Now that Pat McQuaid has been voted out of the UCI presidency and the troubled institution is being led by Brian Cookson, there is some reasonable hope that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be formed and testimony will take place. Given how cycling has been governed since the UCI was formed, this is a turn of events so surprising and unlikely it is befitting an Aaron Sorkin screenplay.
Let’s imagine it for a second: Someone will be willing to pay attention as Jesus Manzano speaks.
Consider that Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton will have an opportunity to sit down in the same room as members of the UCI, tell everything they saw and took part in while members of U.S. Postal and Phonak, and when finished Pat McQuaid won’t be there to call them “scumbags.”
Now that we have the faith that the UCI has a president who will actually do what he says, and that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will convene, we have a question to consider: How far back should the TRC look? Technically, the choice of how far to look back belongs to Cookson or whoever he charges with running the TRC, but that Cookson is president now owes much to public outcry. We do have a voice and the success of a TRC will rest on public satisfaction.
So who should testify? The TRC should do more than just listen to riders and team personnel. We should hear from as many doctors, pharmacists and lab techs as possible. Let’s include the odd motorcycle driver or two. This testimony will be key in corroborating what the riders say. Anyone watching social media has noticed that there’s some suspicion about whether George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and Levi Leipheimer confessed all of their doping to USADA or not. Testimony from medical professionals and coaches will have the ability to confirm their previous testimony or demonstrate that they withheld some activity. It will also show just how fearful riders were of Travis Tygart, or not.
However, if the TRC only looks back as far as 1999, it won’t be far enough. We will have little reason to be satisfied. The TRC needs the freedom, resources and time necessary to take testimony from anyone with a heartbeat. That means we should listen to Belgian soigneurs from the 1950s. We should listen to guys like Lucien Aimar, who was a domestique for Jacques Anquetil. And yes, we should listen to Eddy Merckx.
Why go so far back? Because it will educate the sport’s governing body, riders, team staff, the public and sponsors—in short every stakeholder the sport has—on how entrenched doping and attitudes toward doping have been. Because it was ingrained at an institutional level, it will show that cycling takes doping not just more seriously than any other sport, but as seriously as one may take it. That is what will be necessary to win back sponsor and audience confidence.
The reality is that we won’t hear from everyone we would like to. We must also accept that the UCI is unlikely to allow the TRC to run for five years. They need to focus their effort, concentrate on the biggest part of the problem. To that end, I suggest that we do what we can to encourage testimony from as far back as 1990.
Based on everything I’ve learned about the rise of oxygen-vector doping, I think we can put a date on when doping fundamentally change in pro cycling. That date? May 18,1990. With it comes a specific location: Bari, Italy. That was the day and the location of the prologue for the 1990 Giro d’Italia, which was won by Gianni Bugno. Bugno went on to wear the pink jersey for the 19 days, all the way to the finish in Milan. It was the first time a rider had led the Giro from start to finish since Eddy Merckx did it in 1973. Because we know Bugno worked with Francesco Conconi and testing revealed a high hematocrit—for which he was sanctioned—I think it’s fair to mark this as the date when racing grand tours changed. Fair enough, that is, until we get testimony through a TRC.
Simply put, the 1990 Giro was the first grand tour won with the aid of EPO.
While EPO use changed the whole of racing, it had the greatest effect on the grand tours, where being able to stay out of the red zone thanks to extra red blood cells paid dividends as the race wore on. It was during the 1990 season that Bugno and Claudio Chiappucci stormed to prominence. A year later Miguel Indurain won his first Tour de France, and like Chiappucci and Bugno, Big Mig counted Conconi among his advisors.
The 1990 season was a turning point in that not only did it see the first grand tour won with the aid of EPO (the Giro), it also saw the last clean win in the Tour de France prior to two generations of wins tainted by oxygen-vector doping. Has there been a clean winner of the Tour since Greg LeMond’s 1990 win? Very probably, but certainly not between 1991 and 2006. The possibility of a clean winner seems to have grown more convincing with each year since 2007.
A TRC has the ability to settle this question.
