UCI leadership crucial to cycling's future

Al Hinds

cycling,ashenden,doping,lance armstrong,WADA,UCI,International Cycling Union
Complicit... Hein Verbruggen is as much a part of the sport's current doping problems as the riders themselves who dope, says Dr. Michael Ashenden.
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For those that have yet to read Dr. Michael Ashenden's piece on the lack of faith he and many others place in Australia's national cycling federation and the UCI (International Cycling Union), you should.

In it, Ashenden, who's worked with the UCI directly as a anti-doping expert and was one of the key drivers to innovations like the blood passport program blasts Cycling Australia President Klaus Mueller, CEO Graham Fredericks, race promoter and UCI arbitration member Phill Bates, and Oceania President and Santos Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur.

All four he says are part of the ongoing problem the sport has faced with respect to doping, doubting their will to change or investigate the past and allow cycling in this country from truly moving forward.

And with such power brokers well and truly ingrained in the current governance of the sport, Ashenden's skepticism is well-founded.

"I think it's time the organisations who oversee cycling are held accountable for what has transpired," writes Ashenden in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"With people such as Mueller, Fredericks, Bates and Turtur prominently placed to influence our cycling landscape, I have little confidence that anything will change here in Australia."

Ashenden's views are firm. Having been left exasperated with his time at the UCI it's unsurprising to understand why. It’s true that Cycling Australia’s record is far from flattering, but perhaps there is one last chance for redemption if it can handle the investigations into Matt White and others responsibly.

The UCI however is another matter. Charged with the governance of the sport the international body has been left wanting when it comes to the issue of doping on countless occassions.

Under former UCI President Hein Verbruggen there is increasing evidence that the UCI was actively involved in the conspiracy to hide doping practice in the professional peloton.

Richard Pound, the former World Anti-Doping President, recalled in an interview last night with ABC’s Four Corner’s program that when he confronted Verbruggen with the issue, the Belgian seemed not only aware but was justifying the use of performance enhancing substances.

"It was pretty clear that there was a major problem. You know, the French police are arresting team members or followers with industrial quantities of doping substances and equipment.

"I said 'Hein, are you, you guys have a huge problem in your sport'.

"He said 'what do you mean?' I said 'the doping'. 'Well', he said, 'that's really the fault of the spectators'. And I said 'I beg your pardon, it's the spectators' fault?' Well' he said, 'yes, if they were happy with the Tour de France at 25K, you know we'd be fine. But', he said, 'if they want it at 41 and 42', he said, 'the riders have to prepare'. And I just shook my head and said 'well, you heard it here first, you got a big problem'."

The problems go deeper. In the evidence against Armstrong et al. released by the USADA last week sworn affidavits from Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton among others allege the covering up of positive tests, gross inadequacies in testing protocols, and corruption.

As admitted doper Michael Barry opined in a column for the New York Times on Monday:

"The sport has become more humane in recent years, but the evolution must continue. Most of the images in my dreams have now become reality. There are many teams committed to racing clean that respect their riders and provide proper care. But more needs to be done if the sport is to shake its past. Professional cycling needs to be completely restructured."

Barry goes on to criticise the existence of unstable financial structures for teams, the doping encouraging points system, and issues with rider safety as evidence of his point.

“The UCI has been reactive instead of proactive in its approach to many of the sport’s greatest problems.”

If the sport is to move on, the consensus seems to be that wholesale change is needed, right? The difficulty is figuring out exactly how they might happen.

The Inner Ring pointed out recently that behind the current rot of the UCI lurk perhaps darker figures still. Overthrowing the current powerbrokers might do little in terms of progressing the sport in the right direction. People like Igor Makarov waiting in the wings don’t exactly paint rosy pictures of themselves.

The obvious alternative is a breakaway league or federation. There are plans in motion for such an idea to see fruition but more than likely a World Series Cycling (WSC) or other incarnations of the same concept would care little for the grassroots of the sport. While the existence of multiple federations in other sports has done little but divide resources and talent. 

I agree with Barry and Ashenden that one can have little faith in renewal under the current governance, but I would suggest that a solution without the UCI and its member bodies is not a solution. If the sport has to drag the UCI kicking and screaming into the new era to progress and build a better future for cycling, then that's what needs to be done.

Preferably, some leopards will change their spots to usher in wholesale change. I don't remain optimistic of that scenario, but the intransigence of the current leadership is unsustainable and sooner or later they'll need to change their tune.

Reform will happen faster with a co-operative UCI and self-interest alone should dictate that leadership goes down this path so that it can return to cashing in on the sport's success. The question now is when. Important work has been done by the USADA in exposing the past but in the words of Michael Barry, the "evolution must persist".

The next move from the UCI will be both telling of the progress that has or hasn't been made and crucial to the sport's short term future. We watch, and wait, and hope.

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