The Explainer: How would you change it?


The men in power: How would you change things?

Dear Readers,
Okay, we’re on for Paris-Roubaix. The response in emails and in the comments section has been such that Patrick O’Grady and I will most certainly provide Live Coverage of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, April 7.

Check in here at RKP or at We’ll try to get things rolling as soon as possible.

In re: Matthew

I also want to say how happy I was to read the news in the latest entry in the “Enter the Deuce” series. Like Patrick, I have two kids. Like Patrick, our oldest is a young man named Philip. That’s where the similarity ends. Both our son and our daughter, Annika, were born healthy and feisty from the get-go. I cannot even imagine what Patrick and Shana have endured these past five weeks. We had the privilege of holding our young’ns almost from the minute they were born.

It’s difficult to fathom how difficult it would be to stand by, watch your own child through glass and wonder if he’ll make it through his first month. What a relief and a joy it is to lean that his chest tube is out, “The Deuce” is now doing well and that his parents can hold him like he was meant to be held.

Welcome Matthew. I look forward to watching you grow and hope to get to know you in coming years. You already have my respect, kid. You’ve got a lot of fight in ya.

Labor relations

As for last week’s column, I have to agree with Betsy Andreu’s comments that real reform of cycling will have to begin in places other than a strong riders’ union:

“The solution for cycling? Start by cleaning house at UCI and USAC. There is too much demoralization in the sport due to a lack of integrity with the governing bodies and federations. Only then can the sport not only remain viable but grow.”

I agree that reform at the UCI and, to a lesser extent, USA Cycling, is key to changing this sport. As I’ve said in the past, the first – and most critical – step is to take the UCI out of the doping control business. That’s the one significant advantage that the U.S. governing body has over its international counterpart. The separation of governance and enforcement is precisely why Lance Armstrong was finally brought down. Had it been up to USA Cycling to pursue the case triggered by Floyd Landis’ allegations, and the ensuing federal case, the results would not have been the same. I remain convinced that someone, somewhere along the way, would have concluded that an aggressive pursuit of the evidence would have been “bad for cycling” and the matter would have quietly disappeared.

I have to agree with Betsy in that a strong riders’ union isn’t, in any way, a panacea, but I remain convinced that its an essential element. I understand that players’ associations in American baseball and football have historically served as apologists and defenders of dopers. It’s important, however, to note that the governance of those sports puts a great deal of power into the teams (in the form of Major League Baseball and the National Football League), power countered only by the players’ association. Like the UCI, the power to enforce doping rules rests with the MLB and NFL. In cycling, we have the advantage of having the World Anti-Doping Agency, which should be given full enforcement authority. Only in a system in which doping enforcement is in the hands of an independent agency does a riders’ association serve an important role.

Again, the first step has to be a separation of powers, removing enforcement authority from the governing body. To me, that’s even more important than full-scale reform of the UCI. Even if the management committee were to tar and feather Hein Verbruggen and run Pat McQuaid out of town on a rail, the inherent conflicts of interest would remain. I remain convinced that there are four critical roles to be filled when it comes to the management of cycling: that of a governing body; that of a doping enforcement agency; that of a teams’ association and, finally, that of a group representing the interests of riders.

The governing body has a role in overall management of the sport, including licensing, coordinating calendars and development of rules and procedures. In a sense, the doping agency could expand its role and become an “ethics enforcement” agency, overseeing enforcement of doping rules and, ideally, leading the fight against corruption in all forms. WADA and its national counterparts would, in a sense, fill a prosecutor’s role, enforcing rules that keep sport honest. Teams have interests that include the needs of sponsors and those have to be represented. The riders’ interests can, at times, conflict with those of the other three and, yes, on an individual level, that may even include defending riders against charges raised by the “prosecutors” from WADA and its sister agencies. Enforcement of any rule is meaningless when there is no opportunity to mount a reasonable defense. It’s all a question of balance … and, no, that’s not where the sport is these days, nor is there any likelihood that it will be any time soon.