Now, regarding LeMond, it’s easy enough to find comments on Facebook or Twitter from people willing to accuse him of having doped. Even without a TRC, the evidence suggests that in 1989 each of the grand tours was won without oxygen-vector doping. The Vuelta was won by Pedro Delgado, the Giro by Laurent Fignon and the Tour by LeMond. Each of those guys had won a grand tour prior to the availability of EPO. While we know that both Delgado and Fignon doped, we have reason to believe they weren’t using EPO in ’89. What’s interesting about ’89 is that this is the year Chiappucci, Bugno and Indurain began to threaten the GC. In ’89 Chiappucci finished 46th and 81st in the Giro and Tour, respectively. A year later? A remarkable 12th and 2nd. In ’88, Bugno withdrew from the Giro and finished the Tour in 62nd. In ’89 he went 23rd and 11th. In ’90, of course, he won the Giro and finished the Tour in 7th. Indurain’s rise was more gradual, less outwardly suspicious; he finished 97th in the ’87 Tour, but gradually climbed the ranks up to 47th, 17th and 10th before winning.
What makes all three of these riders of a piece is the fact that they started anonymously before rising to prominence. LeMond, Fignon, Merckx and Bernard Hinault all share in common the fact that their brilliance and potential shown early on. LeMond differs only in that he didn’t win his first Tour—he was third.
Lance Armstrong is accused of being at the center of the greatest doping program in history, the greatest sporting fraud ever perpetrated. It’s a charge we can’t really resolve. If there was a greater sporting fraud, it hasn’t been exposed. Ultimately, this isn’t a terribly important question. What the Armstrong fall has done, however, is to open the public’s eyes to the breadth of doping that has taken place. It has introduced suspicion into the cycling fan’s vocabulary. The problem before us is how to put this behind us. We may never put the genie back in the bottle, but a TRC has the ability to educate us on more than just who doped; it has the ability to clear those who did not dope.
Aside from simply dispensing the truth, a TRC will freshly frame the achievement of riders like LeMond, riders who would have accomplished more were it not for the rise of EPO. A TRC that reaches back to 1990 will give us a new way to define courage.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I am still not quite sure I believe that Brian Cookson has been elected president of the UCI. In my mind, there is still room for a CAS appeal or some other evil legal machination to reseat Pat McQuaid, returning us to the dark ages from which are only just now stumbling, blinking, into the half-light of the modern day.
If however it is true, and Cookson is the man, then we can begin to ask the very serious question, who is Brian Cookson really? Up to this point, it has been sufficient for him only to be Not Pat McQuaid. Not Pat McQuaid is enormously popular as it turns out. That guy has global appeal.
But this Brian Cookson could be anybody. I don’t think I’m alone in adjudging his campaign statements as nothing but anodyne crap aimed at not offending anyone. His was the sort of promise-rich, plan-poor presentation that would almost certainly never earn my vote, even for a seat on the local garden committee. If I’m honest though, in this case I would have supported the guy even if I thought he was incompetent. At least, we’d have had a different incompetent to talk about.
But defying my skepticism, there is already good stuff happening, right things being said. There is this, and then there is this. In fact, the very first thing the new man did was this, which was probably a good idea and shows just how low the incumbent had sunk in reasonable people’s estimation.
Who knows if any of the stuff on that laptop will see the light of day, but the simple act of seizing it shows where Cookson’s head is at. Stay tuned for the next story where all of the office furniture in the UCI’s Aigle headquarters gets dragged out onto the front lawn and burned. Stay tuned for pictures of the Bishop of Lausanne getting invited down for an exorcism. This could get fun.
This week’s Group Ride asks, now that Cookson is elected, what ought to be his top priority to move the sport forward? I am guessing that many will want a Truth & Reconciliation process first, but the sport has so many pressing challenges. There is the ongoing effort to drive doping from the sport through proper testing and maintenance of the Biological Passport program. There is the alarming exodus of sponsorship money at the top of the sport. There is the promotion of women’s cycling, and the reorganization of the UCI World Tour. Do we look forward, to borrow a phrase, or do we look back? What is most important now? What are your top three items for Brian Cookson’s to-do list?
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?
By a vote of 24 to 18, Brian Cookson has succeeded Pat McQuaid as the president of the UCI. This would be where you breathe a sigh of massive relief.
Details of the proceedings in Florence approached farce, with the UCI’s legal team stating that McQuaid could stand for election because the Swiss nomination was withdrawn after the deadline for nominations. This, despite the fact that it was never a valid nomination. Cookson, to his credit, was the person who asked that the procedural wrangling end and that the decision simply be put to a vote.
