners nor respects authority. Go fer it, Patrick. About time you got a real job again.

    As far as McQuaid and Verbruggen. Back when the Hawaiian kings were warring over the consolidation of the islands, the losing army in the battle for Oahu was backed up to the cliffs of the Nuuanu Pali. Rather than surrender and meet their fate, they looked over the precipice, gulped, and jumped. (If Tony Gill is reading this he can probably supply a more credible history of the Islands. Actually if anyone from Paradise is reading this, they can probably do a better job than I can.)

    At any rate, I suggest we buy McQuaid and Verbruggen a one-way ticket each to Honolulu and let them do the right thing.

  5. Rod

    I’m in. Let’s try to make this happen. I haven’t renewed my license; I did write to my federation (Canadian Cycling) stating that I am not in the business of funding corrupt organizations.

  6. Patrick O'Brien

    I loved those old April fools day pieces. The Pound one was a peach!

    We need a whole new sanctioning body, not just a new boss, for pro racing. The UCI should not be involved in any way. I have to admit that will probably never happen.

    MLB, NBA, and the NFL make money because the are part of the culture here and perfect for TV or the stadium seat. The players have unions to protect their rights; after all they are employees. I am surprised that track racing isn’t big here like it used to be. It is perfect for the stadium seat, TV screen, and Vegas wagering.

    Unleashing Mr. O’Grady on a unsuspecting peloton would be like shooting a house fly with a 10 gauge goose gun. Gets the job done, but what is left is messy with lots of collateral damage. Besides, there isn’t enough grog in the universe to talk him into it.

  7. Khal Spencer

    All kidding aside, Mr. Pelkey is absolutely right. Pro cycling needs a take-no-prisoners SOB to clean the accumulated crap out of the sport and then hand it off to someone who can take over a clean peloton. Back to good natured kidding now, perhaps if PoG agrees to take the job, CP can sign on as consigliore and we can find a chemist familiar with cycling to step in as chemical testing adviser…..

  8. Larry T.

    Nice piece. I agree with everything except Dick Pound as UCI boss. We need a guy LIKE Dick Pound, but not the real thing. Ever read his book? His ego ranks right up there with Heinie’s in my opinion. A guy who is wise to doping but knows something about cycling and is not an egomaniac (that lets BigTex out) would be a better choice. I even think Greg LeMond might be a better choice if a secondary person to run the nuts and bolts well could be found. LeMond would be a great figure head and face of the sport, but by his own admission he’s not a great administrator. That lets Patrick O’Grady out too, he can barely take care of a dog and a couple of cats without adult supervision! One thing is certain – the UCI house must be thoroughly cleaned up, which might require bulldozing the whole thing and starting anew. Would IOC endorse this idea and recognize a new federation to control cycling? Otherwise I fear it’ll be the same old BS after every scandal involving doping…business as usual once the screaming stops.

  9. Patrick O'Brien

    Well, we just walked to the local diner for breakfast. During breakfast, we decided that Charles and Patrick have the exact skill set that running the UCI needs. between them is a love of cycling, competition in cycling, numerous real jobs including organizational skills, both are skilled journalists who have a limited tolerance of toro poo poo, Charles has the legal experience, and Patrick can get a conversation or negotiation back on track in a nanosecond. What more do you need? Oh, yea, getting them to move to Switzerland. What does the position pay anyway?

  10. Conrad

    Great article. I think its an outrage that we’re even having this conversation right now. The leadership at the UCI should have been gone a long time ago, and nothing will change unless they are gone.

    Wsquared brings up a good point but for the last part: How can we hope to have some new superstars in the sport with the current leadership? If the UCI and USAC are going to condone doping by some riders and not others, it is a rigged game that only cheaters are going to win at. I’ll bet that there were some Colombian riders on small underfunded teams (that didn’t have the means to dope) that would have beat Lance in the mountains in a clean peloton.

  11. Daren

    I just got back from Cross Worlds and one of the memorable moments was the international crowd all loudly booing McQuaid when he was announced to present the men’s awards. Some things are universal.

  12. Skippy

    ” Finally i find that , WE THE PUBLIC , are back where we were , BEFORE , Friday’s ” Ole Boys Club , talkfest “! That , those that attended the meeting , were representing , US THE CYCLING FANS , never entered their heads !

    Surely , UCI Delegates need to establish the minimum level of Intelligence , in order to get to the point where they are elected to this level in the UCI ? Or , is it a case of the Aigle tag team duo , selecting those they can corrupt / bribe , most easily ?

    People have been pointing the finger at ” Team Sky ” after the ” One horse race “, that the TDF was this year . Further finger pointing occured when the ” Zero Tolerance Policy ” was introduced at Team Sky & British cycling . Now we have the scenario of ” UCI Delegates ” pretending that ” killing off ” the UCIIC was in the best interests of the ” Sport of Cycling ” ? Give us the time to see how it goes for a few more months they say ?


