Does cycling really need the UCI?

John Thompson-Mills Columnist

By , John Thompson-Mills is a Roar Expert

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    The UCI. It really is a case of you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them. This week has seen cycling’s governing body forced into an embarrassing back down after it attempted to throw Katusha out of the World Tour.

    Last week the UCI, was smashed around the head by anti-doping expert Dr Mike Ashendon, after it tried to claim the sport’s biological passport experts had seen all of Lance Armstrong’s 2009 blood profiles. In fact they’d only seen nine of a possible 38.

    Adding to the embarrassment, Ashendon revealed that the UCI had cut its biological testing program in half in 2010 because it didn’t have the money for the tests.

    Last month, the UCI lost more skin as the fall-out from Lance Armstrong’s selective confession reignited debate around what happened in 2001 during and after the Tour de Suisse.

    What was the real story behind Lance’s failed drugs test? What was the Armstrong’s motivation for donating $100,000? What really happened to the money?

    When asked, all UCI boss Pat McQuaid said was that the donation could have been handled more clearly.

    There’s no doubt the World Tour is helping to globalise the sport, but there’s also no doubt it’s not the UCI that’s putting up the money.

    So, really apart from World Championships on road and track and the administration of the sport, how useful is the UCI?

    Should it even exist in pro cycling?

    Of course, there was a time when it didn’t.

    Prior to 1965 in fact.

    Back then, pro cycling, like all the other major sports, was starting to consider its commercial potential.

    The Grand Tours and Classics were already institutions on the cycling calendar, and despite the problems associated with an ever-demanding race schedule—which saw riders turn increasingly to amphetamines and alcohol to “boost” their performance—the sport basically ran itself.

    So why not with a few modifications couldn’t that happen now?

    Why can’t a panel of people that represent all the major promoters, plus representation from the UCI, organise and administrate a pro cycling circuit for men and women?

    Leave WADA to deal with the anti-doping regime and let the UCI organise World Championships.

    Too simple?

    Probably, but why not give it a try?

    It can’t be any worse than the mess now.

    How many times have we heard the UCI say the sport has finally turned the corner?

    How many times have we heard calls for UCI Pat McQuaid to resign?

    How many times have we seen the UCI phone up their lawyers because they don’t like what someone has written?

    A certain former rider is well known for doing that.

    Because of the UCI’s well-intentioned but poorly executed efforts to clean up the sport, this latest gaffe may take some sorting out.

    Katusha’s victory in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, means World Tour race organisers now have to put on races with 19 teams instead of 18.

    And some races, like the Giro, are now facing a 207-rider start list (23 teams of nine riders) which is seven more than the maximum allowed under UCI rules.

    What the Giro does is anyone’s guess as the invitations have already gone out.

    Not so in the Tour de France where there are less riders but given the crashes that now seem so common in the early part of the race, more riders is the last thing the ASO would want.

    The ASO was actually considering reducing the teams to eight riders, so maybe now they’ll have to.

    Katusha’s exclusion on “ethical grounds” was always an odd one. Not so much because they’d had riders like Toni Colom, Christian Pfannberger, Denis Galimzyanov and Alexander Kolobnev fail doping tests.

    Not even because they’d made some questionable management decisions such as hire Viatcheslav Ekimov, a long time teammate of Lance Armstrong. And not even because Denis Menchov, Mikhail Ignatiev, Vladimir Gusev and Kolobnev were linked to Dr “Dope”, Michele Ferrari.

    None of that looks good for Katusha, but what makes them any worse than other teams, who as it happened didn’t perform as well as Katusha in 2012?

    The number one ranked rider Joaquin Rodriguez (692 points) and second ranked team (1273) compares pretty well to Team Saxo Bank (401) who only had Alberto Contador (290) in the top 100 riders.

    And if we’re talking ethical reasons, where does Bjarne Riis fit in to the picture?

    Yes, he did confess to doping but what penalty has he served, and like Lance was he selective in what he admitted to? Reading Tyler Hamilton’s Secret Race leaves you in no doubt.

    Then there’s Rabobank.

    After years in the peloton, they turned their back on the sport, albeit they still fund Team Blanco for 2013.

    But given the doping cloud that hangs over Rabobank (thanks largely to Michael Rasmussen, Thomas Dekker, Levi Leipheimer, Luis Leon Sanchez and Theo de Rooy), why did Team Blanco get a World Tour gig in 2013?

    It’s just another unfathomable decision by the UCI.

    There’s also the debate over the use of race radios and the constant delays over dealing with riders and their failed drugs tests.

    And that’s not even mentioning the crazy changes to the Olympic program that the UCI have been party to.

    There are just too many questions and too few answers.

    Cycling cops enough sledging from outside the sport as it is. The UCI is only making it worse. As long as it stays this way, nothing will change.