I summon that famous, nay iconic, line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail as a means of framing a certain perspective on Pat McQuaid and the election for the office of UCI President that looms a few weeks away. I’ve avoided writing about McQuaid for some weeks in part because my stomach and central nervous system couldn’t take me thinking about him any more than the weekly story that would pop up on him. However, since my last missive on cycling’s resident ebola case, there have been just too many surprising and twisted turns not to revisit this particular fever.
When last I devoted the bulk of a post to the McQuaid problem he had just been jilted by his own Irish federation, wherein votes were cast largely along generational lines. The old guard’s defense of McQuaid consisted almost exclusively of a half apology, summed up as, ‘Sure, he’s got his faults, but look how much he’s done.’ Fortunately, the young bucks held the day and McQuaid’s nomination went the way of a great many cockroaches—one down, several more to go.
Next up was the Swiss nomination. On deck was the question of whether McQuaid deserved to be nominated by the Swiss federation by virtue of the fact that McQuaid was a resident of the country. Fortunately for us, that question doesn’t need to be resolved and will never be resolved. Here’s why: in nominating McQuaid, the Swiss federation had circumvented its own rules in order to prevent members who disagreed with the nomination from shutting it down. When the Swiss federation president refused to withdraw McQuaid’s nomination, one board member of the federation, Mattia Galli, resigned and then joined a coalition including Skins CEO Jaimie Fuller to challenge the nomination. It’s worth noting here that McQuaid “joined” the Swiss federation even prior to the fiery crash of his Ireland-based nomination.
Civil cases such as the one brought by the Galli/Fuller group carry a prohibitive bar in Swiss courts. To bring a case, a payment to the courts of 100,000 Swiss francs must be paid. The claimant (Fuller, et al) must pony up 50,000, while the respondent (Swiss cycling) must cough up the other 50,000 in order for the case to go forward. To my American eye, it seems a silly system. To kill the case, all the respondent has to do is not pay his 50,000 CHF share and hope that the gambit deters the claimant from proceeding. However, the claimant, if he believes his case is of solid merit and this isn’t just a spurious claim, can advance the respondent’s share. Certainly, such a system will cut down on frivolous actions, but it seems destined to chill legitimate actions. After all, how many people have the resources to part with 100,000 CHF (roughly $107,000) for months, maybe years?
Fortunately, Fuller has proven that he’s more than willing to put his company’s resources to use in his pursuit of McQuaid, so he advanced not just the first 50,000, but also the other 50,000, calling their bluff. The lawsuit was a go. That put the Swiss federation in a losing position. Because they had violated their own governance rules in putting forward McQuaid’s nomination, they would lose the case, and once they lost the case, they’d have to pay their lawyers, the opposition’s lawyers and that full 100,000-franc bond. Those with knowledge of the federation’s finances said it would be a ruinous amount, a Great White Shark at their leg. There seemed to be a few days in which it seemed the Swiss might be considering proceeding, but McQuaid proved to be worth a good deal less than 100,000 CHF. So they withdrew his nomination and saved themselves the equivalent of a luxury car.
Even after the Swiss federation announced that they had withdrawn his nomination, McQuaid’s spokesman was telling the world they hadn’t. But they had. As folks nearly say, saying it ain’t so doesn’t make it not so.
Here’s where the story gets comical. McQuaid declared that he was a member of “six or seven federations.”
Really? Why stop there? Why isn’t he a member of all of them? Weirder still, why is it six or seven? How is it he’s not certain just how many federations he’s a member of? Is he joining them drunk? Has he invented blackout governance?
What. The. Hell.
But that’s not even the part that’s funny. He went to the Malaysian federation and cajoled them into proposing a retroactive revision to the UCI’s constitution that would allow him to be nominated by any two federations, and he has now secured a nomination of that variety from the federations of Morocco and Thailand. For this nomination to be valid, Article 51 of the UCI’s constitution, which defines how a member may be nominated, must be changed. But it’s not enough just to change it now; it must be changed retroactively, meaning that to keep the office of president, McQuaid needs a time machine.
In an interview on Irish radio McQuaid claimed he was not only not breaking the rules, he was “not even bending the rules.”
Okay, so when I write it like that, it’s not that funny. Maybe we should cue a laugh track. I’m sure Monty Python could have made a better joke of it, provided we weren’t talking about Pat McQuaid, but something humorous, like the Spanish Inquisition.