There is much work to be done to give cycling the reputation it deserves as the cleanest professional sport out there, but this is an important first step toward something the UCI didn’t previously possess the will or moral compass to accomplish.
Pardon us while we go do a little happy dance.
The president of the UCI will be chosen today in Florence. The outcome of this election will have a significant impact on the course and credibility of professional bike racing for a decade to come. Should Pat McQuaid be voted in, we can be assured that some efforts will be made to make cycling look clean. Under his leadership the UCI will, however, do less than is possible, less than the public wants to see, less than would be done by a person with a strong moral compass.
Brian Cookson took Great Britain from the lowly status of cycling backwater and helped turn it into a veritable cycling David, knocking off Goliaths as if it were only a day’s work. To be sure, should Cookson be elected to the presidency of the UCI, the task before him is similar to his previous one in that it involves a turnaround. However, it will be a turnaround of a very different flavor and he won’t have had the benefit of building years of consensus within a smaller organization with a more unified goal. His will be a gargantuan task, to give the UCI credibility where it has little. He’ll be charged with making transparent processes that weren’t so much conducted behind closed doors as carried out in secret.
Has he proven that he can do it? Certainly not, but the delegates have but two choices and that one thing we know for sure is that McQuaid has proven he will fight transparency and good governance like they were a bunch of harpies bent on his destruction. (Given the way he has presided over the UCI, that’s not far off the mark, though.)
Last week I wrote that I believed McQuaid would win the election for UCI President. My reasoning was simple: The election is decided by secret ballot and he controlled who counts the ballots. Well, in the most stunning and pleasant turn of events since this charade took flight, Cookson has prevented UCI lawyer Philippe Verbiest, who is close to McQuaid, from being the person to count the vote. So Cookson now has an actual shot at a proper election.
USA Cycling’s Steve Johnson has indicated that the dossier of charges against McQuaid haven’t entered in to his considerations regarding his vote. It’s fair to wonder how many others will disregard some of the most damning charges against McQuaid. This would be where Lance Armstrong could have done the sport a real favor. Were he to look beyond his desire to compete and consider the sport’s best interests, he might appreciate that he has had interactions with McQuaid and Verbruggen that could fill in some of the shadows in their character. I believe he had the power to further the process of showing McQuaid to be the despot he is.
Finally, yesterday, Greg LeMond released an open letter to the voting delegates. I, for one, hope this can sway anyone who hadn’t already committed themselves to making cycling the laughingstock of world sport.
Dear UCI delegates:
Tomorrow is one of the most important days in modern cycling. The future of our sport will be impacted greatly by the election of the new UCI President.
Earlier I made clear my belief that the sport needed new leadership and I still feel the same today. Pat McQuaid has had many opportunities to take that leadership, to tell the world of cycling that the past is the past, and that this sport will never allow what took place over the last 20 years to ever happen again. He had his opportunity and failed. It is time now for change.
I truly believe that if there is no change in the leadership of the sport that the impact will be felt for years to come, in every aspect of the sport. From the parents that do not encourage their children to take up cycling as a sport of choice, to the sponsors who are sick and tired of the scandals and their costs, both social and financial.
We need to show that there is a democracy in place at the UCI. That cycling’s officials can be trusted to act in the best interest of the majority, not in their own private interests. Why would anyone invest in cycling without trust in the sport and its governing body?
I beg of you to vote with your eyes open. The UCI has been dragged through the mud for way too long. Pat McQuaid has demonstrated he is not capable of being an effective and stable leader. His history of bullying, public denigration of cyclists and rule bending is unacceptable. What this sport needs more than anything right now is positive change. The only way for change to happen is with new leadership: someone that people can count on to put cycling first and not their personal ambitions.
When I look at all of the countries in the world and see which country is thriving, it is impossible not to think of British Cycling and what Brian Cookson had done for the sport in England: look at his track record. Look at what he has done for British Cycling, not just at the elite level of cycling, but look at the explosion of non-racers riding their bikes in England. Who would not want this for cycling?
It is up to you, the voters that get to decide the future of cycling. If you truly care about this sport there is only one option, and that is to cast your vote for Brian Cookson.
Please do the right thing and vote for Brian Cookson.