    Cycling Fans can express their dismay by email to the following ” Delegates ” , most of whom , are reputed to be intelligent , thinking and forthright ! Those that side with phat & nein , will deserve to be treated with derision !

    Mike Plant [email protected] usa

    Attn Hee Wook Cho [email protected] korea

    Attn Renato Di Rocco [email protected] italy

    Artur Lopes [email protected] portugal

    Mohamed Wagih Azzam [email protected] egypt

    Daniel Baal [email protected] france

    Jose Manuel Pelaez [email protected],cu cuba

    Sheik FaisalBin Humaid Al Qassimi [email protected] uae

    brian cookson [email protected] uk

    david Lappartient [email protected] france

    Mohamed Jamel Louafi [email protected] tunisia

    igor Makarov [email protected] russia

    Peder Pedersen [email protected] denmark

    Were these people trying to do well by Cycling on Friday , or was it another ” Jolly “?

    I am Skippy Mc Carthy and my views can be found in and @skippydetour

    I am ashamed to admit , that there was a time that i thought , both Nein & phat , were worthy of being treated as people , that had held ” The Best Interests of Sport ” uppermost !

  13. Larry T.

    Skippy – scanning your list I couldn’t help but notice a couple of names of folks probably just as corrupt as Mr. Mars and his Mad Hatter puppet. I fear the entire house of UCI must be bulldozed, otherwise the corrupt bastards at the top are just replaced with others from below. The IOC should DEMAND cycling create a new international sanctioning body or face being kicked out of the Games entirely. Perhaps THAT would motivate some true leadership to come to the fore?

  14. Wsquared

    Almost half the delegates on Skippy’s list (5 out of 13) come from countries where organized bike racing is virtually nonexistent and that don’t have have any racers in the pro peleton. Go figure.

  15. Ransom

    I wonder whether some of the even-less-than-usual-care by the man in the street for doping in baseball and football as compared to cycling is down to the perception of those sports as everyman’s sports, while cycling is seen as the playground of a motley amalgam of hippies and the wealthy, not to mention the wealthy hippies…

    A linebacker HGH’ed to major appliance proportions is just a good ol’ boy trying to “git ‘er done”, while doping cyclists probably weekend with bankers who bet on the housing market collapse…

    Although perception is important and impacts real things like trying to find sponsors, it seems like as long as we’re here, fixing the problem makes more sense than worrying about how to get beat up less badly for the same failings.

    Though I wonder how a good modern analog of Breaking Away could go… They seem to be doing dead copies of everything else… It’s hard to convince people via explanation, but pretty effective to sell them stuff.

  16. Rich Wilson

    If we’re going to toss out names, I think there would be a sweet comic justice in Graham Obree being UCI president.

  17. Skippy

    UCI must be feeling the heat from the Public , since the following appeared today

    Funny how you scale back when new people are coming into the Sport ALL the time ?

    Nothing to do with thr return of a certain 5 time winner of the TDF , by chance ?

    Brian Cookson says the UCI Exec Meet in St Louis wants to ” kick the can down the Road ” , DO WE WANT TO wait until they can find their COURAGE to ACT ?

    Seems that Brian Cookson was defending himself Mid Jan , here :

    WILL HE BE BACK , with more platitudes ?

  18. Larry T.

    Ranson makes a good point. In the USA cycling was/is small time, even after LeMond won three TdF titles. BigTex changed things and in my view not for the better, bringing in an entire new element to the sport. Back-in-the-day LeMond fans by and large had bikes worth more than the cars they were atop. BigTex brought in an entire new element – RICH PEOPLE. His backers were or became bigshot financial guys and the atmosphere changed from embracing the history and passion of the sport ala LeMond to the “kick their ass, eat their cheese” attitude of BigTex and his fans. None of that is good long-term though plenty of folks made some big cash short-term from the Tex gravy train. Comparisons to pro sports in the USA – the USA stick-and-ball sports are looked at as skill games, doping doesn’t make the guy a more accurate passer of the football for the most part, where cycling has been (radios, etc.)reduced to almost a simple VO2max test these days. Sadly, guys like the Schlecks want it to be dumbed down even further. Doping makes more difference in our sport than perhaps any other except track and field..another minor sport in the USA. I predict things will return to the pre “extra sportif” days when the only sponsors were bike-related. As in the era before Fiorenzo Magni brought the first non-cycling sponsor in with Nivea. So things will get worse before they get better…but then again, is having a pile o’dough available to buy expensive team buses and all this other crap making things better or worse?

