Does cycling really need the UCI?

John Thompson-Mills Columnist

By John Thompson-Mills, 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.

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    The Crowd Says (2)

    • February 21st 2013 @ 1:19pm
      Bobo said | February 21st 2013 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

      We need a UCI. We just don’t need this one.

      UCI has two main issues – the main one relates to doping.

      Cycling has been put in a difficult position because, due to the Festina Affair, the pervasive nature of doping in cycling has been uncovered for the world to see. Other sports still haven’t had that reckoning. The UCI has alternated between doing something about doping and trying to sweep problems under the rug (the more you look, the more you find – and then the sponsors go to other sports with less testing). The result is that they have failed to cover up doping, but they have failed to address it properly either. The sport is stuck in an uncomfortable middle ground, without the courage to embrace the trauma of root and branch reform.

      The second issue relates to the management of the top tier. Here, the corruption of the UCI is the problem – keirin offers UCI $3million, so keirin gets in the Olympics and the 1km TT (blue riband event) is ditched. BMX offers cash, and the madison is ditched. The UCI is attempting to levy every single bike owner with its ridiculous bike sticker scheme. Plus the UCI is trying to impose races that it owns (through GCP) such as the Tour of Beijing instead of supporting real races with tradition, like the Meisterschaft von Zürich, Setmana Catalana de Ciclisme, Classique des Alpes, Midi-Libre and GP des Nations. It’s all about TV rights and access to cash – the governing body should not be competing with the sport it runs.

    • Columnist

      February 21st 2013 @ 10:21pm
      Lee Rodgers said | February 21st 2013 @ 10:21pm | ! Report

      Good article John, and I just made some similar points on Felix’s recent piece with regards to Blanco, and also Sky and Astana.

      Also to back up Bobo’s point about the UCI and $: the UCI started the Continental ‘division’ and did away with club teams riding in UCI events. Actually you can do it still, but a club team that rides international events has to be made up of national riders, and race organisers aren;t going to choose a team like that (as usually the team level will be developmental at best and organisers would rather have better known teams with riders with UCI points).

      This year there are a record number of Continental teams vying for the same amount of races and slots as last year. It’s unsustainable and is further stripping the riders themselves of any power, as everyone’s desperate to get on a team to race. And what’s happening now is that some unscrupulous Continental team owners and managers are signing ex-dopers from World Tour teams and Pro-Conti teams that no one else will touch. Why? Because they have points and still a little glamor to their name.

      They are decent riders still, and those years of going fast don;t disappear overnight, They can still win stages and even tours.

      What’s going to happen to the development of local talent in places like Asia? Still it’;s ok but if this continues and former ProTour guys keep moving down, it may become stagnant. Certainly in the races we’ll see more of a separation in ‘ability’ (hard to call it ability really when a lot of that comes from years of EPO abuse!).

      Why would the UCI do this? I’m not sure exactly but Continental teams have to register and to pay a pretty hefty fee to the UCI.

      Maybe that has something to do with it?


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