When I posted my last update on Pat McQuaid and the election for the presidency of the UCI, five federation presidents had requested the UCI voluntarily allow CAS to rule on its recent rule changes. The idea was that by clearing up the validity of the rule changes ahead of the election, the outcome of the election would be the final word on McQuaid’s future. But for CAS to hear the case, the UCI had to voluntarily agree to allow CAS to hear the case.
The letter of request is the one with the oft-quoted line describing their attitude as, “amusement to outrage, from bewilderment to astonishment.”
Bear in mind that we’re talking about the organization that shut down it’s own internal review process. Did anyone ever really believe that the UCI was going to voluntarily submit itself to review by an outside entity?
Okay, well if you did, I suspect there is a future for you in palmistry. Not as a reader, but as a customer.
Meanwhile, details are beginning to emerge from the “dossier” on Pat McQuaid. To my eye, the most significant morsel yet revealed is how McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen are alleged to have attempted to extort a 250,000€ bribe from Igor Makarov, the owner of the Katusha team. When I read this, two things became immediately clear. First, it explained why Katusha had been denied a WorldTour license even though all of their paperwork had been in order. It was the perfect example of the sort of retribution to which I alluded in my last post. It also explained why when Makarov and Katusha appealed the denial to CAS, they won.
The attempted bribe also explained why Makarov was the man responsible for putting together the dossier that caused Mike Plant to publicly announce the end of his support for McQuaid. Plant is as experienced at the politics of sport as can be found, and not just experience, but exceptional in his insight and ability to negotiate. After all, he put on one of the biggest stage races every held on U.S. soil at a time when cycling wasn’t half as popular in the States as it is today. Clearly, he knows something of diplomacy.
But Plant’s cold shoulder to McQuaid, while telling to anyone who respects Plant (that Venn diagram includes essentially everyone in bike racing except Pat McQuaid), was really just a bit of theater.
The dossier is alleged to detail another attempted bribe, the one in which Alberto Contador’s positive test from the 2010 Tour de France was to be covered up, had it not been for some fine investigative reporting by a German publication. Suddenly, the delay until October to announce the positive made perfect sense.
It seems a moment befitting Scooby Doo: And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids!
Meanwhile, McQuaid has decided that the best approach to his future is a Vegas-style gambit: double-down. That’s right; one retroactive rule change isn’t enough. How about two?
First, the Lithuanian federation sent a letter asking that the transition clause in the constitution be removed. This is the bit that doesn’t permit retroactive rule changes. So now two federations want a time machine.
Better yet, he has managed to cajole the Barbados federation into proposing yet another retroactive rule change to the UCI constitution. This one says that the UCI president is eligible to stand for election because he is UCI president. It takes incumbency almost to the point of divine right. Seriously the only idea more ludicrous than this would be retaining the presidency because of incumbency. The rule change eliminates the need to be nominated. It puts forward the idea that being president you have the right to be voted into continuing to be president.
There are African dictatorships more democratic than this.
Wait, that’s not all. The Turkish federation made exactly the same request.
Some years ago I managed to attend the track World Championships for all the “B” countries. It’s a preposterous notion, but I didn’t understand at that time that the UCI is a place where bad ideas go to find life support. What I noticed as I watched riders from Israel, Morocco, Egypt and more was just how poorly outfitted many of these teams were. I belonged to an amateur team in Southern California that was much better equipped.
It occurs to me that most of the federations of the world are so poor that McQuaid really wouldn’t have to promise all that much to them to secure their vote. Clothing and bikes might be all it would take. In some cases, maybe only a goat. I don’t mean to demean the cyclists of other nations, but I do mean to point out how easily manipulated some of them might be. As I noted before Brian Cookson could secure every vote from the European nations and still lose the election. Some 42 votes will be cast. Following the recent congress of the European Cycling Union (UEC), Cookson learned that he had secured 14 votes from them. Those plus Australia gives him 15 of the votes he’ll need to achieve the presidency.
I’m going to make a prediction. Cookson is going to lose the election. I believe that not only will every cycling backwater vote for him, but I expect we will be shocked by some of the powerhouse nations that vote for him. McQuaid has pointed out that the vote will be conducted by secret ballot, but the cynic in me thinks that it will only be as secret as he needs it to be. I think he’ll know who casts the crucial votes, which could cause a nation like the U.S. or Spain to support him. Worse, vote tampering doesn’t seem beneath him.
