So today an event took place that will make the activity of the UCI worth following. We’ve no guarantee that Brian Cookson will make all the changes to professional cycling that any of us believe aren’t just helpful, but necessary to its survival. And while the cynics among us may be ready to quote The Who’s line from “Won’t Get Fooled Again”—”Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” Cookson deserves the distinction of at least being different from Pat McQuaid because he was never banned from the Olympics.
A brief reminder of that event. McQuaid organized a trip to South Africa for the 1975 Rapport Toer. He talked brother Kieron, John Curran, Sean Kelly and Henry Wilbraham into violating the ban—due to apartheid—on competing in the country. The five riders were competing under assumed names. A journalist following the honeymoon of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor discovered what was happening and when he published his story, they were found out. As a result, the entire bunch, the majority of whom would likely have been part of Ireland’s 1976 Olympic cycling team, were banned from the Olympics.
Cookson, on the other hand, has no such sordid history. He’s known as the man who helped forge the alliances that turn British Cycling into the powerhouse it is. Team Sky simply wouldn’t exist had he not laid the groundwork with the British federation.
But the successes Cookson has enjoyed could be harder to notch once he’s in Aigle. Many of the UCI’s staff have been close to McQuaid and it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone there will be eager to dismantle McQuaid’s legacy, such as it is. But change is as necessary as it is imminent. A great many practices will need to change if only to demonstrate that it’s not business as usual.
But just how much will change and how soon? Will the Tour of Beijing survive? Will the UCI persist in promoting races other than the World Championships? What of the frame certification process? Will positive tests by the leader at the Tour de France take three months to announce? Could a Truth and Reconciliation really happen now?
Rather than air suspicions and reservations, let’s make this positive. If you had an audience with the man, what would you ask him to change first? Which fire, in your mind, burns brightest?