For some weeks I have been entertaining the thought that the world of cycling should allow one or more of McQuaid’s latest nominations to stand. Let an election go forward. Surely Brian Cookson would trounce McQuaid in any election where reasonable people cast the votes, right? I haven’t even bothered to endorse Cookson because the need to acquit ourselves of McQuaid is so great that I’d vote for Attila the Hun before I’d vote for McQuaid, providing I had a vote and all. Which I don’t. The point here is that losing the election would be the final, irrefutable verdict on McQuaid’s tenure, the outcome that would send him packing, publicly.
But then I remembered that McQuaid had managed enough arm twisting to secure the following:
- The Swiss federation to nominate him (even if only briefly)
- The Malaysian federation to propose a change to the constitution
- The Moroccan federation to nominate him
- The Thai federation to nominate him
If he can get four different federations, at least one of which should know better than to participate in shady politics, to take a public stance in support of him, then securing a vote is, scarily, probably infinitely easier. So far, Australia is the only nation to go on record saying they will definitely vote for Cookson. Representatives from Cycling Australia have intimated that all the nations of Oceania are likely to vote with them, but that’s still only a handful of votes. Consider just how many nations there are in Africa and Asia alone. Every nation in Europe and North America could vote against McQuaid and he could still win.
That’s when I realized that we can’t leave this outcome to something as easily manipulated as a democratic election. An election is worse than a game of chance.
That the presidents of so many federations have remained completely silent on McQuaid mystified me for some months. Then I realized they knew something I didn’t. You have to figure that in the awful event that McQuaid should be re-elected to the presidency, anyone who has taken a public stand against him will feel painful retribution and it’s safe to assume that retribution will extend to the whole of the federation and its licensed riders.
Is it too much to think that there would suddenly be a rash of positive tests from riders of that country? No, I don’t think so.
For that reason, I’m enormously heartened by the emergence of the Gang of Five (as they are being called). The federation presidents for the U.S., Russia, Canada, Finland and Algeria have collectively signed a letter sent to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) asking them to rule on the validity of McQuaid’s rule changes. Before we get to the meat of their request, let’s consider this collection of nations: the U.S., Russia, Canada, Finland and Algeria. Not France, not Germany, not the Netherlands, not Belgium, not Spain, not Italy—hell, not even Ireland. I take this collection as a corollary to my previous point.
In their letter, the signatories described their reaction to the rule changes as, “amusement to outrage, from bewilderment to astonishment.” They are asking CAS to rule on the validity of these rule changes because they fear a protracted legal battle over the presidency should McQuaid win the election. Yet another corollary to my previous point. The UCI is in enough of a mess that a legal battle over who is the rightful president would only further damage cycling, but because we understand that what drives McQuaid isn’t the good of the sport, he’d be willing to fight by any means at his disposal in order to keep power. I have to imagine that he’d spend the UCI into bankruptcy because I simply can’t foresee a circumstance in which he’d relinquish power for the good of the sport.
It seems likely that CAS will rule against the rule change, but this will only come swiftly if the UCI voluntarily agrees to the hearing. Can someone find me a Vegas bookie to take that bet?
It also seems likely that the UCI, as an instrument of McQuaid’s arrogance and desperation, will fight this hearing from happening. If they do, the election will be delayed, probably for months. Of course, that will keep McQuaid in power just that much longer. But that’s his endgame; every additional day of power is a day of survival.
Given the way the whole of cycling has suffered here in the U.S. in the wake of the Armstrong scandal, I’m heartened that Steve Johnson has taken this step as the president of USA Cycling. Johnson, it’s worth noting, he was installed as president in the wake of the near-bankruptcy of USA Cycling, which was rescued by none other than Tom Weisel. Johnson’s ties and relationship to Weisel (which could merit a post of its own) has made him one of the targets of criticism that doping is endemic less to the riders than it is to the leadership of cycling itself. No other federation has suffered as great a loss in reputation thanks to the USADA Reasoned Decision as the U.S. has. Johnson and the the other signatories to the request for the CAS hearing isn’t exactly a rebuke of McQuaid, but it could be construed as a shot across his bow. Asking for a speedy resolution to a thorny question suggests you don’t have a dog in the fight, and that ought to give McQuaid pause, but it doesn’t seem like anything penetrates that thick exterior.