Of course, the moment he wins the election an appeal will be filed with CAS on the legitimacy of his presidency. As the incumbent, McQuaid will continue to preside over the UCI while this is adjudicated. If this turns out to be as hard-fought as the Floyd Landis or Alberto Contador cases were—and why wouldn’t it be; a career hangs in the balance—it is likely to drag out for years.
Eventually, and by that I mean some time after Taylor Phinney retires, the cases will be resolved. Yes, cases, because each of those retroactive rule changes is likely to result in its own case before CAS. Even if the proceedings are all rolled together, there will be individual appeals, defenses and decisions rendered on each of those rule changes.
The UCI will lose the cases and McQuaid will have to vacate his office in Aigle, but not before an all-night document-shredding session takes place. By the time Cookson is awarded the office of president, every bike team on the planet will be reminiscent of the professional teams of the early 20th century in that they will all be sponsored by bike companies, and every non-endemic sponsor the industry had will have fled screaming, like a teenager in a horror flick.
Sponsorship in professional cycling is going to suffer so much sponsorship loss that it seems likely wages for all pros, even the superstars, are going to fall. Chris Horner may need to ride another 10 years to make enough money to retire.
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.
It might be that turning one’s attention to the Tour de France in July is inevitable for the dedicated cyclist. If it’s July, we’re watching the Tour. So being among other cyclists for me means conversations that are as likely to include talk of the Tour as they are talk of the weather.
The conversations are different this year, as compared to other years. This is the first Tour in the wake of USADA’s Reasoned Decision, the first Tour since Tyler Hamilton’s “The Secret Race,” the first Tour since the fall of Lance Armstrong. As a result the viewing public no longer seem to be willing to watch with the general belief that the peloton is clean, that we can watch first and worry about positive tests if or when they turn up. We seem to be asking questions first and watching second.
And of course, the question on everyone’s lips is whether the yellow jersey is clean. It may be that Chris Froome is clean. It may be. However, we, the cycling fans that watch the Tour, are unsure what to believe. The old practice of accepting a rider as clean until a positive test has burned us badly. So while UCI head Pat McQuaid loves to tout just how much better the testing is now than it was when he assumed the office of the president. That may be, but if you’re injured in a car accident, the surgeon asks himself not whether the bleeding is less, but whether the bleeding has stopped. Imagine a doctor coming to you and saying, “Good news, you’re bleeding much less today.”
McQuaid just doesn’t understand that’s not acceptable. We don’t want a pretty clean sport, we want a clean sport. Reasonable people will understand that some riders will always cheat, always seek a shortcut to glory. The assurance we need is that the sport’s governing body is doing all they can to pursue a clean sport. It’s apparent that for many years the UCI has simply wanted the appearance of a clean sport, and this distinction helps to explain why in 2010 the UCI waited until October to reveal that Alberto Contador had tested positive at the Tour de France.
Following the stage 11 time trial, Froome has a lead of 3:25 over Alejandro Valverde. But within a minute of Valverde are Bauke Mollema, Alberto Contador, Roman Kreuziger and Laurens Ten Dam. Froome’s gap begs questions in this era. In watching the coverage we’ve seen how he amassed his gap, but we’re asking not how he got his gap, but what allowed him to get his gap.
The tragedy here is that Froome is being painted with a doper’s brush even though he’s never tested positive. Sure, we can talk about his third-fastest ascent of Ax 3 Domaines, but he’s not new to climbing with stunning talent in a Grand Tour. If Froome goes on to win the 2013 Tour, the ineffectiveness of the UCI will have cheated the rider of his deserved glory and us of the enjoyment of watching a true champion crowned.
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
What now passes for the “they” and “them” that comprises the broad opinion of the world—that indeterminate body of the Interwebs and blogosphere—has belched up a new opinion about pro cycling: A Truth and Reconciliation Commission will never happen, that it’s not possible.
Let’s unbox that one a bit: The truth is not possible.
This opinion has been presented by cynical friends, by an occasional contributor to RKP, even by none other than Lance Armstrong. The popular reason has usually been that Pat McQuaid stood in the way, like nuclear waste.
Nah, dude, I don’t need it that bad.
