This week, the 105th Giro d'Italia begins when the starting gun fires in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. After COVID-related issues forced race organisers…
I recognise the legacy I have inherited is an atmosphere of distrust around our sport. You should (and you will) judge me on my actions. – Brian Cookson OBE, June 15, 2014.
The first rule of Twitter is that you should never tweet something you will live to regret.
Not many people follow that rule but it is quite a good one, one that Brian Cookson OBE (Oh! Benevolent Entity?) was never taught, quite obviously.
The decision to award Astana a World Tour license for 2015 has elicited widespread anger from the cycling world and is a decision that even the most hardened doping apologists will have trouble defending.
After the Astana organisation had five riders return positive tests for banned substances, the majority of cycling commentators believed it would be curtains for the Kazakh team, one that has had several other run-ins with the anti-doping authorities over the years.
Surely, went the thinking, there’s no way that a UCI run by Brian Cookson – the man who knocked Pat MacQuaid off his perch as president of the world governing body, the man who had promised to get tough on cheats – would allow Astana to keep its license?
Well… yes, actually. There was a way. He just said yes.
It involved ignoring the anger and general fed-upness of cycling fans and the few outspokenly clean riders out there, it meant that he’d have to face the opprobrium of the social media for a few days, and it would essentially cause anyone who gave a fig about doping to come to the conclusion that the UCI is not to be trusted as the overseer of this beautiful sport.
But apparently that’s all in a day’s work for Brian Cookson OBE.
I am no fan of the UCI. I lost faith in them many years ago. I don’t believe that the UCI has the best interests of the fans nor the vast majority of its members at heart. Yet even I was amazed by the news that Astana would not lose its license.
I’m not alone. Amazingly, ProTour riders are speaking out – well one, at least.
Peter Kennaugh of Sky tweeted:
Riders who were only "trained" by Ferrari I mean come are you really that stupid ? And do you think everyone else is to?
— Peter kennaugh (@Petekennaugh) December 10, 2014
Kennaugh’s tweet avoided calling out the UCI and Cookson, which may be smart with regards to his job, but there’s no hiding the fact that the decision is what prompted his tweet in the first place.
Cookson for his part has said that Astana will be under probation, which must have Alexandre Vinokourov quaking in his boots.
It could be that the UCI is fearful of banning Astana after the debacle of last season, when they had their decision not to give a WorldTour license to Katusha overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
If that’s the case they could at least have made the symbolic gesture. What this move has done is to strip, mangle and burn the last bare shreds of the UCI’s credibility in the eyes of right-thinking fans.
It could be a combination of things, the Katusha factor, the power and wealth of Astana (they are backed by a national government), and one online commentator suggested Vinokourov’s contacts.
In The Telegraph‘s online version, one reader wondered if the MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling) have been involved.
I suspect the head of the MPCC has had a major say so in this. Astana management and Roger Legeay go back a long way; all the way back to doping at Credit Agricole in 2008 actually. The same Roger Legeay banned for doping himself now in charge f the Movement For Credible Cycling – you really couldn’t make it up.
Also interesting to note was an interview with Cookson just two days ago in which he stated that cycling was not the only sport with doping trouble, and trotted out the old line about how cycling was doing way more than those ‘other sports’.
“I have always held the view that doping was not a practice solely restricted to the sport of cycling.
“In my view there are two groups of sports: there are those that have a doping problem and are actively trying to do something about it, and I would like to say that we are in a leading position on that.
“And there are those sports that have a doping problem and are still pretty much in denial about it. And sooner or later they are going to have their problems.”
To be honest Brian, yes, we know other sports might have doping on a similar systematic scale as we have in cycling, but that argument doesn’t wash. You’re in charge of cycling, not table tennis.
However it is interesting to wonder what FIFA would do if, say, Barcelona suddenly got busted for a string of massive doping positives.
They’d probably say it was an isolated case, that it didn’t involve the management, was not systematic, that the players were very sorry, and that generally the sport was clean.
The truth of the matter is that the sport these guys at the top do is not the same sport I do. It is also not the same sport that 99.99 per cent of cyclists around the world do.
We don’t cheat. We don’t think about doping ourselves. We don’t accidentally fall on syringes of EPO or drink our own blood by the baggie-full.
What we do do however, is love this thing called cycling.
Against our own better sense, we still tune in for the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, Paris-Roubaix and the Worlds. We still love the sight of the peloton coming through the clouds to summit Ventoux, riders strewn about hither and tither, seeing the fans – people like us – by the roadside, cheering them on.
We are the guardians of the history of this sport. We are the keepers, the rememberers, the people who make it live and breathe.
We buy the kits, we buy the books and the DVDs. We go to the races. We get up late at night when the family is all sleeping and pay our subscription to get 120 channels even though there’s only one we want to watch.
And yet we are nothing. We are disrespected and barely acknowledged, unless it’s to wring money from our pockets and to thrash the faith from our weary hearts.
This decision and the statements that have followed it from Cookson show that, again, and all too clearly.
The UCI? More like the UCWHY.