McQuaid aside, that Johnson and USA Cycling would finally take a public stand in support of good governance is the first indication I’ve seen that things might change at USA Cycling, that there could be a way out of this morass.
In movie making, writers of thrillers and mysteries will often use a device to heighten suspense and keep viewers from guessing too much of the plot. That element is called a Red Herring. Formally, a Red Herring is a kind of fallacy. It’s an argument introduced to distract the audience from the topic by inserting irrelevant information.
The “Miss Lonely Hearts” character in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is one of cinema’s great Red Herrings. Her personal drama of a loveless life that deteriorates into a suicide attempt is completely unrelated to the disappearance (and murder) of Mrs. Thorwald. Similarly, the stolen money, and what ultimately becomes of it, is utterly unrelated to the real plot of Psycho. They are distractions of a grand order.
Cycling now has its own Red Herring. It is being called “motorized doping”—using a bicycle with a tiny motor hidden from view to potentially offer the user an extra 60-100 watts at critical times. It comes at a truly inopportune time. The fight against real doping, that is, the scourge presented by engine-enhancing blood transfusions and EPO has proven to be more than the UCI is equipped to deal with.
Even though this story is really just coming to light now, it has been a topic of discussion, even concern, for months. According to the UCI, some bikes were checked at both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. Enrico Carpani, of the UCI’s technical commission, says they found no unusual bikes.
And yet, the story persists. One of the problems is that former pro Davide Cassani, who inadvertently alerted the world to Michael Rasmussen’s Italian training regimen (when he was allegedly training in Mexico), carries great credibility and impact due to the fact that he has the distinction of being a television commentator who unmasked a doper. Cassani demonstrated such a bicycle on TV and then boasted how he could win the Giro with its help, despite being 50 years old.
How is it that Pat McQuaid couldn’t dispatch this rumor—it is, after all, only a rumor at best—with a single knee-slapping guffaw? You know, the melting-into-the-couch, uncontrollable, tears-down-your cheeks laugh you’d do if someone told you straight-faced that Barack Obama wasn’t American or even Kenyan, but an alien and he controlled the drug trade on behalf of other aliens who were preparing for an invasion of Earth.
It is more than my vivid imagination can conjure. I have an easier time believing in something that took place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” than I do in the idea of a secret e-bike powering the world’s reigning Olympic and World Champion in the time trial to victory at Flanders and Roubaix. After all, if Cancellara wasn’t strong enough on his own to get the job done at those two monuments, then please, Captain Skeptical, how did he manage a gold medal and rainbow stripes?
Perhaps he’s been on an assisted bike all along? Yeah, that’s it.
And wouldn’t such a bike have required not just complicity, but cooperation on the part of Specialized? Morgan Hill’s favorite employer was ready to sell its Shiv to consumers in the wake of its UCI ban. Joe Cyclist doesn’t have to worry about UCI bans. How many consumers would say ‘yes’ to a road bike equipped with a jet pack? What are the chances that if Specialized actually managed to create a mechanical assist to the crowd-favorite Tarmac that they’d really keep quiet about it? Okay, so they couldn’t really publicize something that offered an illegal advantage. But the cost of developing a frame to handle such an addition (and today’s carbon fiber frames aren’t engineered to have extra stuff crammed in them) would be significant, too significant for most bike companies to do without trying to trickle that technology into other bikes.
So what we have is a Red Herring, a distraction. Perhaps a magician’s sleight of hand. Because certainly the more important question about Cancellara’s performances is whether or not he executed them with no biological doping. All indications are that he was clean, and he’s been tested a fair amount, which is encouraging.
The only question regarding motorized doping worth asking is who started the rumor and what possible motivation they might have to do so.
But instead, we have UCI technicians working to develop a scanner that will tell them whether or not a bicycle is equipped with a motor.
Really? Is that the only way they can dispel this nonsense? How about look for control wires? How about weigh the bikes? How about look for control buttons? Given the current state of e-bikes and the amount of engineering Shimano employed to develop its Di2 group, you are safer assuming there is no motorized doping going on than asking a boy scout to escort you across the street.
Why aren’t we laughing? Why aren’t in tears begging the mongers to stop—that if we laugh any harder or longer, we’ll throw up? This is funnier than Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Every euro the UCI spends developing a motor scanner is a euro that ought to be going to the fight against the real doping.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International