Oh, but that may no longer be the problem it once was. Thanks to a not “vocal minority” that showed up to Cycling Ireland’s recent Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM), Pat McQuaid has failed to secure a third nomination to the office of president of the UCI. It’s little wonder that McQuaid thought he had the nomination sewn up initially. While the vote (91 against vs. 74 for) seems on the surface to be fairly close, what emerged in the aftermath of the meeting is that Cycling Ireland’s board members (almost uniformly cronies of McQuaid) had the ability to exercise two votes each. That’s as shitty an old-b0y network as I’ve encountered.
There’s no telling if this outcome will domino his potential nomination by the Swiss federation, but in a truly democratic process he wouldn’t have such an opportunity. Hopefully, the Swiss will heed the cry of the outraged mob and will distance themselves from the real blight behind our doping problem.
The irony here is that just as it seems like we may have the chance to throw off the McShackles, the new scenario proffered by the naysayers is the threat of prosecution for any rider who confesses. Neverminding the fact that Spanish cyclists have hitherto been lionized for winning, no matter the method, pointing out the reasons why a TRC can’t work is a bit like peeing on your own feet before walking in a New York subway restroom, which as a category are some of the foulest places I’ve ever been, but that’s no reason to decide that urine-soaked feet are so inevitable that you take matters in your own hands.
As cyclists who profess to love this sport I think we—each of us—have an obligation to spread good ideas when we hear them. I believe that Pat McQuaid would have cruised to a third nomination were it not for the worldwide outcry against his leadership. The Irish (God bless their souls) heard us and joined the chorus. One CI board member noted that the vote was largely split along generational lines, with younger cyclists voicing their opposition against McQuaid. It should be little wonder then that Stephen Roche came out in favor of the current UCI pressdent. Lest we forget, Roche was one of Paul Kimmage’s most vocal critics when Rough Ride was first published. Kimmage was frequently called a traitor to the sport. History has finally proven that it was Roche, not Kimmage, who betrayed the ideals that the public had been led to believe were how their favorite pros lived and trained. Let’s not forget two things about Roche’s past: He threatened to sue Kimmage (though he never did) and he was proven by Italian courts to have taken EPO while working with Francesco Conconi.
So while we may manage to remove McQuaid from his office in Aigle, we are unlikely to be completely rid of him; he’s likely to return to race promotion. If we get lucky, potential sponsors may shy from him they way they shy from some teams currently. It would be a fitting outcome.
Brian Cookson may provide a fresh direction for the UCI, should he be elected as the next president. However, it would be somewhat ironic to have him run unopposed if the Swiss federation pass on nominating McQuaid. It would be helpful to have an actual election in which at least two candidates face off for the simple reason that the competition would force each candidate to sharpen their thoughts. I’ve heard plenty of snarky responses in response to the interview we ran with Cookson. I’ll defend the interview in as much as I think we needed to start to get to know Cookson, and find out about his background. I wasn’t terribly surprised that most of his answers were somewhat canned; I suspect we’ll hear greater depth once he has finished composing his manifesto. I think he would do well to note the snarks out there; the cycling world is too angry about how things have gone to simply rubber stamp him into the next presidency.
No matter what happens with the election, we will need to make our voices heard about what we expect for the depth and pace of reform.
While the prosecutorial and jurisdictional concerns make it seem like a TRC is unworkable, the fact is that WADA could conceivably cut agreements with agencies in the largest cycling countries. Honestly, there aren’t that many governments at stake. Agreements with just a dozen countries—France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, the U.K., the U.S., Australia and Canada—would cover more than 95% of the current road pros. Immunity from prosecution isn’t the biggest hurdle we face. The bigger problem is backlash from sponsors and fans. Even if team management negotiated contract clauses that excepted riders from confessions made as part of a TRC, that’s not to say the sponsor couldn’t just not renew the contract once it expires. And the fans. The fans.
Recent history has shown that cycling fans (cue the Jack Nicholson clip) “can’t handle the truth.” Prior to the nosing around of Jeff Novitzky and Travis Tygart, George Hincapie was one of the most beloved American riders there was. Even as Lance Armstrong’s star began to fall, the cycling public continued to dote on Hincapie. Most of us were still able to main an uneasy fandom even as the allegations surfaced. What’s been most interesting to my eye is the backlash that ensued against Hincapie and his co-confessors, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie and Tom Danielson. Two years ago these riders were beloved, even if Hincapie’s Pla d’Adet development in suburban Greenville hadn’t panned out. If you doubt that, all you need to do is check out a Youtube clip of Hincapie from relatively recent history, such as this one (just fast foward to about 7:45 for the desired effect). Given the backlash against his revelation, one wonders how his B&B will fare.