In terms of “reform” at the UCI, there is a major news story worth following. Over at, Shane Stokes has been following developments at Cycling Ireland, the board of which is apparently divided regarding the question of whether or not to submit Pat McQuaid’s name in nomination for the presidency of the UCI. Board members of McQuaid’s national federation have submitted his name in advance of his winning his first two terms. Irish cycling supporters and journalists have been at the forefront of reform efforts (David Walsh, Paul Kimmage and Stokes among them), so it’s somewhat ironic that the UCI was guided through its most controversial period by a member of Ireland’s cycling community. That said, even if McQuaid loses the backing of his compatriots, his name may well be advanced by the Swiss Federation, given that he is now a resident of Switzerland.

We’ve already discussed the difficulty – or near impossibility – of UCI reform beginning at the UCI itself. All of this should be interesting … and probably disappointing. It may require a major push from outside to initiate meaningful reform. Former WADA president Dick Pound suggests that kicking cycling out of the Olympics might serve that purpose. I am somewhat skeptical, since the Olympics really plays a small role in the sport and that the real attraction and financial power rests with the grand tours. In support of Pound’s position, though, the UCI derives considerable power and influence because of its participation in the IOC.

Anyway, at this point, we’re largely being speculative. I am not confident that we’ll see meaningful reform in cycling, even on the heels of the Armstrong affair. That’s disappointing.

I’d like to open this discussion up to you, the readers, too.

Given the obstacles to meaningful change in cycling, how would you turn this sport around? I’m eager to hear your ideas. Use the comments section below or, if it’s a long one, go ahead and send it to my email address: [email protected].

Have a good week and don’t forget to join us for Live Coverage of Paris-Roubaix on April 7.
– 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.



  1. Patrick O'Brien

    I agree with your previous post that a strong rider’s union is needed and would result in an overall improvement to the sport of cycling.

    I also think that all parts of professional and amateur cycling should be separated. The UCI should not involved in pro cycling in any way. If I was a team owner or major sponsor, I would not want the riders under contract to race as amateurs.

  2. Steve O

    Don’t reinvent the wheel. Pro cycling has always been the red headed step child of the sports world, doing everything it’s own way.

    Just look around at what already works.

    Pro cycling has always reminded me of a third world country where the corruption is so complex, where everyone is bribing everyone and is to some extent dependent upon actors with diverging objectives, that cleaning up cannot be accomplished piecemeal. It can only be achieved through revolution.

  3. GDinSD

    Great news! LUG for Paris-Roubaix.
    Not so great news for me, I will miss LUG-Live because of a niece’s wedding. I will have to read the LUG coverage Sunday evening.

  4. Larry T.

    Nice bit! It think the UCI has to be sort of blown up to be reformed. Think of what SHOULD have happened when Saddam Hussein was chased out of power in Irag. The top end of the command and control structure is removed, but the technical folks who really run the day-by-day stuff should be retained under new generalship. If they don’t want to serve under the new (brought in from outside the sport, mostly for their integrity and ability to clean things like this up) regime, they can then be replaced. The new sheriffs make it clear that the old bribery and corruption will no longer be tolerated – amnesty for whatever chicanery you were previously involved in but ZERO tolerance going forward. Greg LeMond would be a good figurehead for the top spot as long as competent technical help came along with him.

  5. Jim Gardner

    I would like to think of the UCI much like Kodak or maybe Schwinn, companies that owned their markets so thoroughly and were so untouchable that few envisioned how quickly they would collapse when they completely lost touch with the changing world around them. Unfortunately, forces of change in the world of sanctioning bodies are sloth like when compared to forces of change in a free market economy. I love everything about cyclocross racing except that I am forced to pay membership fees to USAC who willingly takes their orders from the UCI. Last year I just could not do it. I gave it up rather than support the corruption. If I could opt out of USAC, I would still be racing. I would gladly support an organization that really cared about bike racing. With the latest announcements from USAC to more tightly control who can race where, it is clear that the officials at USAC are mere puppets with the hand of UCI so far up… Well let’s just say when they open their mouths to talk, you can see Pat McQuaid’s fingers moving. I just can’t buy in to that with my money. We are not likely to see a push for right to race laws or enforcement of anti-trust laws to change things but when bike racing has strayed so far from the pure nature of cycling then maybe the whole thing needs to collapse to find its roots once again.
    Charles, great work as always and as for the Padraig family what a lesson of love, life changing love. Thanks for sharing the lessons. We are richer because of it.

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