  19. Wsquared

    The notion that doping makes more of a difference in cycling than other sports is just plain false. Every modern home run record in baseball is now owned by a doper. Doping can make all athletes bigger, stronger and faster, have more endurance and recover faster in every sport and in every position. When I was a kid, there were virtually no pro football players over 300 lbs. Now, they are common in high school. Even punters and kickers have been busted for steroids. Yet the NFL players union is still successfully blocking game day testing Imagine the uproar if cycling announced tomorrow that they were dropping race day drug testing. Yet sponsors are falling all over themselves competing for advertising and endorsements in football.

    Despite testing positive for steroids, setting up a fake website to cover his ass, and serving a (paltry) 50 game suspenion, this year Melky Cabrera could have still won the National League batting crown. The only reason he didn’t was because everybody involved realized how ludicrous that would look, even by MLB standards, so he “volutarily” withdrew his name from consideration. And of course his team, the Giants, still went to the World Series. Yet, I haven’t heard anything about Rabobank, who is big in California, withdrawing their spots from Giant games. Most baseball players are tested once or twice a year, one of which is announced before hand. With the exception of Melky, most idiots can easily beat that system, yet baseball sponsorship is thriving.

    Cycling will never be as big as the major sports in America, and I don’t care of it ever is, but cycling pros, including lowly domestiques, mechanics, and masseurs, deserve to make a good living. That requires sponsorships, endorsements, plenty of races on the calendar and a fair share of TV revenues. Yet, despite having an order of magnitude better doping controls than the big pro sports, and millions of people riding bikes, money is not flowing in like it should. Sponsors are hard to find, even in Europe, where races are being dropped.

    I’m all for tossing out the bureaucrats in Switzerland and replacing them with competent professional managers and continuing the fight against dope, but they are only part of the problem. Imo, just focusing in who sits in the chair in Switzerland and getting even better than other sports on doping controls is extremely myopic. Cycling needs to take a hard look at their business model, including PR, advertising, lobbying the government where needed, revenue distribution, labor relations and benefits. And cycling fans need to become as passionate and vocal about doping in other sports that they follow as they are about cycling. (I am.) That’s a PR battle we can win if the public is educated to what is really going on.

  20. gmknobl

    Larry T. Though I don’t disagree with the thoughts behind what you state, I think you’re wrong on doping not making a difference in the popular sports in the U.S.

    It’s not EPO so much as drugs that enhance strength and maybe endurance. If you look at U.S. football, strength is the main thing, even in passing. The superbowl shows that. So does it help in hitting a ball.

    Well, I gotta go now. No more time for a chat.

  21. RobbieCanuck

    Charles, Dick Pound would be great, but he won’t do it. He does not have an interest in the sport of cycling. There are still too many aplogists for doping in cycling sports administations, and he would rub too many people the wrong way because of his style.

    I believe he would rather like to have an outside persuasive influence over the global policy of WADA. He would however make a great head of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the sport. This one time opportunity could lead to his establishing a precedent for other sports much like he did when he carved WADA away from the IOC as you so aptly pointed out.

    In addition he has a very profitable law practice on the go in Montreal. I am a former trial lawyer in Canada (Prosecutor/Defence) and I saw him argue a case in the Supreme Court of Canada on the legal channel about 3 months ago. I can’t see him walking out on that to try to rescue cycling.

  22. Larry T.

    gmknobl-don’t want to beat a dead horse here but the percentage that doping can play in a SKILL sport vs one primarily of endurance is smaller. Doping doesn’t improve the accuracy of that pass in football or the hitting of a baseball though it certainly can influence the result, as in more home runs, touchdowns, etc. But I don’t think the average stick-and-ball sports fan in the USA believes doping makes much difference in their favorite sports. They use the same rationalizations that BigTex did – everyone else is doing it so I’m merely leveling the playing field. As long as these sports don’t have Olympic ambitions or the government gets involved they (just like pro wrestling) can simply continue providing entertainment to their fans under the guise of sport. Meanwhile that same fan looks at cycling as a sport where skill is pretty much not required, it’s all endurance/VO2 max, so doping makes all the difference compared to their favorite “sports”.

  23. High Plains Drifter

    Steve Jobs couldn’t write one line of code. Dude ran Apple fairly well, though.

    Despite the bombshells, I’m not convinced pro bike racing has hit rock bottom yet. Can still lose its Olympic status. Run out of sponsors to fill a full cohort for ’14. That kind of stuff.

    Watcha think about Vaughters’ latest cyclingnewsdotcom piece? Strong on the “why,” not so strong on the “how,” I thought.


  24. High Plains Drifter

    Larry T:

    Agree that most doping techniques aren’t all that useful in addressing skill, directly, at least. But all of these stick and ball sports have long off-seasons, and any PED that targets strength or endurance pays off with dividends when you factor in the ability to train hard all year, without fatigue or injury, which makes that isolated skill event possible.

    A damning bit of circumstantial evidence against most of the suspected baseball dopers is how strong they finished out the season, when everyone else was getting tired.

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