The message we’re sending is pretty clear: Don’t confess so we can still pretend you’re clean so we can still like you. The term for this is dysfunction. Such pretending is going to be much harder in the wake of a report just issued by the Dutch Anti-Doping Commission. The commission interviewed a number of riders active during the period the Armstrong dominated the Tour de France. Their conclusion was that a conservative estimate suggests 80 percent of all Dutch cyclists were using EPO, though it’s possible that percentage was as high as 95 percent.
What this points to is an overall cognitive dissonance I think we, as a subculture, have yet to reconcile. The report suggests that the odds are every cyclist who won a stage race from 1996 to 2005 was on EPO and/or blood transfusions. It’s a safe bet it’s true for most of the one-day races as well. If only 20 percent of the peloton was on EPO, the laws of probability hold that some clean cyclists win. But the advantage of oxygen vector doping is so great that if 80 percent of the peloton (and that seems a reasonable, as in not overboard, number) was using, the chances that a clean rider might win a race fall between mince et non.
These revelations have come at a price for at least some of us. On Sunday’s ride, a friend said that he was less excited by the prospect of the looming Tour de France than any in memory. I told him I was relieved to hear that because I have to admit, I just don’t care the way I normally do. I credit Pat McQuaid, not the doped cyclists, with my disillusion.
Writing off all the dopers and ex-dopers is more difficult than it seems; it ignores the complicated past of cycling. It’s hard to rail against a guy like Hincapie while we still wear T-shirts glorifying Eddy Merckx and Fausto Coppi. The only difference between those two giants of the road is that Coppi admitted to doping. Can we maintain a double standard for pros as if we collectively agreed to some sort of grandfather clause regarding all wins prior to 1996, rather than to simply make our peace with what happened and move on? Coppi may not be a fair example; he hails from a time so long ago it’s hard to get upset about anything he did because it took place before a great many of us were born. But what of Miguel Indurain? Are we really going to draw and quarter Armstrong and yet give a pass to a guy who was 6′ 2″, weighed 176 pounds and could chase Marco Pantani up the Col du Galibier?
Yeah, that’s naturally occurring.
My point here is that in giving a bye to certain riders, we demonstrate our uneasy relationship with the truth. We are probably more comfortable not having the full truth, but that doesn’t eliminate the good that could be gained were the UCI and WADA to have the benefit of in-depth interviews with riders who have doped. The bottom line is that you, I and the rest of cycling fandom want the sport cleaned up. To get there requires finding the button for Pat McQuaid’s ejector seat, as well as learning how to prevent doping in the future. Detailed, sealed testimony is the best path to that. It may be that some cyclists will choose to make their testimony public. If so, God help them—I mean, great. Either way, we need to give our vocal support to the idea that the UCI and WADA need as full an accounting of the past as they may achieve. A truth and reconciliation commission remains an indispensable tool in moving forward.
Editor’s note: Until the emergence of Brian Cookson as a candidate for the presidency of the UCI it seemed that Pat McQuaid was destined for a third term as president of the UCI if for no reason other than a lack of challengers. We’ve been clear in our criticism of the UCI under Mr. McQuaid’s leadership and believe that while his tenure has not been without progress, too much of its work has been undermined by McQuaid’s adversarial nature and lack of transparency in his dealings. His failure to fully investigate the doping problem in cycling had made it apparent that different leadership is warranted. Now that Cookson has emerged as a candidate, McQuaid faces the prospect of an actual election and cycling has picked up a whiff of hope for the future. But who is Brian Cookson? We decided to request an interview to allow him to tell us why he’s a suitable replacement to McQuaid.
RKP: As Pat McQuaid’s letter regarding your candidacy notes, back in January you said you had no interest in running for president of the UCI. You’ve obviously had a change of heart. What led to that?
BC: Because I love cycling and I know that the UCI badly needs a complete change of leadership. Back in January, I was optimistic that further progress would have been made in tackling the key areas that continue to damage the reputation of the UCI, but little progress, if any, has been made.
