The Shape of Things to Come


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.

Ah, democracy.

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  1. Tim

    I wonder, if he was gunning for bribes from Katusha/Contador, how much more money would have been turned over to protect the golden goose that was Armstrong?

    “I believe that not only will every cycling backwater vote for him”
    needs clarification that the him (I assume) refers to McQuaid, not Cookson

    (editors eyes, sorry)

  2. Derek

    I think the point that the backwaters would be voting for McQuaid was clearly established in the preceding paragraph, why use more words than necessary?

  3. hackintheback

    Padraig – Let’s set aside that McQuaid could certainly influence the “secret” vote. Has Cookson not already received enough pledged votes to secure the presidency? 14 from Europe, 1 from Australia, and a safe assumption on 9 from the Americas? Or am I missing something (entirely possible given the machinations of this process and the amount of facepalming I’ve done in attempting to follow it this year)?

  4. Peter lin

    really dumb question. Why doesn’t everyone in the cycling industry just leave UCI and start a new governing body? It’s better to just amputate that cancer now and start over.

  5. Patrick O'Brien

    Do you think there is a chance that professional riders, teams, and sponsors will react to a McQuaid win by creating a new and professional only sanctioning body?

  6. Patrick O'Brien

    Peter, we must have hit the submit button at the same time. I guess it is wishful thinking. It would be a massive undertaking.

  7. Rp

    I’m laughing at your fine sense of humour and crying for the future of cycling if McQuaid gets back into power.
    Scooby Doo seems a very fitting analogy for his current leadership.
    Good read.

  8. sfinaus

    “Ah, democracy”… if only there was one in play here. See for an insightful look at what anti McQuaid forces are up against. However, the recent action at the UEC does breathe some optimism into circumstances that I wouldn’t have dreamed possible at the time of Charles Pelkey’s Explainer column. Another thing that makes me a bit optimistic is McQuaid’s seemingly panic driven outbursts which I hope is a sign of genuine fear on his part. Alas, although I would like to dare to dream, I fear the fix of some kind is, or soon will be, in place.

  9. hoshie99

    Great article as always. Thank you.

    A few things:

    I am far from the PC crowd and have no doubt your description of the gear you saw was accurate at the track meet, but are first world nation’s somehow above bribery? I’d suggest not. It is perhaps just in a different form than a “goat.”

    At first I was rooting for Cookson who seems like a nice well balanced administrator w/ solid credentials.

    Given how interesting the leadership of the UCI is, I almost think it’s better that McQuaid win given all you stated above. It may be the “rock bottom” the sport needs to re-invent itself. Or for a splinter group to finally successfully form a new well run entity.

    As much as I love the sport, the professional side of it is becoming less and less attractive and perhaps that is healthy.


  10. Kevin


    I don’t think Padraig’s point was that First World countries are above bribery. He was pointing out that the amount of investment needed to bribe a small, poor national federation is a ton less than a powerhouse like one of the European or American federations: “Vote for me and your federation will get 5 new top-end track bikes” goes a lot further in Barbados or Lithuania than Italy or Germany.

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