That is why I’m now exercising by democratic right to challenge the leadership by running for Presidency.
RKP: I understand that you’re retired and that your work for British Cycling has been done on a volunteer basis. Let’s begin with your work background: What did you do for the Pendle Council?
BC: I was employed by Pendle Borough Council as Executive Director (Regeneration) having gained wide experience in strategic management of multi-facetted organisations, and of managing teams of staff engaged in major programmes of urban regeneration and renewal.
RKP: Is it safe for us to conclude then that you have the ability to both steer a large organization and navigate political waters without creating war zones?
BC: I believe in the power of sport as a force for good and I am committed to the Olympic ideals of Excellence Respect and Friendship. At British Cycling I’ve been proud to lead all its achievements at the elite international level but also all that we’ve done to develop grassroots sport and participation.
RKP: You became president of British Cycling in 1997. Prior to that, what had your involvement been in the federation?
BC: Administratively, I have held positions within British Cycling since the early 1980s when I started out as a Division Road Race Secretary in 1981. I qualified as a UCI International Commissaire (i.e. judge/referee) in 1986, working on events such as the Tour of Britain, the Milk Race, the Warsaw-Berlin-Prague Peace Race and stage races in Australia, South Africa, Germany, Spain and France.
Internationally, I was elected to the UCI Management Committee in 2009, and was appointed as President of the UCI Cyclo-Cross Commission from 2009 to 2011, then President of the UCI Road Commission from 2011 to present.
RKP: It’s obvious that British cyclists weren’t successful at the turn of the century. How bad were things for the federation overall when you became president?
BC: When I became President of British Cycling, the Federation was in deep trouble. The transformation since then has been achieved by creating a stable federation governed on the principles of honesty, transparency and clear divisions of responsibility.
These principles are essential for an international federation and I want to bring them to the UCI.
RKP: During the 16 years of your tenure at British Cycling the national team experienced not just a resurgence but perhaps the most surprising rise of a national cycling team in the last 50 years. Two of the world’s best riders—a sprinter and a GC rider—are British and the U.K. can now lay claim one of the top pro teams in the world. You’ve obviously had a hand in this, but can you tell readers about specific initiatives you undertook to help foster this transformation?
BC: As mentioned before, my role as leader has been to create a stable organisation, which is governed on the principles of honesty and transparency. The scale of the transformation that has been achieved is thanks to the continued dedication of countless people and it would therefore be unfair to pinpoint specific initiatives.
RKP: You’ve served the UCI as a commissaire and have been a member of its management committee since 2009, so you have some familiarity with operations in Aigle. Where do you see the most obvious problems at the UCI?
BC: All of the good work the UCI has done has been undermined by the lack of confidence people have in the leadership.
For far too many people our sport is associated with doping, with decisions that are made behind closed doors and with conflict with important members of the cycling family.
RKP: Supposing you are elected president, what changes would you make straight away?
BC: If elected I would:
- Immediately seek to create a more open and modern UCI, operating in partnership with all stakeholders in the sport we love.
- Separate doping procedures from the governance of the sport
- Create a more collegiate decision-making structure and culture
- Ensure transparency in key decision making
- Have a clear strategy to grow the sport at elite and grass roots level globally
- Grow broadcast and sponsor partners and revenues to underpin the growth of cycling
The full detail of my vision for the UCI will be included in my election manifesto which I will publish later this month.
RKP: Would the GCP remain in place or would you spin that off as a private company run by someone other than the UCI?
BC: We need a full review of the World Tour structure. I would like to broaden the assessment process and increase the transparency of the awarding of World Tour Licenses.
RKP: How would you propose we deal with the fallout of all the doping revelations moving forward?
BC: Doping is the biggest problem the sport faces by far. We must restore cycling’s credibility. For a start, I will work with WADA to establish a completely independent unit to deal with all aspects of anti doping. It is absolutely vital we restore confidence in the anti doping procedures for cycling, without that we won’t make progress.
RKP: Do you support a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and do you think that it could ever happen given the risk that some riders might face prosecution for their revelations?
BC: There are practical problems with a truth and reconciliation process, but if these can be overcome I would welcome it.
What I can say is that I am absolutely committed to ensuring that any allegations which directly implicate the UCI over doping cover ups are fully and independently investigated and this will be one of my key priorities if I become President.